We see them every day. They are everywhere. On the streets and on major highways. They are vendors, potters, scavenger…beggars. They are our children. In the north it is a prevalent tradition to send young boys to Koranic teachers to receive an education which may include a vocational or apprenticeship component. Some of these boys are fortunate to have good teachers who actually educate them but most of them fall into the wrong hands. They are forced to beg during the day and give up everything they earned at the end of the day to their teachers. Most times if they are unable to earn the required daily amount, they are starved or forced to sleep outside. Some of them have been injured deliberately by these so called teachers so that they arouse sympathy to encourage giving. Girls are given out as domestic servants and most of them become victims of sexual and physical abuse. Some of them end up as commercial sex workers. In many societies today children are treated poorly. Little recognition and less tolerance are accorded to them in homes and at public places. That is why children are vulnerable to all forms of inhuman and reckless abuse. What are we doing about it? We all read the story of the little girl who was burnt by her mistress because she wet the bed in the night. We have all read about or even witnessed cases where children were being abused. What do we do about this?
Child labour is the employment of children in an industry or business, especially when illegal or considered exploitative that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.
Poverty is the driving force behind child labour in Nigeria as it is a large part of income for families.
In August 2003, the Nigerian Government formally adopted three International Labour Organization conventions setting a minimum age for the employment of children. In addition, the country signed a memorandum of understanding in cooperation with ILO to launch a country programme under the international programme for the elimination of child labour.( IPEC). Nigeria went further by implementing the wet Africa cocoa agriculture project (WACAP) and by passing section 28 and 29 of the child rights act into law. Some states like Anambra have banned children from working during school hours. While substantial legislation is now in place, legal enforcement remains(1) .
The child rights act 2003 (CRA) incorporates all the rights and responsibilities of children: consolidates all laws relating to children into a single law and specifies the duties and obligations of government, parent and other authorities, organization and bodies(2). The is however a major block to the domestication of this law at state level. In Nigeria only 24 out of 36 states have promulgated the child rights act 2003 into law. The remaining 12 states all of which are in northern Nigeria except one, have yet to adopt the child rights act. They are Enugu, Zamfara, Yobe, sokoto, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe, Kebbi, Borno , Bauchi and Adamawa.(3) One of the major issues stopping them is their disposition towards child marriage and related issues. Child marriage is despicable and should be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians.
Section 29 ( 4 a and b) of the 1999 constitution(4) states that full age means the age of 18 and (b)any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age. This section has been used as an excuse to get away with child marriage and the senate voted to remove section 29 (4) (b) from the constitution. Sadly an objection was raised and part 1, item 61 of the constitution, known as ‘exclusive legislative list’ was cited which states the formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages under Islamic law and customary law including matrimonial cases thereto’ in objection. The senate could not muster the two-thirds majority votes required so section 29 (4) (b) remains.
By virtue of section 274 of the child rights act 2003, the provisions of the child rights act 2003 supersedes all other provisions of other enactments on children and other matters. In my opinion, this is why the remaining states have not passed the child rights act into law. We must put pressure on the national assembly and the governors of the 12 states that have not passed the child rights act into law. We must push for the total removal of section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 constitution and the amendment of part 1, item 61 of the constitution which states the areas the national assembly can make laws on to include all marriages period.
If education is free from primary to junior secondary level, lack of income will no longer be an excuse for child labour. Young girls will be able to see themselves not as property but as people who can make changes and go places.
I call on all Nigerians interested in the growth and well-being of our children and our nation to stand together to fight against anything or any laws that are not in the best interest of our children. Our children are the leaders of tomorrow.
* (1)UNICEF information sheet on child labour. 2006
(2)UNICEF NIGERIA-FACT SHEET. Child rights legislation in Nigeria (April 2011)
(3) UNICEF NIGERIA-FACT SHEET. Child rights legislation in Nigeria (April 2011)
(4) 1999 constitution as amended.