It is a common sight in Nigeria and indeed many developing nations to use kids as labourers or expose them to indecent activities such as traffic hawking, street trading, housemaids, domestic services, okada- riding and in several nano, micros and small businesses as casual workers including agriculture. These nano businesses include kiosk and corner shops, vulcanizers, street vendors, shoemakers, apprentice mechanics, carpenters, tailors, barbers, hairdressers, and in open market trades and so on. A growing number of them engage in street begging and some are seen in hazardous work or illicit activities such as prostitution and trafficking. More than one in five children in Africa are employed as child labourers, in fact, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) data has it that Africa is the region most affected by underage labour and home to almost half of the world’s child labourers, with about 72 million children.
Therefore it is safe to say that Africa has the highest incidence of child labour in the world. In the Nigerian context, child labour is the employment of children under the age of 18 in a manner that restricts or prevents them from basic education and development. According to estimates determined by International Labor Organization (ILO) the number of child workers in Nigeria is around 15 million, however, from context observation, this figure appears underestimated even though is the highest recorded rate of child labour in West Africa.
Painfully what informed this piece is the life of a young girl that was needlessly cut short on the 3rd of July 2021 in Lagos State. The incident was reported to have happened at the Yoruba Nation rally where police was dispersing the agitators at Ojota, Lagos State. She was said to be a teenager of 14 years who was a street or kiosk trader. The perspective of this piece is that the poor teenager ought not to have been hawking or engaged in road side trading if things were really the way they should economically and socially. But with the current realities in the country most family’s needs the children’s support for sustenance and to boost income, and secure daily meals. Therefore, we all have to do more as a nation from individuals, households, institutions, businesses and government.
The truth is that many know that the activities of involving kids in hawking, labour and trading is bad, but survival is instrumental to this and there is a need for families to supplement family income with the efforts of the kids and wards. Most children labourers are unpaid, and most children who offer labour are never in any form of an employment relationship with the guardian or a third-party employer, but still they are subjected to work under oppression and fear. This is not the perceived situation of the late teenager but the general perception of child labour in the country. Most time children are subjected to various engagements against their wish and are too young to understand that working as a minor is illegal and can be reported to authorities.
Though the root cause of child labour can be adjudged to be poverty, however the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has increased economic insecurity, disrupted supply chains, and seriously slowed down family income, with majority experiencing significant loss of income, inflationary pressures, job loss and in some cases no income. This situation has further compounded the wave of poverty in the country and in poor families, child labour is seen as a major source of income for the family survival. Recall, that the impact of challenges such as increasing insecurity and kidnapping along with COVID-19 have forced children in some localities to drop out of school, this, in turn, has heightened the risk of child labour due to idleness and increase the number of out of school children.
The unethical use of child labour is an issue that has been prevalent and is on the rise in the country. So, in a nutshell with school closures in some part of the country, income losses, deepening poverty, and limited social services, children are forced into one form of labour or the other increasingly. Agreeably, in recent times we have seen a rapid rural-urban migration of children, mostly teenagers from disadvantaged families and background particularly from unsafe villages to cities, in search of economic opportunities that often do not exist.
In my opinion majority of these efforts end up in child labour because jobs available to children are limited to unskilled, physical, and labor-intensive tasks. Even in a commercial State like Lagos, many kids from low income family often combine schooling with labour activities and they face health hazards and potential abuse. Parents, guardians and employers usually take undue advantage of these kids make them work long hours knowing that they cannot summon the courage to make formal complaints to government agencies or any authority. Even though the rights of children are well expressed and enshrined in labour laws, there is a need to do more in the area of actively enforcing it.
Without any doubts, child labourers are the worst paid and the most exploit in labour activities yet it is more prevalent among children of the illiterates in the country. Therefore more efforts need to go into education and giving more enlightenments to parents, guardians and employers. The protection of the rights of these children is key and more social protection needs to be extended to them all across the country.
It is a fact that Nigeria is an International Labour Organization (ILO) member since 1960 and has ratified 40 International Labour Conventions which is a good development for the country. However, there is a need to strictly enforce child labour laws as expected and extend social protection to them all. In addition, there is urgent need to encourage legislative and practical actions to eradicate child labour. Furthermore, the government needs to address the high informality of small businesses in the country because this sector largely drives child workers and labourers which are usually unpaid and with no adequate compensation in case of accident, injury or death. More so progress against child labour needs to be intensified by making sure primary and secondary education is legally mandatory. Similarly, if education is enforced without any form of interference it is likely to increase the general level of education in the country and reduce the exposure to children to labour at tender age. It will not be out of place for parents, employers, organisations, civil society, academic institutions, regional organisations and even individuals to propose specific actions that may contribute, and drive the end of child labour in the country. Good luck!
Dr. Olubiyi writes via [email protected],