As Nigeria joins the world to celebrate the World Day Against Child Labour (WDACL) LEADERSHIP Weekend reveals the travails of children between the ages of 5-16 years who battle for survival in Nigeria, peddling vegetables, sachet water, groundnut, bread and other consumables, with some even experiencing harassment, sexual abuse and cheating.
Marked on June 12 each year, the World Day Against Child Labour was launched in 2002 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations body that regulates the world of work, to bring attention and join efforts to fight against child labour.
Child labour is a global issue of international and local concern. In respect of Nigeria, it had been observed that over 15 million children aged 5 – 14 years are engaged in child labour. On the other hand, child labour means any work that deprives a child of its childhood and right to education or is detrimental to the physical, mental, moral and social well-being of the child.
Accordingly, a work amounts to child labour if it is exploitative and/or injurious to any aspect of the developing personality of the child. In order to determine when a child is involved in child labour, the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) provided a list of indices to be considered to wit: Depriving children of their rights to education where schools are available or interfering with their education; Participating in work that results in excessive physical, social and psychological strains on the child;Work that does not facilitate the psychological development of the child amongst others.
However, child labour is not the same thing as “light work” done by children. Light work includes domestic chores such as washing of utensils, cloths, supervised training and artistic undertakings. In all these, the age of the child should be the paramount consideration.
A teenager, who gave his name as Peter Ogbonna told LEADERSHIP Weekend that , “I was born into a family of seven. My parents are poor and cannot afford to send us to school so I resorted to hawking groundnut/cashew nuts in order to support them take care of my siblings. I make up to N4,500 on a daily basis that’s why it’s difficult for me to quit this business.
This is just one out of thousands and one chilling stories about many children involved in child labour in some parts of Nigeria that will send shivers down your spine.
While the working condition of child labourers can be sub-human, some of them are forced to work more than 12 hours a day. Some child prostitutes are forced to participate in sexual acts that permanently ruin their innocence. Most of them are paid a pittance for the long hours of work. One cannot imagine our own children going through the same plight.
Disturbingly, children in Nigeria engage in the worst forms of child labour, including in quarrying granite, artisanal mining, commercial sexual exploitation, and armed conflict.
This year’s World Day Against Child Labour focuses on action taken for the 2021 International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. It is the first World Day since the universal ratification of the ILO’s Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and takes place at time when the COVID-19 crisis threatens to reverse years of progress in tackling the problem.
Sadly, the Child’s Right Act has only been adopted by 25 out of Nigeria’s 36 states, leaving the remaining 11 states in northern Nigeria with legal statutes that do not meet international standards for the prohibition of child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, and illicit activities.
In addition, the minimum age for work in the Labour Act does not apply to children who are self-employed or working in the informal economy, which does not conform to international standards that require all children to be protected by the minimum age to work.
In northern Nigeria, many families send children from rural to urban areas to live with Islamic teachers and receive a Koranic education. These children may receive lessons, but teachers often force them to beg on the streets and surrender the money they collect.
Benin City, the capital of Edo state, is a major human trafficking hub in Africa, but increased enforcement efforts may have caused some human trafficking rings to shift their focus to other areas of southern Nigeria. Here, teenage girls from Nigeria are sent to North Africa and Europe for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.
Achild Rights Activists Mrs Ekuma Ekpekpe who appealed to NAPTIP to scale up surveillance lamented that despite the high level of awareness and advocacy to enhance the understanding of stakeholders on the inherent dangers of child labour, some few unpatriotic employers are still engaging the services of children in work places like cocoa and palm plantations, quarries and other hazardous places.”
She expressed bitterness that although free and compulsory education is federally mandated by the Education Act, little enforcement of compulsory education laws occurs at the state level. When families experienced economic hardship, the enrollment of boys becomes typically prioritised over the enrollment of girls.
Speaking on the travail of victims of Child Labour, Barrister Doris Edum blamed Poverty as undoubtedly the predominant cause of child labour around the world. She said, “Children of impoverished households and parents who have no means of subsistence are most likely to engage in child labour in order to survive.
Dr Usman Fatima said the trend on the lack of family planning which enable parents to give birth to the number of children they can adequately cater for. However, where uninformed parents fail to take advantage of available family planning methods, the consequence generally is an over blotted family size well beyond the means of such parents.
She also blamed the increase in the number of child labourers on the divorce of couples and remarriage by one of them , a development she said often often traumatises children who are in most cases maltreated and neglected by their step father or mother.
It is worth emphasising for the umpteenth time that childhood is the right of every child, regardless of race, culture, religion or creed. This is the period that a child acquires the basic knowledge about life from parents, family and the environment.”
LEADERSHIP Weekend warns that interfering with this part of children’s lives could create an imbalance in their growth and development, and implores the state Houses of Assembly who had yet to pass the Child Rights Act to do so in order to put an end to the menace.
Meanwhile, a new report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF have revealed that the number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years – with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19
The report which was released ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, warns that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.
The report points to a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
The report signed by ILO director-general, Guy Ryder said, ‘“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk. We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.
The report warns that globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage.
“We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier,” said UNICEF executive director, Henrietta Fore. “Now, well into a second year of global lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions, and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to make heart-breaking choices. We urge governments and international development banks to prioritise investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place