UNICEF defines Child labor is work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development. According to the International Labour Organization, the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15 million. These jobs include being street vendors, beggars, car washers or watchers and shoe shiners. Others work as apprentice mechanics, hairdressers and bus conductors while a large number work as domestic servants and farm hands.
Major causes of child labor are widespread poverty, rapid urbanization, breakdown in extended family affiliations, secondary school drop out rates, and lack of enforcement of legal instruments meant to protect children.
Although the main cause of child labor is Poverty, illiteracy also plays a role in Child labor. There are a lot of mothers on Lagos road that are seen begging with their children that are supposed to be in school. In the northern part there are a lot of cases of underage children being given up for marriage.
While some find themselves working because they become the breadwinner in their family either due to the death of their parents or illnesses beyond their control. In Nigeria the people that are most affected by child labor are girls.
Just last month 16 children were rescued in the state from the various places where they were being used as laborers instead of their being in school in Ekiti State. Recently a 16-year old orphan nearly lost her life following a heavy bleeding consequent upon an incomplete abortion sponsored by her benefactor where she was working as his house maid.
Just last month also a pregnant mother of two reportedly beat her eight year old house help until the girl died. You would wonder what can an eight year old child that probably can’t even take care of herself do in terms of housework? There are so many more stories that we have not even heard of.
The devastating part to child labor is the fact that it has long lasting effects on the children. Most of this children because they did not get to have adequate education end up as illiterates and drop outs doing odd jobs with no stable income. While most of the girls end up as prostitutes or teenage mothers due to the exposure that they experience everyday, the boys end up as street urchins terrorizing and causing havoc all over the place.
The effect of child labor does not only affect the child, it affects the society in general. It is already hard enough in the country for people who had access to education not to talk of those without adequate education.
It would shock you to know that in Nigeria there are already laws laid down to protect children called the Child Rights Act that states that:
Buying, selling, hiring or otherwise dealing in children for purpose of begging, hawking, prostitution or for unlawful immoral purposes are made punishable by long terms of imprisonment. Other offences considered grave include sexual abuse, general exploitation which is prejudicial to the welfare of the child, recruitment into the armed forces and the importation /exposure of children to harmful publications. It further preserves the continued application of all criminal law provisions securing the protection of the child whether born or unborn.
The Act mandates parents, guardians, institutions and authorities in whose care children are placed, to provide the necessary guidance, education and training to enable the children live up to these responsibilities.
The Child Right Act (CRA) considers a child as a person below the age of 18 years (SECTION 21 of the CRA). It also states that a child’s best interest should be of utmost priority in any case involving a child (section 1 of the CRA 2003).
Even with the law already laid down it is a wonder that child labor is still very rampant in Nigeria infact you can't step out of your house in the morning without seeing a child begging or hawking on the road while their counterparts are in school. The question we then have to ask ourselves as a community is what can we do to help and how can we stop child labor in Nigeria?
The first step to putting an end to Child Labor is for us to realize that it is not just up to one person, we are all responsible for putting an end to it. Although we have laws prohibiting child labor in Nigeria, child labor is still on the increase because there is no enforcement and defaulters are not made to face the wrath of the law.