Are there hiccups with the draft policy on child labour?

Against the backdrop of increasing children hawkers in Nigeria,Sandra Eguagie, a public affairs analyst wants a rethink of the national policy on child labour…

As I walk through the streets every day to work and to other social events, I see children hawking in the morning, afternoon, evening and sometimes late in the night. Even in public buses, children are conductors collecting money from passengers. It is worst when you travel across the states in Nigeria, you see children selling during school hours on the high ways without fear of being knocked down by a moving vehicle. Even though others simply pick empty and already used plastics, tins, bottles, condemned irons on the streets and enter people’s houses looking for things to pick for sale without being afraid of being killed or kidnapped, so many children have been stolen and killed for ritual purposes and other purposes as a result of this act. These children become part-time street traders and subject to many of the harmful aspects of street life.
Children hawking

Children hawking

The future of child hawker, bus conductors or scavengers is uncertain. The ‘lucky’ ones will graduate into touts, labourers, bus drivers or petty traders while the ‘not-so-lucky’ ones will become drug peddlers, prostitutes, thugs, pimps, armed robbers and social misfits. While others will have to struggle through life to have a better future, making life so difficult for them and sometimes making them become so hardened in life. Many will die as a result of molestation and other abuses.

Children are supposed to be blessings to their parents. They are completely dependent on adults for all their needs and rights. But it seems the reverse is the case for so many families in Nigeria due to poverty and many other reasons. I will also mention the many that are sent as housemaids from rural to urban areas and within urban areas to relatives and non relatives. And most times domestic servants have been found to be of lower intelligence than the children they looked after.

What could be the problem? Is it that the poverty level is too high in this country? Or is it that the free education system in this country is faulty? Or are the parents of these children not aware of the hazards of street trading or simply that they have no alternative? Or are all the children on the streets orphans? Or is there something wrong with the Draft National Policy on Child Labour? Perhaps, this is one feature of developing countries? These are some of the questions we all need to answer.

As a matter of fact, not all work done by children is considered as child labour. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is generally regarded as something positive. But Child labour refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school or obliging them to leave school before closing time and combining school work with heavy work. Child workers include street vendors, shoe shiners, apprentice mechanics, carpenters, vulcanisers, tailors, barbers and domestic servants. They are denied the chance of being children because they become bread winners through their work.

In its most extreme forms, child labour includes sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, raw materials for the production of pornography and compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflicts in places like the North East of Nigeria where they are used as terrorists. Around 15million children in Nigeria under the age 14 work while the estimated number of children from 0-14years is 76,505,041 (male 39,151,304 and female 37,353,737), which is about 43.2% of the total population. If this large number is involved in child labour out of the total population of children (0-14years), then it is a big problem.

Do we just fold our hands because our children are not on the streets? Does it really concern us? Yes it does, because one major negative effect of child labour in the society is the high rate of crime. It trickles down on the entire population at the long run since these children virtually live on the streets. Most of the thugs that politicians use for the perpetuation of evil in the society especially during election period are some of these children. Other crimes like armed robbery, prostitution, drug peddlers, 419, terrorist, militant in the Niger delta and many more are done by some of these children.

Government should focus on reducing unemployment as it is one of the major factors influencing the high rate of child labour. And this can be done by empowering low income earners and petty traders both in urban and rural areas through increase of micro-credit and micro-insurance scheme with low interest rate. The government can also make it accessible to them by setting up a team through the ministry of Labour and civil society groups especially those involved in child rights and children welfare. The civil society groups will monitor the activities of the banks and the Ministry of Labour in disbursing the funds, making sure that the petty traders and low income earners get these funds. Most of the street hawkers, domestic servants and other forms of child labour are done by children of the poor in the society.

There is also the need to strengthen the policies of good family planning more in the rural areas through community-based approach. There should be a strong network across the country that links different ethnic groups in rural and urban communities that can educate parents and care givers on the importance of child education and making sure children are incorporated into the school system. When this is done by their kinsmen or by people who speak the same dialect with them, it will be better strengthened. The Federal Government through the Ministry of Labour and Productivity can implement the national policy on child labour by empowering labour inspectors to arrest the parents of any child found on the streets hawking, selling, and picking condemned irons and other things in the street during school hours. The authorities should also check where children are working outside the streets to ensure they are safe and are not being exploited. Civil society groups can support this policy by making sure that the free education system is actually working and to check the lapses so as to proffer solutions to child labour. There should also be a rehabilitation programme for these children once they are taken off the streets.