Nigeria is the most populous African Country and the seventh-largest population in the world with an estimated population of over 200 million as of 2019. There is hardly a community in Nigeria that does not have children engaged in Child Labour. Children are made to do different jobs as domestic servants, beggars, street hawkers, agricultural workers, stealing prostitutes, sales boys and girls, apprentices (mechanics, vulcanizers, tailors, barbers), scavengers and so many other tasks where they are paid little or nothing. In Nigerian cities, these children work from morning to evening on the roads to sell their wares ranging from sachet water, sweets and biscuits, gala, doughnuts, soft drinks and also with the fear of being hits by motorists or defying the scorching sun and rain and even being kidnapped. Some children are as low as 6 years of age resume work as early as 6am and close as late as 9pm at night.
A child is generally recognized as any person that is not an adult. Article 2 of the African Charter on the Rights and welfare of the Child defines a child as every human being below the age of 18 years. The child Right’s Act also explains a child as a person under the age of 18 years. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child that a child is a human being below the age of 18 years. The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria also put the date of adulthood at 18 years old which means a child in Nigeria is anyone lesser than that age. The postulations above about a child all agree that a child is a person who is not an adult and also below the age of 18 years.
Labour according to the Cambridge Dictionary of English is defined as “practical work especially when it involves hard physical effort.” The International labor organization (ILO) a United Nations Agency concerned with the interests of labor defines child labor as “work that children should not be doing because they are too young to work, or if they are old enough to work because it is dangerous or otherwise unsuitable for them”. The United Nations Emergency Children Fund(UNICEF) also defines child labor as” work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development.
However, the issue of child labor is not one that originated in the 20th century. The scourge of child labor has always been with a man. It dates back to the time 17-year-old Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers as recorded in the Holy Bible in the book of Genesis, chapter 37 verses 26-28 to the land of Egypt. This clearly points out that it is not a 20th-century problem and has always been with a man. However, in Nigeria, Child Labour has become a patent of cause for concern. Recently, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that there are 215 million children between the ages of five to fourteen who work worldwide. According to the same organization, the total number of child workers is increasing even though it is forbidden by law. In 1995, the number of child labor was 12 million while by 2006 the number of child labor under the age of 14 who work had risen to fifteen million in Nigeria.
A publication by the Punch Newspaper on the 3rd of May, 2019 had a bold caption” 43% of Nigerian Children engaged in child labor “. This worrisome figure was coming from the International labor organization. The topic of the essay” Child Labour: The Bridge between the true leaders of tomorrow ” also clearly points to this issue, However, children cannot be true leaders and future champions if they are denied their right to quality education and turned into laborers. Nigeria admits that the children are the leaders of tomorrow but still continues to pay lip service to the health and well-being of the children. The strength and future of any nation lie in its ability to promote the health and well-being of its next generation. In view of this the saying that” children are future leaders “which means that the children of today will one day become parents, workers, and citizens. Also, the words of the late Nelson Mandela, ” There can be no keener revelation of a society soul than the way in which it treats its children “is apt. Grace Abbott, a popular American social worker who specifically worked in improving the rights of immigrants and advancing the child welfare especially the regulation of child labor also wrote that” Child Labour and poverty are inevitably bound together and if you continue to use children for the treatment of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labor at the end of time.” Kailash Satyarthi is a popular Indian children’s rights activist and Nobel peace prize recipient. He is the founder of the Global March against child labor. Kailash Satyarthi also said:” Child labor perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems.”
The government has several laws and policies in place to tackle this but the implementation of these laws is the problem. Section 34 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that: “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and section 34(1) also states that” no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labor. “The person contemplated by the provision of Section 34 of the 1999 constitution may be a man, woman or even a child. None of these persons shall in terms of treatment be forced to perform compulsory labor. The Child Rights Act also restricts children under age 18 from any work except light work for family members. Section 30 of the Child Rights Act (CRA) also protects children from being used for the purpose of begging, hawking, selling and also prescribes long term punishments for offenders. The International labor organization (ILO) and the United Nations Emergency Children Fund(UNICEF) are two of the predominant international agencies working against child labor.
It is an undeniable fact that poverty is a major reason for Child Labour in Nigeria. Other causes of child labor in Nigeria are rapid urbanization, breakdown in extended family affiliations, secondary school dropout rates, illiteracy, lack of enforcement of legal instruments meant to protect the children, parental neglect and culture. Poverty forces poor families to send their children to work, which causes a serious problem the world is facing right now. Poverty creates problems like child labor, corruption, robbery, prostitution, malnutrition, unemployment, poor living conditions. The number of extremely poor Nigerians has risen to 91.6million according to the World Poverty Clock. This strongly implies that virtually half of the Nigerian population now live in extreme poverty. The World Poverty Clock named Nigeria the poverty capital of the world in June 2018 when it revealed that Nigeria had 87 million people living in poverty. The report also adds that six Nigerians become poor every minute which also points to the growing poverty level in Nigeria. According to the World Poverty Clock, 91.16 million Nigerians were living to blow a dollar as of February 13,2019. The World Bank says a person can be said to be living in extreme poverty if they live below the poverty line of $1.90 which translates to 693 nairas per day. The statistics above clearly show poverty affects Nigerians and in turn, affects children in particular.
