Child Labour and the Arrival of Refugees: Evidence from Tanzania

Chiara Kofol and Maryam Naghsh Nejad

Journal of African Economies (2021), Article ejab026


Approximately one million refugees fled the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi and settled in the Kagera region of western Tanzania between 1993 and 1998. By 2004, ten years after the refugees’ arrival, about 400,000 refugees were still living in the Kagera region. This paper examines the short- and long-term impact of refugees on rates of child labor in Tanzania.

The authors exploit variation in the settlement of refugees in Kagera (concentrated in camps in the western part of the region), comparing rates of child labor before and after the arrival of refugees. The analysis is based on data from the longitudinal Kagera Health and Development Survey (KHDS) covering 912 households in 51 communities. The first round of the survey was conducted between September 1991 and May 1993, the second round was conducted in 1994 after the arrival of the refugees, and there were follow up surveys in 2004 and 2010.

Main results:

  • In the short term, the refugee presence led to a decrease in child labor, largely driven by a decrease in child labor for children aged 7–11 years. This effect is due to a change in the age distribution of children working in the agricultural sector.
  • In the short term, proximity to refugee camps decreased the probability of children (aged 7-14 years) being enrolled in school. Immediately after the arrival of refugees in Kagera, closer proximity to the refugee camps decreased the probability of children (aged 7 to 14 years) being enrolled in school by 9 percentage points. This was driven by a decrease in primary school attendance of 15 percentage points. The negative effect on schooling for younger children may be attributed to the refugee situation, which affected both infrastructure and development resources in the region.
  • Ten years after refugees arrived in the Kagera region, the presence of refugees increased the probability of children working in the agricultural sector or undertaking domestic work. A 1 percent increase in proximity to the refugee shock increased the probability of a child aged between 7 and 14 years working in the previous 7 days by 14 percentage points. Effects were largest closer to the refugee camps. The likelihood of a child working on domestic chores, including collecting firewood and fetching water, also increased. The effects were not significantly different for boys and girls, or across age groups.
  • In the long term there is a modest decline in schooling. The increase could be due to the increased demand for agricultural labor and the consequent demand for child workers in the area.

The authors conclude that the arrival of refugees in the Kagera region expanded labor supply, increasing agricultural productivity and household welfare, which contributed to reducing child labor in the agricultural sector. The opposite effect occurred in the long term; demand for agricultural products increased, and competition for firewood and water increased, leading to increases in child labor in the agricultural sector and in domestic work. School enrollment decreased in the short and long term. In the short term, this was largely due to damage to school infrastructure, while in the long term this was due to increases in child labor.