Children are generally seen in Nigeria as assets meant to assist in household chores which are usually carried out within the safety of the community or family.
With increasing unemployment, weak institutional framework and the break down of the extended family system, millions of children have been thrown into labour that is exploitative and harmful to their welfare and development.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), child labour is the engagement of children below eighteen years of age in any work that is essentially exploitative and injurious to the development of the child.
Statistics from the ILO and the National Policy on Child Labour indicate that there are 7.8 million male and 7.2 million female working children in Nigeria. Out of the 15 million working children in the country, 6 million are not attending any form of school and 2 million are categorised as being in the worst form of child labour because they work for very long hours.
The director, ILO office in Nigeria, Mr Dennis Zulu explained that extreme forms of child labour involve children being exposed to various hazards and left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities.
“Hawking, domestic help, child prostitution, child trafficking” are other extreme forms of child labour he has noticed in the country.
Another form of child labour is the recruitment of children for armed conflicts. The chief of civil military affairs, Nigeria Army, Major General Nicholas Rogers confirmed that some children particularly in the north-eastern part of the country have been recruited by insurgents as spies and to detonate bombs.
“It is true that Boko Haram has recruited some children to carry out some of their nefarious activities.”
The National Policy on Child Labour shows that the north is endemic to the issue of the bastardization of the Almajiri system of education. Children in the south-south are confronted with child being encouraged to drop out of school and work as domestic servants, while children in the south-west are noted for street hawking. The engagement of trafficked children as domestic help is also largely prevalent.
A women right activist, Mrs Caroline Zuma attributed child labour in the country to poverty and other social factors.
“There are very extreme situations of poverty in Nigeria which is likely caused by massive unemployment, illiteracy. This means that the income level of some families are fast depreciating on a regular basis.”
The manager, Human security in conflict and emergency, Actionaid Nigeria, Mr Gbenro Olajuyigbe however drew a line between child labour and child work, the later which he considered acceptable.
“If you look at the African charter on the right of the child, you find out that there are responsibilities for this children. For example, if a child can support their parents to sell in markets when you are on holiday, it is not child labour, but when it is done in a way that the child is exposed to danger, that becomes child labour.”
The director, public enlightenment, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Mrs Arinze Orakwe said the agency was working in collaborating with other stakeholders to curb child labour and child trafficking in the country.
The federal government enacted the child right act in 2003, and have also ratified the ILO convention treaty aimed at protecting children and addressing child labour in the country.
Despite this gesture, the coordinator, Child and Youth Protection Foundation, Mr Kolawole Olatosimi expressed worry that the challenge of child labour in the country still persists.
“We have some children who are growing up without proper education. So many of them who work as househelps have been killed by their madam. Many of them have also been sexually abused.”
The country director of an NGO that focuses on the issue of children, Plan International, Hussaini Abdu said poverty should be urgently addressed to reduce the rate at which children are being used for domestic and commercial labour.
“Poverty is a reality.”
Experts warn that until other predisposing factors of child labour which include rural to urban migration, lack of family planning and increased number of orphans and vulnerable children due to violence and other social factors, the problem of child labour in the country might continue unabated.
As Nigeria joins the global community today to mark a day against child labour, there is no better time to increase our effort towards tackling those threats to our children’s growth and development because they obviously deserve better than what we are currently offering.