By Chioma Obinna
The strength and future of any society lie in its ability to promote the health and well – being of its next generation. It has to do with the saying that ‘children are the future leaders’, which means, tomorrow, the children, today, will become parents, citizens and workers.
Also, the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”, are apt.
And, according to an article by the National Scientific Council on the developing child, when a country invests wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship.
These and more articles have pointed to the fact that children are the future pillars of a nation. But how well is Nigeria ensuring a safe and sustainable present and future for its children?
Sadly, it is no longer news that many Nigerian children have become breadwinners of their families instead of their parents and guardians being the breadwinners. In the country today, and this is pervasive, millions of children are sent out by their parents and guardians to do any kind of job or trade in the name of making money. While it is the responsibility of the country to protect children anywhere in Nigeria, the children have been left on their own. Child labour has become the order of the day with 50.8 percent of Nigerian children involved, according to the 2016/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS.
Under the bridge at the popular Cele bus stop, along Oshodi/Apapa expressway sat 9-year-old Kehinde Adeoye. In front of him was a tray of groundnut. On daily basis, Kehinde defies the rain, the scorching sun and risks of either being kidnapped or run over by careless bus drivers.
According to him, the first child in the family of five has been forced to drop out of school because her, mother, a widow, cannot afford to feed, clothe and send him and his siblings to school since they lost their father, a few years ago.
“On a daily basis, I come here to sell to help my mother because she is a widow. I want to go to school but my mother alone cannot afford it. Many of my friends only come to sell when they are back from school but my situation is far worse than theirs,” he told Sunday Vanguard.
“I have to do this every day to help my mother. I lost my father four years ago and there is no one to look after us. Our lives depend solely on this. My mother also hawks cooked food to earn money.”
Kehinde is lucky he never had any bad experience in the course of hawking, but his friend, Bola Ajiboye, 12, is not.
Bola, who hawks sachet water (pure water), was raped a few months ago by a group of motor park touts.
Bola was said to have closed for the day and was on her way home when a group of boys accosted her and lured her to an abandoned building at the bus stop and gang-raped her.
“Things like this (rape) happen frequently here. It was a painful experience for all of us,” Kehinde narrated.
Kehinde and Bola are among Nigerian children between the ages of 5 and 15 years involved in all kinds of dehumanizing jobs.
These potential leaders of tomorrow remain a major source of worry for the future of Nigeria as a nation. This is because studies have shown that without well taken care of children that will replace adults of today, the future is bleak.
In Nigeria, findings have linked child labour to widespread poverty, rapid urbanisation and a breakdown in extended family affiliations.
According to statistics from the 2016/2017, MICS, more than half of Nigeria’s 79 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are put to work even under hazardous conditions.
The International Labour Organization, ILO, describes child labour as work that children should not be doing because they are too young to work, and because it is dangerous or otherwise unsuitable for them. The ILO conventions stipulate that, whether or not any particular forms of work can be called child labour depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed and the conditions under which it is performed.
Unfortunately, many Nigerian children have been exposed to this unacceptable practice – child labour. Many children like Kehinde are sent to do jobs like begging, pick-pocketing, drug trafficking, hawking, prostitution, street vending, shoe shinning and car washing among others.
The Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, on ending child labour, specifically, calls on the global community to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers and, by 2025, end child labour in all its forms.
The most recent UNICEF/ILO 2012 – 2016 Global Estimates, entitled: “Child labour: Results and Trends”, indicate that these ambitious 2025 targets may not be met as the pace of decline in child labour has slowed considerably in the last four years.
The report shows that the world remains far from achieving the targets as 152 million children are still engaged in child labour, almost half them in its worst forms.
According to the report, 64 million girls and 88 million boys are in child labour globally, accounting for almost 1 in 10 of all children worldwide.
The report also shows that 73 million children, in absolute terms, are in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development.
Nigeria, among others, it says, must move much faster if it must honour the commitment to ending child labour in all its forms by 2025.
The report further shows that the business-as-usual scenario would leave 121 million children still in child labour in 2025, of which 52 million would be in hazardous work.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, child labour has continued to rise. This is evident in the 2016/2017 MICS survey by the National Bureau of Statistics, United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, which shows that a total of 50.8 percent of Nigerian children, ages between 5 and 17, are involved in child labour.
