At age 10, Titi was taken from her family in the Republic of Benin, and brought to Nigeria to become a domestic help to a family of six. Now aged 12, Titi neither knows her surname, nor heritage. The young child works round the clock cooking, cleaning, washing and scrubbing. Titi wakes at 6am or earlier and begins her daily task of sweeping and mopping the floor, ironing clothes, cleaning shoes, and serving food in the morning. She ensures that everyone is fed, then “she sits on a stool in the kitchen to eat her own food before continuing with the rest of the day’s chores.”
The above story by Nigerian novelist, Adaobi Tricia Nwabuani aptly captures the life of a typical Nigerian ‘housegirl’ or domestic worker in a middle-class household in Nigeria. Her lot is dependent on whatever the members of the family she works for mets out on her. Like a beggar, she has no choice, she has no voice. She represents one out of the millions of cases of child labour prevalent in Nigerian society.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO); the term ‘child labour’ is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.
It refers to work that:
- is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
- interferes with their schooling by:
- depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
- obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
- requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age.
According to a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), globally there are over 168 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 working when they should not. 15 million of them are in Nigeria, which was deemed to have the highest rate of working children in West Africa. ILO’s report states they are involved in some of the worst forms of child labor exploitation, including use as domestic servants, street traders, road side beggars, farmers and even misuse as soldiers in armed conflicts.
Child labour remains a major source of concern in Nigeria, in spite of legislative measures taken by the government at various levels. The Child Right Act (CRA) considers a child as a person below the age of 18 years (SECTION 21 of the CRA). It also states that a child’s best interest should be of utmost priority in any case involving a child (section 1 of the CRA 2003). The root cause of child labour is poverty. Parents who lack the financial capacity to provide basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter for their children opt for the easier route of leasing their children out for financial or material gain thereby hampering their physical and emotional development. In some cases, parents and guardians subject their children/ward to harsh economic situations such as street trading, hawking and even begging in a bid to make ends meet. Besides poverty, other factors contributing to the child labour menace includes rapid urbanisation, unemployment, illiteracy, broken homes, weak legal framework, absence of the parents from families amongst others.
Child labour comes with a myriad of negative effects which include loss of quality childhood, health issues, mental trauma and illiteracy. It is on this premise that the Nigerian government, over the years, has come up with several legislations and acts to combat the practice of child labour. The Nigerian Child Rights Acts 2003, for, instance spells out the rights of the Nigerian Child to include parental protection and care necessary for wellbeing, right to survival and development, right to free, compulsory and universal basic education, protection from narcotics and drug trafficking and, prohibition from exploitative labour, and more. Also, the Nigerian Government adopted a draft policy in 2013 to address the prevalence of child labor which undermines national development by providing a reservoir of children for easy recruitment into violent acts.
On a global scale, International organisations such as the ILO and UNGC (United Nations Global Compact) have been at the forefront of championing sustainability through discouraging child labour practices which undermines the development of equitable human resource practice and ultimately stunts national growth. The ILO utilises instruments such as the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) to deter child labour practices in countries through research and reports on countries engaging in this act. In the same vein, the UNGC’s fifth principle has the ‘effective abolition of child labour’ as its cardinal objective.
Child labour is more prevalent in the informal sector which is highly uncensored. From the onset, a child labourer is annihilated from contributing to the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) given the general population of those involved. Also, child labour tends to increase the illiteracy level of the country occasioned by incidences of school drop outs thus indirectly jeopardising the economic future of the country and resulting in a wide berth in the number of think tanks required to stir the wheels of the economy on a steady course. Youth restiveness and soar in criminal activities is also a fall out of child labour as the children who comprise of victims are unable to become self -sufficient due to the absence of education or vocational skills that would enable them earn a living.
The government of Nigeria should advance beyond mere legislating on child labour to actual enforcement with perpetrators brought to book thus serving as a deterrent for others. As a prelude to any action, the Federal Government should stimulate the economy and make life worth living for all Nigerians, the government should channel resources to people-oriented programmes such as poverty eradication, small and medium-scale loans scheme, enhance economic status of adults, urban households and families, social provisioning, provision of cushioning measures, subsidy on petroleum and agricultural products, as well as free qualitative and compulsory education at all levels. and active legislation against child labour which will help to check mate any perpetrator.
Besides, the government, every citizen has a vital role to play to curb the menace. Parents for instance should live up to their responsibilities and propagate the family values for which all Nigerians are renowned for. Whistleblowing should also be encourage by the government as this would deter citizens from engaging in the act.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries. The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.