Dorcas O. Aluko
While other children of elementary school age were on their way to school on a cold Wednesday morning, Chikadibia, not minding the muddy but busy road, was rushing to his master’s spare parts shop at Ladipo Auto Parts Market, Mushin, Lagos.
He had to be there early to clean and display the wares or else his pay for the day would be shortchanged. The thirteen-year-old native of Anambra state dropped out of school two years ago after his father died and his mother could no longer feed him and his six siblings alone with her meager income and no help was forthcoming on the part of their extended family members.
As the first child, he was tasked with the responsibility of providing money to complement his mother’s income; thus, he had to get a job even at such a young age. Ladipo Auto Parts Market, Mushin is the biggest market for purchasing auto parts in all of Africa. Just like Chikadibia, many other underaged children from poor homes are apprentices and employees there.
Many of these kids have bitter tales to recount about how they got into child labour most of which boil down to two factors: poverty and broken homes. While some of them have lost hope of returning to school and are living their life as it comes, others are praying and wishing that help comes their way someday so that they can enjoy their childhood as they should.
Chikadibia’s mother barely earns above three dollars a day which is not even enough to feed herself and her six children. Apart from feeding and shelter, other needs like clothing and education are considered secondary and most times neglected.
“When my father suddenly died from his sleep during the pandemic in 2020, I thought life had ended for my family and me. My mother who used to hawk peanuts had no money to support his burial. We had been mostly surviving on the profit realized from my father’s Okada riding business before that time. We had to beg people for money before he could be buried. After his burial, his extended family who had not been part of our lives neglected us to our fate. We experienced firsthand hunger and thought we were going to die.
“The day I decided to get a job was the day my mother had to use all she earned for debt servicing because the embarrassment the loan officers gave to her was too much for a young widow like her. After the loan officers left, there was nothing to feed us and we were already so hungry as we had not eaten all day. While I tried to act strong, my younger siblings couldn’t. The youngest of us all, a set of twin girls were just two years of age. They couldn’t understand what was going on and cried bitterly when my mother returned home, unable to get food on credit for us. I saw the agony we were going through and decided I had to start working. My mother kicked against it because she wanted me to continue schooling but I’d rather be an uneducated man than have my siblings starve to death.
“A friend told me of his uncle who needed a sales boy and I begged to be taken. The man was skeptical about my being able to do the job but I tried to convince him that I did well in school and was a fast learner. I also told him my story and he pitied me. He employed me and I’ve been working for close to two years now.” Chikadibia recounted with tears streaming down his face.
When asked about how much he earns, Chikadibia said that he earns on average one thousand, five hundred naira daily but the pay is not really stable as he is usually shortchanged whenever he comes late or does something wrong.
“We wish life was easier”
Saliyu Yunusa, 9, had to resort to hawking dried fish after the woman who brought him from his hometown, Rijiyar Dorowa in Sokoto South Local Government Area of Sokoto State told him he had to fend for himself. She could only offer him shelter and give him already used clothes to wear.
Saliyu disclosed that life had always been difficult for him. When he was in Sokoto, his mother was no longer married to his father and this made him the object of maltreatment by his father’s wife. He had thought succor had come for him when his present guardian saw his suffering and asked him to come to live with her in Lagos. Never did he imagine he was going to continue suffering here too.
“I used to attend a government school back in Sokoto. I loved learning and was always eager to go despite the maltreatment from my father’s wife. I would do everything to make sure she shows me some love and care but it seems she was created to hate me. At one point, I ran to my mother’s house but the new husband she was married to didn’t let me stay. I wish life was easier.
“If there’s anything I would really love to have right now, it would be the opportunity to return to school. I want to be a teacher but here I am hawking fruits so I can eat” he added.
According to International Labour Organization (ILO), Nigeria has 15 million child workers bringing it to the top of the table as the country with the highest incidence of child labour in the world. According to Nigerian law, child labour is the employment of children under the age of 18 in a manner that restricts or prevents them from basic education and development.
While the general minimum age for admission to employment is 15, the minimum age for hazardous work is set at 18 in the Child Right Act of 2003. However, the list of hazardous work is not officially endorsed yet but the draft includes Agriculture (e.g. cocoa farming), agriculture (e.g. rice farming & milling), quarrying, artisanal mining (gold and other metals), traditional tie & dye (informal sector), processing of animal skin, domestic house services (house-boys/house-girls), scavenging trash & recycling collection, street work, begging (street begging and leading of beggars), all aspects of construction works, and all aspects of transport (bus conducting, commercial motorcycle riding, bus park touting, roadside vehicle repairs).
