Child Labour: Our Rights & Our Travails

Temitope Mustapha, Abuja

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Jude Kadiri who lives in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, hits the road everyday at 06:30hrs to sell facemasks since the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control recommended the use of facemasks as part of measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

The 13-year-old boy and Junior Secondary School-3 student in Gwarimpa engages in the new trend of business with his friends in Karmo, a suburb in the FCT.

Jude produces the facemasks with his mother who is a tailor and hawks them at major Bus Stops of Jabi and Deidei in the FCT, to make extra income for the family.“It is a way to assist my mother,” said the boy.

Jude’s mother, Julie Edjeba Kadiri, a widow of eight years, domestic worker and a trained tailor, confirmed the efforts of the boy in contributing to the finance of the family in a period of “so much financial pressure” as she described it.

According to her, “Jude has made over N25,000 since this Coronavirus trouble started and I have been able to save N15, 000 for him out of the money. We also feed from the money he brings home sometimes because since the end of March, I could not go to my place of work where I was a housekeeper. So, my son told me he could make facemasks. He told me they were taught where he used to learn tailoring after school hours before the restriction on movement started. I am also a tailor and I have a small shop, working together, we began to make the facemasks and he goes out to hawk them every day.

Jude is not the only one helping his parentS to earn a little more income during the lockdown. 14 year-old Abednego Peter and 12 year-old Jennifer Peter also lend helping hands to their struggling parents. In torn and loose clothes, they stood in their father’s farm, wiping sweats off their faces. They were found applying manure to their father’s maize farm in Idu Kooro area of FCT.

I was the one that did the planting on this farm. I helped my father to plant groundnut also in three other farms that belong to us in Hulunmi and Paipe village,” said the boy, who added that he was preparing for his junior West Africa Examinations Council exams in Junior Secondary School, Idu Koro, before the COVID 19 forced a closure of schools in the FCT and indeed across the country.

The two underage children work in the farm without supervision of any adult nor with any form of protection, making them vulnerable to the vagaries of criminals- including being susceptible to kidnap and rape.

The two siblings are among the world’s 108 million children said to be child farmers, according to the International Labour office global estimates of child labour of 2012-2016.

Since the schools were shut-down in March 2020 due to the Corona virus, Abednego has planted beans, maize and groundnuts in our farmlands for me. Though he has not been able to learn, he has assisted the family so much. His mother and I have been sick but since March, he goes to farm with his sister.

“Only once in a while I check what they have done, that is when they apply manure because the time for it was rolling by. He has saved me from the trouble of hiring an outsider to do the farm work for me,” said Abednego’s father, James Peter.

The father of four and full time farmer said his inability to provide smart phone or laptop for his son has deprived him the opportunity of joining the internet classes he heard about during the closure of schools. The period has however, paid off well for him. He said his family got some palliative during the lockdown but not enough to sustain the family.

“We had to prepare for the rainy season on our farm, I believe it is what will sustain my family beyond this Corona virus period and more so these children have been sitting at home doing nothing,” he added.

Another child working to shore up finances at home is Amarachi Isaac. She is the second child in her family of five and has been selling vegetables for her mother since she was 11. Sadly, not many families are able to provide facilities for online schooling.

Nigeria’s Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, while reacting to accessibility of pupils to Online studies during the COVID Pandemic in Nigeria, said less than 11% of children in public schools have access to the online teaching content made available by the Federal Government due to a dearth of facilities.

 

Exposure to dangers on the street

“Some men ask if I could follow them to their car to collect my money sometimes,” Amarachi said, confirming the fear of her mother who, in spite of the assistance provided by her daughter, knows the danger of allowing a young girl to hawk in Abuja.

Amarachi’s mother, Mercy Isaac, a petty trader in Kado told me that asking her daughter to hawk vegetables is a way of reducing the financial burden on the family. She said since her school was closed due to COVID 19, Amarachi has made customers of her own.

She said she is sometimes afraid of her going too far from her shop due to the fear of rape or kidnapping but she has no choice.

“As you can see I cannot afford to buy computer or get data for my daughter to learn via the Internet. For me, it is as good as no learning for them since four months now because she attends public school. Most times she is in the shop with me selling or making extra money in her known location.”

Mrs Isaac added that sometimes the family feeds from what she and her daughter make every day hence, she could not risk her daughter not being in the market in a day.

Section 28 of the Child Rights Act 2003, prohibits employment of children and forbids any one below age 18 from performing any work that is hazardous or interferes with the child’s health, physical, mental or social development.

The Child Labour Act of Nigeria ratified in 1974 sets the minimum age for employment at 15 years, precisely to include light domestic work performed for the family.

A National Modular Child labour Survey of 2000/2001 revealed that more than 15 million children are engaged in child labour in Nigeria, stating that the major reason given by the children who engage in the act is the need to generate extra income for their families.

