Child Labour defined as the full-time employment of children who are below a stipulated minimum legal age has been seen as the reason behind the high mortality rate in the Zamfara Lead Poisoning Incidence, Ruth Tene focuses on the CRA in Nigeria.
Children from birth to age 18 are considered to represent a distinct sociological and cultural class, implying that children are considered complete individuals in their own rights, even though they may be under the guardianship of adults.
While the Child Rights Act (CRA) is the law formulated to protect the rights of the child from incessant and unnecessary adult influence and abuse, Child Labour is the flagrant disregard of these laws which forces children into full time employment while providing succour for the adults.
Though the Zamfara lead poisoning incidence has been blamed on the activities of illegal miners, emerging facts however have proven that the first and earliest victims were children who worked in the mines or those who had relations working in the mines, because the relations were not taking precautions to ensure the protection of their environments or of children in those communities.
The history of child labour has been traced to the Industrial Revolution worldwide, when children as young as four were said to be employed in production factories with dangerous, and often fatal, working conditions and it was based on this understanding that wealthy nations considered the use of children for labour as a human rights violation, and outlawed it, while some poorer countries still allow or tolerate it.
Assistant Project Coordinator, Sustainable Management of Mineral Resource Project (SMMRP) Barrister Patrick Ojeka, said that child labour was not peculiar to Nigeria alone, but a global phenomenon. He said “it is a global phenomenon which has received attention in view of the negative effects on the life of today’s child”
He said valuable time of the child’s development stage was spent fruitlessly on the streets, at mining sites, domestic homes, as child soldiers, arsonists and much more, worst of which are suffered in the domestic front.
With the establishment of the CRA, which Nigeria claims to subscribe to, one would think that people would be conscious of violating children’s rights, but there seems no end to the audacity of Nigerians in the use of children as labours for cheap economic gains by businessmen or by family members to hawk petty goods and provide essential services which otherwise should have been carried out by adults or paid for.
The issue of Lead poisoning which was reported to have affected over 2000 children since it happened in 2009 in Zamfara State and is still recurring as a result of the stubbornness of illegal miners, who despite government efforts at stopping the trend continue to expose the community to the dangers of lead poisoning is a sad one and should remind all right thinking people to implement the Child Protection Act.
Children working in mining sites are exposed to several mining accidents which have claimed several lives.These is aside several exposures to existing poisons within mine sites such as the Lead poison said to be heavy in the mined Iron Ore in Zamfara State.
In mines children are used for various activities including mining, hawking basic needs within the mines, prostitution, and other activities. While the social implications are dangerous in themselves it is sad to note that other implications of child labour are that children grow faster than their age and become breadwinners/ providers for their families, they are also forced to sacrifice their childhood, education and in some cases their whole future at an age when their peers are still being cared for and sent to school.
It should be of interest that while CRA has been promulgated into Law in 15 States including Abia, Anambra, Bayelsa, Eboniyi, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kwara, Lagos, Nassarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Plateau, Rivers, and Taraba, many states, expecially northern states have refused to enforce the law thereby exposing the lives of children to mining entrepreneurs and others seeking cheap labour.
The CRA in its rights-responsibilities approach, is culturally sensitive, compatible, relevant and above all in the best interest of the Nigerian child, and every child in the world in that matter irrespective of social class and religion.
In an interview with Conference Coordinator, International Conference on Lead Poisoning, Doctors without Borders, Ivan Gayton, he said the Lead poisoning incidence in Zamfara cannot be stopped but can only be controlled through safe mining methods.
These safe mining methods imply the use of safety gears such as goggles, hand gloves, coveralls, boots among others but despite the fact that these safety gears are provided by government and even NGOs for the miners, it remains a huge challenge that many do not use these gears and when they return from the mines they expose other members of the community to lead dust and in the process expose all particularly children to the poison.
Ivan asserted that despite the fact that Doctors Without Borders spends over 10 million dollars annually in Nigeria and four million dollars in Zamfara State alone since the lead poisoning started, lead poisoning still exists, even though it has been minimised to less than 5 per centmortality.
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr Mohammed Musa Sada while receiving a team of Doctors Without Borders in his response assured that the Ministry was set to working with all tiers of government while making joint efforts with the Ministry of Health, Environment and Labour to dialogue with appropriate authorities to ensure the menace is curtailed.
He lamented that efforts made by the government were being frustrated as many illegal miners do not want to lose their source of livelihood while ignoring the dangers inherent in their activities
He emphasized the need for the Ministry of Labour to come in so as appropriate measures could be taken to protect child miners as child labour is a criminal offence and perpetrators should be made to face the consequences of their action.
It is high time that states that have failed to implement this law considered it because the abuse of child rights is in flagrant disregard of the future of the upcoming generation.