As if on the clock, she shows up every morning at the same time, 8.30 am- a time when school has resumed and the first period is almost over. She comes to peddle her ware, pap-commonly known in western Nigeria as ‘ogi’. The entire tray is worth less than five hundred Naira. Out of curiosity, I ask her one day if she doesn’t go to school. She shyly responds that she does. I look at the time and I wonder when.
June 12th every year is marked World Day Against Child Labour. Child labour as defined by international laws is work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development. According to the United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF) there are an estimated 158 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who are engaged in child labour. In Nigeria, there is an estimated 15 million working children under the age of 14 (International Labour Organisation estimate)
Most of these children can be found along the streets and highways, sometimes zapping through traffic in a bid to sell something as little a five Naira worth of pure water. This, to a large extent explains why these children are on the streets and not in school. High level of poverty, parental illiteracy, rapid urbanization, and breakdown of the extended family system has been cited as reasons for this high statistic.
The effects are tragic. A child without an education suffers mentally and emotionally. He is caught and entangled in an unending web of poverty. Without proper education, the child ends up taking up unskilled badly paid jobs. This often breeds a new generation of poor children who may end up child labourers themselves.
Also imagine what 15 million uneducated youths could do for money. Is it little wonder then that Nigeria has witnessed a rapid growth in violence and kidnapping in recent times?
It becomes apparent therefore that we need to bring an end to child labour. To start with, the Child Right Act (2003) should be ratified and adopted by all states in Nigeria. This will provide a legal framework upon which to determine the rights of the child. Yet, government legislation is of no use if they can not be enforced. States that have ratified the CRA, should do more to enforce these laws. Children who are of school age should be kept off the streets. These children have homes and more should be done in terms of social work to help them. A situation whereby fines are imposed on the parents does not solve the problem because the children are on the streets because of poverty to start with. Parents should be educated into understanding that the only way to break the circle of poverty is by allowing their children get an education. Keeping them out of school now in order to make money will only further compound the problem.
Support groups should be formed in the Local Government Councils. Their responsibility would be to reach out to the women in their councils to encourage them to send their wards to school. The traditional role of children in the family should be restored. Children are meant to help their parents and not provide for them.
Eradication of Child labour is a collective responsibility. Everybody should be involved. We know who these people are who abuse children in this way. It is your responsibility to speak out against it. The time is now!