Vatican denies responsibility for alleged child labour on Catholic land

The Vatican has denied responsibility for child labour that is allegedly taking place on church-owned land in Uganda, claiming it is the responsibility of the local church. 

Pope Francis in Uganda during in November visitReuters

A BBC investigation claims land owned by the Roman Catholic Church in Kabale, South West Uganda is being used for child labour.

The land, owned by the Catholic church and overlooked by a Catholic Cathedral, is loaned out to Kigezi Highland Tea Company, who are though to employ child labourers.

The BBC were alerted to the child labour on the plantations by Alex Turyaritunga, a former child soldier who now works as a nurse with the UNHCR in Uganda.

A supervisor on the plantation who worked for Kigezi Highland Tea Company told the BBC anonymously that children did work on the farm.

Reporters found 15 children working, gathering tea plants and carrying them up the steep hill to be planted. They were also litter picking and weeding.

Some of the children, when asked their age, told reporters that they were "10 years", before laughing and returning to work.

The youngest age it is legal for a child to work is 14, yet the latest UN figures estimate that 30 per cent of children between the ages of five and 14 are working.

A local Catholic official confirmed that the land was owned by the Catholic Church and that there had been "a business deal between the diocese and Kigezi Highland Tea" since 2013.

Attempts to contact the Bishop of the local diocese went unanswered, and Father Lucien, his secretary, denied that child labour was taking place on the church-owned land.

The Pope's spokesperson, Federico Lombardi, said "if there is a problem for the local church, I am not responsible for that."

Turyaritunga disagreed, saying; "Child labour damages children psychologically. I feel the Vatican should wake up and revise the business policy of the Catholic Church – or else there is going to be danger.

"I feel at the same time the Catholic Church is not ready for business," he added. "That's why I am calling for policy reform. And I know this policy reform will transform the community very well, because we will have no child abuse, we will have no child labour."