It is a common sight in Nigeria and, indeed, many developing nations to use children and underaged teenagers as labourers or expose them to indecent activities such as traffic hawking, street trading, housemaids, domestic services, okada riding and in many nano, micro and small businesses, as casual workers.
In fact, a growing number of them engage in street begging and some are seen in hazardous work or illicit activities such as prostitution and trafficking.
While popular research findings posit that over one in five children in Africa are employed as child labourers, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) data publicizes that Africa is home to almost half of the world’s child labourers, with about 72 million children. It is, therefore, safe to say that Africa has the highest incidence of child labour in the world.
For clarity, child labour means putting underaged children to work in ways that restrict or prevent them from basic education and development.
Bringing it home, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates the number of child workers in Nigeria to be around 15 million. And, despite being the highest in West Africa, this figure has been observed to be underestimated.
Sadly, this article is inspired by the death of a 14-year-old girl that was carelessly 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 were dispersing the agitators at Ojota, Lagos State.
She was said to be a teenager of 14 years who was a street or kiosk trader. However, the poor teenager should not have been hawking or engaged in roadside trading in the first place. The current social and economic realities in Nigeria however means that many families use the children’s labour facilities to boost income and secure daily meals. Therefore, we all have to do more as individuals, households, institutions, businesses and governments to stop the tide of this growing trend of child labour in Nigeria.
Actually, many know that the act of involving children in hawking, labour and trading is not ideal, but the need for families to supplement family income leads parents/guardians into subjecting their wards to labour.
However, many child labourers are unpaid, while many other children who offer labour are not in an employment relationship with the employer. In such common instances, they are subjected to work under oppression and fear. Some say this is more common with teenagers of 15 years and above, but it is in fact a general situation of child labour in the country. And many times, these children are subjected to various engagements against their wish, being taken advantage of since they are too young to understand that being made to work as a minor is illegal, and can be reported to authorities.
Though poverty is the root cause of child labour, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has increased economic insecurity, disrupted supply chains, and seriously slowed down family income, with the majority experiencing significant loss of income, inflationary pressures, job loss and in some cases no income. And this has further compounded the wave of poverty in the country and in poor families, leading to child labour now being seen as a major source of income for the family’s survival.
Also, 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. Thi situation has also heightened the risk of child labour due to idleness and increased the number of out of school children.
Even in a commercial state like Lagos, many kids from low-income families often combine schooling with menial labour activities, braving through health hazards and potential abuse. Parents, guardians and employers of such children usually take undue advantage of them, making them work long hours, knowing that they cannot summon the courage to make formal complaints to government agencies or any authority. In light of this, there is a need to do more in the area of actively enforcing child labour laws.
It is also without question that child labourers are the worst paid and the most exploited. It is equally unquestionable that it is prevalent among children of the illiterates. Therefore, educating and enlightening parents, guardians and employers of child labourers would also help to curb the menace.
Furthermore, the government addressing the high informality of small businesses in the country will also go some way, as this is the sector that drives child labour, usually without payment and/or adequate compensations in cases of accident, injury or death.
Making sure primary and secondary education is legally mandatory would likely also drastically reduce the prevalence of child labour, whilst increasing the general level of education in the country.