Jude, Abednego and Amarachi are among the under-aged children engaged in child labour and made to bear the burden of school work at the same time.

 

Rights Activists weigh in

Child Rights Advocate, Kolawole Olatosimi of Child Protection Foundation, laments that despite the fact that Abuja child hawkers are victims, their trading activities are also criminalised by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB and the FCT Social Development Secretariat.

He described the partnership between AEPB and the FCT Social Development Secretariat as being in “discord with the Child’s Rights Act of 2003.

Olatosimi says “the AEPB is totally doing the wrong thing. Their manner of picking these children off the street is against the CRA, the UN Convention on Child Rights as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children, to which Nigeria is a signatory.”

“I believe the FCT Social Development Secretariat is criminalising the children who engage in hawking and other forms of child labour by arresting them. To me, it is wrong to handle children under such conditions, he says.

Olatosimi called instead, for the establishment of effective Family Courts in the FCT, arguing that the CRA provides for courts at the Magistrate and High Court levels.

According to him, “the courts have powers to issue a protection order when a child in the custody of a caregiver is not adequately cared for.

The Family Court will then issue a protection order that will make the government take over the care of such a child.” Olatosimi said.

He also advocated for the full implementation of the CRA, saying fostering is another major aspect of the Act that government must consider. “If you take ten children off the street in a wrong way, you’ll have 20 of them replace those immediately.” 

Olatosimi lamented that children engaged as labourers are those who have not come in contact with the law.

“These are children who are not in conflict with the law. They are not even to be taken to the regular courts, they are not to be sentenced but rehabilitated but foster homes are not provided for in the CRA.

“Some of these crucial facilities are not in place and because this is lacking, we will continue to have an increase in the number of children hawking on the streets of Abuja.”

Yet another Child Rights activist and the President of Change Managers International Network, Felicia Onibon, also said child labour could expose children to health hazards, especially now with COVID 19 pandemic still spreading.

She condemned hawking and other forms of child labour, adding that child labour violates the Child Rights Act.

“We need to look at the situation that has led the children to the street to hawk items to bring food to the table for members of their families. We need to critically ask questions about parents who engage their under-age children in farm work. All of these affect children directly, especially as they have been at home for so long due to the COVID 19 lockdown.

“The environment is such that most of these children live in closed-off environments. They have found themselves at home, asking for more food, which their parents do not have.”

“Some parents practically see the idea of hawking as a way of occupying the time of their wards without considering the fact that they are violating the children’s right.” Onibon said.

Government seeks wider collaboration

When contacted, Kenechukwu Onyedima, acting Secretary, Social Development Services of the FCT, said, government will continue to rely on and seek support of the general populace to get children off the streets.

She praised the synergy between the FCT Administration and the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, saying this has enhanced the implementation of the CRA in the FCT.

Onyedima said the FCT has taken custody of over 67 children engaged in child labour in the FCT, adding that the AEPB picks at least eight children off the streets every week.

She explains that in compliance with the CRA which has been domesticated in the FCTA, the AEPB takes custody of children but the parents come begging for the return of their children then the agency delegates “…officers to know where they reside in the FCT and we ensure they write an undertaking that should the child be engaged in child labour again, they will lose complete custody of their children.

Assistant Chief Community Development Officer, Child Protection Unit of the Federal Ministry for Women Affairs, Felix Nwaeseni, said the CRA of 2003 is on state governments’ residual list, making them responsible for the full implementation of the Act.

He mentioned a few hindrances to the success of the implementation of the CRA which he said included weak “structures, differences in the capacity of relevant institutions including a dearth of judges and child assessors and the absence of family courts.”

Mr. Nwaeseni explained that at least 14 states including the FCT have domesticated the CRA, based on what they consider to constitute child labor but under general principles, “there are minimum standards of survival issues, you measure the kind of labour a child is engaged in, it must not be that labour that submerges the right of a child to live and survive.”

He also stressed the need for partnership to build the capacity of social workers and expand facilities.

The AEPB officials taking the child hawkers off the street are not trained on handling matters of child labour…those who have adequate training and are empowered by law, do not have the facility to accommodate these children”, Nwaeseni explained.

What will be required include social protection shelter for children, provision of food, medical needs and engagement of counsellors, as major items on the CRA, in addition to the stipulated requirements under the Child Rights International Policies, if the authorities are to successfully keep child hawkers off the street and end or reduce child labour in the territory. State governments will also necessarily need to improve budgetary allocation to the welfare of children.

Moving forward, Mr Nwaeseni said state governments will have to move children’s welfare from the residual list to improve on the deliverables of the CRA, and this he says, will require legislative changes.

Therefore, it is crucial for stakeholders to approach the Legislature for constitutional change so that matters of children’s welfare and protection can be moved to the concurrent list”, Nwaeseni said.

 

 

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