A short thin girl with a soft delicate, round face and radiant hazel eyes unmistakably set on a big dream. Jamila’s warm smile overwhelms the burden that she’s carried ever since she was a toddler.
At twelve, with 8 siblings, she is without hope for an education and Her life whittles down to nothing more than a repetitive series of events. With an empty stomach she gets up early in the morning, treks more than several miles away to the nearest marketplace where she gets wares which she hawks in a local village. From dusk till dawn she toils without rest in inclement weather, struggling to earn a token.
Gradually, Jamila loses herself esteem and feels separated from the rest of society. For her, life seems like a tunnel with no exit. Jamila is one in 37 million children in Nigeria who come from a family living below $10 per day.
Child labour is the practice of employing children under the age of 18 in a manner that strips them of their childhood, basic education and in some cases even their health. A practice which unfortunately is rampant in every nation in the world. The definition of child labour differs among societies as a result of differing legal work age limits. However, it should always be differentiated from child work. Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour. Whereas child work is considered to be a part of the children’s training to be responsible adults, child labour is exploitative.
Should we subject a child, the very symbol of innocence and vulnerability to the gruff realities of labour?
A research carried out by UNICEF reveals that about 31.1% of children in Nigeria aged 5-14 i.e. approximately 14,000,000 children are actively working in Nigeria in such areas as quarrying granite and gravel, commercial sexual exploitation and armed conflict.
Society turns a blind eye to child labour citing tradition as a defence. This defence is nothing but a ridiculous sham as events of today are a far cry from the ways of old. Children now are not working together with their families, alongside adults inculcating developmental life skills. Instead, they toil for long hours like adults while receiving little or no pay from their employers. They do not work to grow as individuals, instruments of societal development, but they do so in many cases for survival, a chance for themselves and their families not to die from starvation.
Child labour poses a serious threat not only to the health and well being of the child in question but also to national growth. It aggravates intergenerational poverty.
For instance, despite Nigeria’s economic growth, poverty level remains high and growing. A new report by The World Poverty Clock shows that nearly 50% of Nigeria’s massive population live in extreme poverty. That is more than 86 million Nigerians living on less than $2 per day. As staggering as it is already, this figure is estimated to triple with an imminent population boom that would place Nigeria as the world’s third largest country by 2050.
Lifting Nigerians out of poverty is encumbered by the persistent issues of income inequality, ethnic conflict, and political instability.
Income inequality is nothing new to Nigerians. The popular sayings ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is as true today as it was years ago. Credence to this claim is offered by a head count index which shows a greater percentage of rurally poor Nigerians in contrast to their urban counterparts. This is a clear result of differential access to infrastructure, amenities and oil revenue across the country. A disparity further aggravated by high unemployment rates.
However, as deep seated as this problem is in the nation, it’s not without a solution. We only need to take a close look at the small and medium scale sector to bridge the yawning gap of economic inequality in the country.
SMEs can serve as a tool for growing the earning capacity of middle class and the country’s GDP. SMEs constitute about 90% of all Nigerian businesses with an employment generation rate greater than 80%. Therefore, as a nation we have to support SMEs through monetary policies and upskilling or capacities building trainings.
Secondly, a major consequence and cause of child labour is the millions of school age children who are not in school.
These children go on to be the child labourers. In order to reduce poverty and child labour universal access to free, quality, compulsory education at least at the primary level is necessary. The effort to provide this must be made in every state of the country.
School fees should be abolished while “child-friendly schools” should be promoted. Furthermore, there is need for a total overhaul of the education sector to make it both practical and functional. Teachers need to be retooled and properly remunerated for the new challenge.
Finally, Government needs to create and advocate the nationwide domiciliation and implementations of laws that would protect children against child labour such as the Child’s Right Act which protects children and sets punishments for offenders of child trafficking, child abuse, forced child labour and other violations of children’s rights.
In addition to their implementation in every state of the nation, these laws equally need to be reformed. The legal framework of the nation needs to be vetted for inconsistencies regarding child labour.
However, tackling only how to get children out of these restrictive and harmful work environments without treating what got them there in the first place diminishes and may even hinder any tangible progress.
Subsequently, we must understand that tackling the underlying issues as well as their interconnectedness with child labour is the key to developing a more feasible and long-lasting remedy to the problem.