Among these children, under the Wealth Index Quintile, the report reveals that 65.5 percent of them are from poorest homes, followed by second poorest with 62.9 percent, middle class, 52.7 percent, fourth class, 39.8 percent and the richest ranks lowest with 26.6 percent.
The survey also shows that the North-Central accounts for the highest number of child labour with 56.8 percent, followed closely by North-West with 55.1 percent. Others are South-South (48.7 percent), North-East (47.2 percent), South-East (46.6 percent), and South-West (38.0 percent).
Reacting to the report at a Data-Driven Workshop in Enugu, Mrs Maureen Zubie-Okolo, UNICEF’s Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, explained that child labour was harmful to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development.
Zubie Okolo, who decried the prevalence of child labour in Nigeria, traced the major cause of child labour to poverty, rapid urbanisation, breakdown in extended family affiliations, the rate of high school drop-out and lack of enforcement of legal instruments meant to protect children.
She identified one of the most common practices of child labour as the use of children as child domestics.
“The high level of diverse and tedious jobs that children execute in dangerous circumstances is particularly worrying. Traditionally, children have worked with their families, but today children are forced to work for their own and their family’s survival”, the UNICEF official said.
She further explained that the proportion of children involved in child labour was on the increase from 47.1 percent in 2011 to 50.8 percent in 2017.
In a chat with Sunday Vanguard, Child Rights Expert, Mrs Ngozi Ekwerike-Okoro, said any work that prevents a child from going to school and hazardous to the child’s health is child labour and such children are deprived and denied of being children and experiencing childhood.
Ekwerike-Okoro, who is also the National Coordinator, Child- to-Child Network, noted: “These children form delinquent behaviours and face serious exploitation by employers; they are exposed to physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect.
These children are exposed to serious health challenges as a result of the kind of work they do: bus conducting, domestic work, load carrying, car washing, hawking, etc. Most of them are made to work long hours into the night, some sleep on the street, even staying long time in the farm, and suffer sexual exploitation in such a way that is hazardous to their health.”
She regretted that most of the children who are engaged in child labour are largely from the lower and poor families who are left alone or forced to fend for the family.
“I remember some of the children we rescued from the street some years ago told us that their parents used to come to Oshodi to collect money from them every weekend; so they had to make sure they did anything to keep money for them and these are children under 15 years”, the activist stated.
She blamed the recent increase on hardship. “It is very disturbing that children turn adults overnight. It is the parents that are responsible for providing the needs of their children until they reach maturity age but these days of hardship have forced them to expose their children to forced labour”, Ekwerike-Okoro added.
What Nigeria has failed to do
“We have laws and policies but the lack of implementation is our problem in Nigeria. If government is supporting the NGOs which are making efforts to stop child labour, we would have gone a long way.
“Basic education is not free in most states whereas this is something that is supposed to be free for all children; it is only Lagos that has given children such opportunity yet we have children who don’t go to school due to human problems.
“We need empowerment for parents to be able to take care of their children, though there is a lot of improvement compared to the past. The high cost of living is also responsible”.
The activist said the implementation of policies and laws are key to reverse the trend because the Child Rights Act restricts children under age 18 from any work except light work for family members.
She pointed out that children should be given the opportunity of a lifetime by declaring free education from primary to secondary school across the nation.
“Strict measures should be taken by appropriate authorities to stop those who are engaging under-aged children in hazardous jobs that can impair their health status and hinder their educational development”, Ekwerike-Okoro said.
“We should create awareness in the rural communities and urban slum on the negative implications of child labour to the children, the family and the society at large and also in the cities and penalty for engaging children as domestic servants.
She called on the federal and state governments to urgently invest in realistic and practicable poverty alleviation programmes aimed at reducing the incidence of poverty among Nigerians as poverty has been identified as the major cause of child labour.
She regretted that the National Labour Law aimed at eliminating child labour by 2020 was yet to be functional two years after it was enacted.
Kehinde, Bola and many other child labour victims hope for the implementation of the law for a better future.
- Note: This story/investigation was made possible with support from Code for Nigeria’s WanaData programme.