The statistics above clearly show poverty affects Nigerians and in turn, affects children in particular. families of which children are part. Most of them have now resolved to survived by having “all hands”( including those of the children) on deck. Consequently, children are forced to care for themselves by themselves in the difficult world of employment. Parents who cannot provide for the family put the care of their children in the hands of relations. This is prominent with parents in the village. In most situations, these relations promise to take very good care of these children, and even sponsor their education. However, they end up doing the reverse, by turning these children into child laborers, sending them to work throughout the day and even at night to earn money for them and these children are exposed to all kinds of hazards. Their employers usually maltreat them because they are children, they ill-treat them at home, they are at times starved, beaten and denied food to eat. No parent would certainly be happy seeing his children doing that but he does not have any choice.
Child Labour is a common phenomenon in our society. On my personal visit to Iyana Mortuary Bridge in the city of Abeokuta, around 11am a time which all school children are meant to be in school. I personally interviewed a 10-year-old Oluwagbenga Ojo. In front of him was a tray of groundnuts. Sadiku on a daily basis defies the rain and the scorching sun and also the risk of being kidnapped, raped or even hit by motorists and sells in the traffic. According to him, the second child in the family of seven has been forced to drop out of school because his mother cannot afford to feed, clothe and send him to school and his father died a few years ago. She says she comes on a daily basis to help her mother is a widow. He also said he wants to go to school but his mother cannot afford it. He also that this is his family means of livelihood and his mother also hawks cooked food. Also, another child, Sade Akinola who hawks sachet water and cold drinks says she has had bad experiences in her course of street hawking. She was raped and had her money taken away by some motor park touts. She claims that it was a painful experience for her but it happens frequently to other children too and it is part of what they go through. Sade and Oluwagbenga are among the few Nigerian children between the ages of 5 and 15 years involved in all kinds of dehumanizing jobs. Very few cases on Child Labour in Nigeria get to the law courts for the offenders to be punished as they are most times settled at the police station due to the pleadings of the offenders after begging the parents of the child. These potential leaders of tomorrow remain a major source of worry for the future of Nigeria as a nation. This shows that without well taken care of children that will replace the adults of today, then the future of Nigeria is bleak as a Nation. Child labor impairs the schooling of a child, as most children who engage in child labor do this during school hours, and therefore, forfeit their education in order to be on the streets. Education is the bedrock of society. However, it is so saddening to see children who are supposed to be in their various classrooms learning, doing various jobs to make. Furthermore, children are tomorrows leaders. In the picture below is a 10-year-old girl who sells clothes on the streets of Abeokuta daily. She does this for her family and to support her family.she also adds that she started the job at the age of 8.she also adds that she does not attend school and she is also very tired at the end of every day.
The menace of child labor is not one that is insurmountable for a country like Nigeria. The menace of child labor can be solved in Nigeria if the government can take the following steps to the latter. Firstly, the Government should provide free education at all levels. The importance of education cannot be over-emphasized in any society that wants to develop. Therefore, it is important that the government provide free education at all levels, especially at the primary and secondary school levels which is important in the life of children and also important for their development. In the words of the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Late Kofi Annan:” Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress in every society, in every family”.Education is the main tool that can be used to liberate society and build future leaders of tomorrow. ” Secondly, Poverty is a major cause of child labor because parents who cannot afford to send their children to school, send them out to work. Hence, if the government can provide free education at all levels, especially at the primary and secondary school levels there will be an end to child labor in the country. Poverty is a major cause of child labor, hence if the government can provide free education for these children, then, they will be in the classroom, rather than being at work which reminds me of the words of the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor it cannot save the few who are rich”. Poverty in society also affects the rich because the poor children might be tempted into crime and violence which also affects the rich and everyone in society. Thirdly, Proper enforcement of laws against child labor: The laws prohibiting child labor should be properly enforced, and anyone who sends a child outside to go and work rather than being in school should be punished and face the wrath of the law. Furthermore, when the laws proscribing child labor are adequately implemented, there will be a reduction, if not total elimination of child labor in Nigeria. Fourthly, the Government should raise awareness to stop child labor as most Nigerians are not aware that child labor is an offense punishable by Nigerian law but ignorance is also not an excuse under the law. Awareness should be raised by the government at all levels, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and concerned individuals to stop child labor. This can be achieved through various campaigns and rallies emphasizing the need to stop child labor in Nigeria. The World Day against Child Labour is celebrated on the 12th of June every year. It is an International Labour Organization (ILO) sanctioned holiday where they raise awareness against child labor all over the world. Modification of some cultures and traditions: Cultures and traditions that permit children to go out to work should be revisited and modified.
Traditions that see child labor as the most productive use of a childs time should be changed, and such cultures and traditions should be abolished. Lastly, there should be an over-emphasis on education. Various campaigns should be organized, particularly in the north which is the region with the highest incidence of child labor in Nigeria. Parents need to be enlightened on the need to send their children to school, and on the importance of education to their children, and to the society at large, rather than sending them out to work.
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Child labor in Nigeria is clearly on the increase in Nigeria but together we can all put an end to it and not leave it to the government alone. The child is meant to be loved and learn and not to earn. In the words of Alexis Herman, a former United States secretary of labor, “if we cannot begin to agree on fundamentals, such as the elimination of child labor, then we are really not ready to march into the future”. The quote of Alexis Herman clearly points to the importance of the elimination of Child labor in Nigeria which is like a prerequisite for a march into the future. “Children should have pens in their hands and not tools” and let all Nigerians should say “NO TO CHILD LABOUR TO Nigeria”.
By Odunlami Erioluwa and Olukoya Korede
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