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Upholding Child Dignity in Nigeria – By Arnold A. Alalibo

By Arnold A. Alalibo | NNP | August 6, 2017 – June 12 every year is marked as the World Day Against Child Labour. Being a member-nation of the International Labour Organisation, ILO, Nigeria also joined the rest of the world to mark the day. The ILO launched the day against child labour in 2002 to create an awareness of the issues faced by children globally and take effective measures to eliminate them. The International theme for this year’s celebrations is: “In conflicts and disasters, protect children from child labour.”
Child labour remains a major source of concern in Nigeria in spite of various legislative measures. According to some stakeholders, child labour is an evil that retards the growth of our country.
They said a massive number of children are compelled to do labour daily and have, therefore, called for urgent action to be taken to tackle the menace in areas affected by conflict and disaster. What is child labour? It is generally defined as work that is mentally, physically, socially and morally dangerous and harmful to children and prevents them of opportunities and development.
A figure released by the ILO had it that the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15 million. The high level of tedious jobs children do in dangerous situations is quite worrisome. These jobs include street vending, begging, car washing, shoe shining. Others work as apprentice mechanics, hair dressers and bus conductors. The bulk of them work as domestic servants.
Girls are particularly worse off as they are made to work at an earlier age largely in the rural areas than boys. They also suffer the triple burden of house work, school work and work out of home whether paid or unpaid.
Many girls are indeed exposed to the unpleasant sides of life. Most dismaying is the fact that several children (particularly girls) are used for commercial sexual exploitation purposes, where they are forced to give their bodies to men. The major cause of child labour have been identified as poverty, rapid urbanization, breakdown in family affiliations, school dropout rates, cultural factors and lack of enforcement of legal instruments meant to protect children.
Traditionally, children have to work with their families, but today they are forced to work for their own and the survival of their families. The money earned by child family members have become a significant part of poor families’ incomes. These children who labour hard, usually suffer from fatigue, irregular attendance at school, lack of comprehension and motivation, improper socialisation, exposure to risk of sexual abuse and high likelihood of being in crime.
A legal practitioner, Mr. Belief Enebuofa, said child labour should be regarded as a crime against humanity by the United Nations. He said anyone caught engaging a child in labour inimical to the child should be tried in a UN special court that should be established in every country. The legal practitioner stated that children didn’t have it this bad those days because the value system was right. Then children were protected by all and claimed that everyone was responsible for all. Hear him: “Child abuse should be considered a crime against humanity by the UN and all culprits should be prosecuted and punished in a special UN court. I cannot tell how we got to this point. But in those days, everyone was responsible for every child. It was the duty of all to protect, respect and speak for the child.”
A self-employed woman, Mrs. Josephine Onuoha, condemned child hawking and every form of child labour that can prevent the child from attaining self actualisation. Hear her: “In Nigeria, we must break the supply chain in child labour as is portrayed in domestic work, abuse, street hawking, begging on the streets, deprivation of school and child trafficking. “One of the many practical ways we can do this is to stop buying from kids who hawk. In that way, those who send them to hawk in the streets would come to understand this is not a viable means to sustain themselves, and thus break the supply chain.”
A Port Harcourt-based kindergarten teacher in a private nursery/primary school, Mrs Maria Okon, attributed child labour to poverty and economic hardship. She said parents and guardians were often compelled by circumstances to belabour their children or wards. She, however, condemned the act and called it a form of slavery. “When parents, relatives or guardians do not have the means to sustain their families let alone educate a child, they send the child off as a domestic or work slave. This is still a form of slavery, and there is no justification for it, “ she said. Although there are laws prohibiting child labour in Nigeria, the trend still continues because the laws are not properly enforced and offenders often go free without prosecution.
This development has not gone down well with some analysts who think people are left to go unpunished after committing the act because the Nigerian government lacks the political will to sanction them since some of those involved are politicians. A retired principal and educationist, Mr. Ignatius Lawson, is strictly of that view. He said the enforcement of the law was the only solution to the problem. And such enforcement, according to him, should not be selective.
“I see child labour as a natural evil. I say so because we don’t need the codified law to make us understand this. One of the ways to end it is by strictly enforcing the law. Crime increases in the country not because there are no laws, but because they are not enforced, especially when politicians are involved, “ he stated.
In August 2003, the federal government formally adopted three ILO conventions setting a minimum age for the employment of children. Despite that, child labour still appears to be on the increase across the country.

What could be responsible for it? Does it suggest that there is more to it than meets the eye?
Apart from the employment of legal instrument to end the problem, some stakeholders think that governments at all levels, civil society groups, non governmental organisations (NGOs) and churches have to raise awareness of the issue through seminars and symposia emphasizing the need to stop child labour in Nigeria. But as Alexis Herman states: “If we can’t begin to agree on fundamentals, such as the elimination of the most abusive forms of child labour, then we really are not ready to move forward into the future”. Can Nigeria truly put an end to child labour in order to move forward into the future?

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Posted by on Aug 6 2017. Filed under Arnold Alalibo, Articles, Columnists, NNP Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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