Tackling unending plight of child labourers

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder


There is no respite for children in Nigeria despite the passage of the Child Rights Act, which seeks to guarantee their basic rights. Indeed, about 70 per cent of Nigerian children are engaged in street hawking, 23 per cent in domestic work and 15 per cent in street begging, among other jobs, research has shown.Findings conducted over the weekend by an online polling service, NOI Polls, revealed that the high prevalence of child labour in Nigeria is alarming, considering the law on Child Rights Act 2003 that prohibits such ugly developments in the country.

It defines child labour as any work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and mental development.Every June 12 marks World Day against Child Labour. It highlights the plight of children across the world involved in hazardous work. The annual day also brings together governments, local authorities, civil society and international workers and employers organizations to point out the child labour problem and define the guidelines to help child labourers.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its message to mark this year’s Day Against Child Labour urged massive campaigns against child labour and promotion of safe and healthy work for youth of legal working age.

The Director-General of ILO, Guy Ryder, who disclosed that about 73 million children are in hazardous work, while 153 million children aged five to 17 are still in child labour, said no child under the age of 18 should perform hazardous work as stipulated in the ILO’s conventions on child labour.According to him, these children are toiling in mines and fields, factories and homes, exposed to pesticides and other toxic substances, carrying heavy loads or working long hours.

Ryder stressed that the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda reaffirms the urgency of eliminating the worst forms of child labour, which includes hazardous work, the need to promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, and sets the target of ending all forms of child labour by 2025.In Nigeria, while the NOIPolls survey conducted stated that most of the labour jobs showed that majority are out-of-school children, it further showed that more females of about 73 per cent are engaged in street hawking, while their male counterpart stood at 69 per cent.

The survey showed that the South-South and South-West geo-political zones have the highest number of street hawkers with 84 and 79 per cent respectively.In terms of domestic work, the poll showed that children are involved in street begging (23 per cent), cargo loading (15 per cent) and bus conductor.On some of the reasons associated with children venturing into hazardous work, 45 per cent attributed the development to poverty, 19 per cent ascribed it to neglect, 14 per cent of the poll blabbed it on low family income while 8 per cent credited it to illiteracy and lack of basic education.

It explained that the different type of work children are engaged in different exploitative work from hawking, begging, domestic servitude, cleaners, bus conductors to sexual exploitative work like prostitution and child pornography violates children’s right to survival, protection and their development into adulthood saying most of them engaged in labour are deprived of education, right to play and some end up in very abusive situations such as domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Though child labour is fast becoming a future-threatening menace plaguing a vast number of Nigerian children, part of the steps being taken to curb the menace is the current efforts by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) alongside partners (MDAs) to establish a Comprehensive Child Protection Plan for the country and including a budget line specifically for Child Protection services in certain MDAs directly involved.Large percentage of the poll said government needs to ensure the Child Rights Act 2003 is adopted and enforced by all the states of the federation and ensure that Nigerian children get free education that will shape them into productive individuals in the society.

Implementing an existing law that will limit the number of children people can have to help reduce the growing population is also described as imperative.The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba stressed that many states are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act.He said if every State is able to domesticate the act, it would go a long way, noting that all States must make the domestication a central policy for development.

Wabba who said that labour would do a lot of advocacy and policy engagement to ensure that the abolition of child labour was achieved, also called on government to address the issue of social justice, inequality, social security, as this was the only way to ensure abolition of child labour in the country.He, however, called on government at all levels to embrace free education from primary to tertiary level and other benefits such as scholarships and bursary as it would encourage the children of the poor to continue to access education.

He also noted that the best way to address the issue of inequality and poverty was to give the children of the poor quality education, saying “Because by the time they are educated, they would find their level in the society but if we denied them education and make them to work under precarious conditions then their situation becomes worse in the society.

“Like in the Nigeria context, children are seen hawking not because that is what they want to do but because there is extreme poverty and these children are used to augment the family income.”Still on the Child Rights Act, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), noted that effective implementation of the Act would help tame the menace.

NAPTIP, a focal Agency created by the Federal Government for the protection of children from trafficking, child labour and abuse, said it has commenced purposeful advocacy across the country on the need to enhance the understanding and implementation of the Child Rights Act.The Director-General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah–Donli disclosed that its operatives have been dispatched to areas and establishments where the rights of Nigerian children are being taken for granted. The areas she mentioned include confined institutions, quarries, cocoa plantations and other areas.

“The worst scenario is the case of children rescued from some difficult environments due to insurgency who are further subjected to unimaginable level of sexual abuse and exploitation by the very personalities that have sworn to protect them.Okah-Donli called on children to always speak out when abused so that help can come their way speedily.

The Secretary-General of the Human Capital Providers Association of Nigeria (HuCaPAN), Solomon Adebosin in an interview said that child labour should not be encouraged in any working environment.As many underage children must have been forced into child labour due to poverty, Adebosin noted that it is not a child’s responsibility to contribute to the upkeep of the home either due to poverty or any means.

As HuCaPAN members, he said: “We have code of conduct for all our members, it ensure that no worker is treated below what the law requires and the law also states that nobody that is under aged should be employed. We have our law that we adhere to.“Our mantra is wherever a Nigerian is found working; he or she must have a decent work. Decent work is not child labour, it will only come by empowering that kind of child and educating them. We don’t encourage child labour. People we engage are people who are qualified by virtue of age and fit to be employed.”

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Guy RyderILO
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