The Child Right Act of 2015 which has been adopted by two-thirds of the states in Nigeria recommends that anyone tried and found guilty of child labour-related crimes should be imprisoned for ten years. It is however surprising that 12 Northern states are yet to adopt it even when it is glaring that they have the highest number of such cases in the country.
A recent study pegs the causes of child labour at demographic conditions through income insecurity and poverty. The predisposing factors of child labour are multifaceted ranging from demographic conditions through income insecurity to poverty. Demographically, the growth rates and the densities are of such magnitude that available social amenities cannot go around or are too expensive for the average family. When the family cannot afford the bare basics of substance, the children in need begin to engage in labour.
Furthermore, income insecurity due to unemployment and or underutilization are crucial issues in child labour. This situation came as a result of unemployment and underemployment, the income is not enough and often not secured as retrenchment stares them in the face. To make up for this shortage, the child labours.
Ignorance on the part of parents, some parents push their children to work because they are not aware of the grave consequences of this to the child and the family in the long term. This condition is often reinforced by the non-availability of or expensive education that is unaffordable to parents.
Poverty is another factor that causes child labour. ILO (1996) maintained that poverty is the greatest single force that creates the flow of children into the workplace… Acute need makes it nearly impossible for households to invest in their children’s education and the price of education can be very expensive for a poor family …. Poor households tend to have more children and large family size has been statistically shown to be associated not only with a higher likelihood that children work but also lower school attendance and completion. The comment above shows succinctly, the effects of poverty on very many issues that in turn creates a condition in which the children engage in labour.
“I didn’t know it is a crime”
Mrs. Evans Adakole, an auto parts dealer who has about four underage children working as a salesperson claimed he was oblivious of the fact that employing underage children is a crime in Nigeria and that he gave the boys employment because they needed it to stay alive.
“I only employed them to help their situation. They were usually badly in need of help whenever they come and the little I could do was offer them jobs since I had no money to give. I believe no sane parents will watch their children suffer but when they fall into bad times, the children have to be understanding”
“I have never heard that employing people below age 15 is a crime because it is like a normal thing everywhere. Kids whose parents can’t send them to school or those who can barely comprehend what is being taught there are employed here so that they can earn a living for themselves and not become truants. I’ve never heard of anyone going to jail for employing a young salesboy nor have I heard of any teenager dying because they work. This is new to me” she said.
Aniette Adejewa, a lawyer and child rights advocate claims that the figure by ILO is underestimated and that there is little enforcement of laws prohibiting child labour in Nigeria.
“Child labour has become a norm in today’s Nigeria and I can boldly say that the 15 million child workers are an underestimated figure. The Northern states where it is most prevalent have more than these figures alone, not to talk of other states. Just take a walk through the cities and you will come across more than 10 children hawkers within the space of three minutes. It is worse when you visit the markets. Most of these market women prefer to employ underaged children as sales persons than adults because they get to pay a lesser amount to the former.”
“The employers are not the only ones to blame as some of them are not even aware that what they are doing is a crime. Parents and guardians who rob children of their childhood by pushing them into early labour are culpable too. Some couples earn very little but won’t stop giving birth to kids. When these kids are growing, they face the worst kind of hunger and have to look for a way to stay alive thereby engaging in child labour. Some guardians too are callous. They get kids from poor relatives under the pretense that they are helping to raise them but they end up using these kids as househelps, salespeople and hawkers.
“Truly, there are laws prohibiting child labour in Nigeria but the enforcement is poor. Child Rights Act 2015 states that any person found guilty of any child labour-related crime shall be imprisoned when convicted for a term of 10 years but it is a pity that in recent years, persecution of offenders is almost non-existent. There is still a long way to go in eradicating this menace from Nigeria” she stated.
Another Child Right Advocate who is at the forefront of child right activism in Northern Nigeria, Muhammad Usman faulted parents who push their wards into child labour, stating that they are indirectly encouraging child trafficking.
“The issue is becoming rampant and if care is not taken, it could affect the future of our children. It doesn’t seem like there is no law prohibiting such practices in the country.
Some parents believe that the issue of sending their children to school is something that is wasting their time, money and resources. Instead, they say ‘Let us send you into child labour where you will get a lot of money and be self-reliant. Most of these parents believe that child labour brings a lot of money and this has led to the issue of child trafficking. They see child labour as the easiest way to get money.
Usman affirmed that the government had a lot of roles to play in curbing the menace totally and therefore suggested the creation and maintenance of a collaborative relationship with civil society organizations, creation of educative programmes on the media, huge funding of education and adequate sensitization on the dangers of child labor as solutions.