Recently, the Court of Appeal upheld the judgment of a lower court that imprisoned Titilayo Folorunsho and her husband, Idowu Folorunsho, for procuring and forcing an underage girl, Adesina Abidemi, into prostitution in Libya.
The couple was found guilty of inducing and subjecting the victim to a horrendous journey from Ibadan to Kano to Agadez in Niger Republic through the Sahara Desert to Tripoli in Libya. They subsequently sold her to one Madam Muliat who was operating a brothel, or “connection house,” as it is called in Libya, where the victim was continually subjected to grievous forms of sexual orgies, with an average of 10 men every day.
Many times, she was pregnant and her slave masters aborted all. Several times, she tried to escape but she was always arrested, severely punished and forced back into the sexual ordeal. Somehow, she managed to escape to Nigeria through the help of one Joseph, a Ghanaian. But shortly after, it was discovered that she was pregnant and had been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
While pronouncing the judgment, the court said that anyone who, for the sake of lucre, deliberately sold fellow human beings into servitude, either within or outside the country, deserved nothing but outright condemnation.
The court recounted the suffering of people subjected to trafficking thus: “From the shores of their native land, the helpless victims are transported, as in the horrible epoch of slave trade in the olden days, to a cold and pitiless world, a world with neither joy nor freedom. Therein, they are forced to contend with very inhuman and degrading conditions and challenges such as prostitution and forced labour. Such culprits are glorified vultures in the image of human beings.”
Also narrating her ordeal as a child labourer, 11-year-old Aminat, who sold groundnut along the Dopemu Bridge in Lagos, said: “Every day, I am here by the roadside, under rain, under sun, trying to earn money to help my parents and pay my school fees. I know it’s risky, as accidents occur and people get injured by reckless drivers.”
Another underage girl narrated how she was severely raped while hawking fruits in Lagos. She said: “I was going about hawking orange one afternoon when I was approached by a man who wanted to buy orange. He asked me to enter his house. When we got there, he brought out N2,000 and said he was paying for all of them, but that he must have sex with me. I refused but he raped me.”
UNICEF has estimated that over 10 million children are out of school in Nigeria, while the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 43 per cent of these children are given to child labour; making Nigeria one of the highest users of child labour in the world.
The Child Rights Act 2003, which incorporates the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights into the Act, defines a child as any person under the age of 18 years.
The act, which has been domesticated by 23 states in Nigeria, forbids children from being separated from their parents against their will, except where it is in the best interest of the child.
According to ILO, UNESCO and WHO, child labour is a serious global issue harmful in several ways to children, families and society, because it impairs their physical and mental development and robs the society of future leaders and workforce.
Article 2 (1) of ILO Forced Labour Convention 29 of 1930 defines forced labour as “all work or service, which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered self voluntarily.”
Section 28 (1) of the Child Rights Act (2003) provides that, subject to the act, no child shall be “employed to work in any capacity except where he is employed by a member of his family on light work of an agricultural, horticultural or domestic characters; or required, in any case, to lift, carry or move anything so heavy as to be likely to adversely affect his physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development; or employed as a domestic help outside his own home.”
Section 23(1) of Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition), Enforcement and Administration Act 2015 provides in part that any person who employs, receives or hires out a child under the age of 12 years as a domestic worker commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a minimum term of six months and not exceeding seven years.
While delivering a lecture on child labour, a senior advocate of Nigeria, Chief Victoria O. Awomolo, said that any society that neglects the rights, education and social development of its children runs the risk of underdevelopment replete with social vices and mediocrity.
Awomolo explained that child labour was the employment of children in any work that deprives them of their childhood and interferes with their ability to attend regular school. However, she noted that not all work by children is classified as child labour.
“Some children’s engagement in some activities are said to be beneficial to the holistic development of the child by way of socialisation,” she said. “For example, house chores. These are skills and capabilities, which a child must possess to function effectively in both the micro and macro societies.”
She explained that poverty and lack of education were the two primary reasons for the ever-growing social menace of child labour.
“Parents in the poverty zone give birth to money-making machines, not children.” she said. “They earn more on the streets from begging. They grow as beggars with no skills, consummate with themselves and produce more beggars. These children are deprived their rights, survival, health, good nutrition and education. They are vulnerable and exposed to harm, crime, exploitation and discrimination. They grow wild and insensitive to other people’s loss or pains.”
She said that child begging has negative psychological, social and health consequences and are of three categories. These are those who lead blind parents or relatives, those who beg entirely on their own and those who act as fronts for their parents, especially mothers, who are usually hidden from public view but supervise them from a distance.
“These children are the most vulnerable because they are from families of the poorest of the poor,” she noted. “They run enormous risks of darting between cars in heavy traffic. They also suffer the severe psycho-social consequences of engaging in demeaning types of activity and being exposed to constant abuse and aggression from the general public.”
On the impact of child labour on families, she said: “All researchers and practitioners agree that poverty is the main determinant of child labour supply, and that child labour significantly increases the income and the probability of survival of the family.
“If the work of children is needed for meeting the essential needs of the family, any effort to reduce child labour (both in formal and informal occupations) must take into account that the income of families involved will be affected negatively, often pushed below the survival level. Hence social security for poor families with children in school becomes of crucial importance for the effectiveness of child labour reduction programmes.
“Working children are the epitome of abuse and exploitation. They are often the victims of their employers and sometimes even their parents. A childhood earmarked by nature for fun and frolic, education and enlightenment is ruined by the compulsion to earn money. In some cases, they are rendered crippled, unhealthy and, most importantly, uneducated. This will lead to low productivity.”
The legal luminary said that children are the foundation of every society, noting that when they are properly brought up, it affects the society positively and when not properly brought up, the society suffers the consequences of such avoidable negligence. According to her, the recurrent issues affecting the quality of lives of the children globally include education, health, legal rights, abuses, access to social recreation, insecurity, adequate feeding, etc.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Wole Olanipekun, in a lecture titled “Human Trafficking and the Challenges of the African Child,” observed: “We cannot afford to live in a society where human trafficking thrives; where our children are under the threat of the shackles of modern-day slavery and sold as commodities. The responsibility to put an end to human trafficking is on each and every African parent; we must launch a crusade against this scourge to create a protective environment for the African child and re-consecrate the roles of children in our society.”
He said the family, being the very foundation and fabric of any nation, must be strengthened.
“The government, law enforcement agencies, judiciary, employers’ and workers’ organisations, NGOs and other civil societies, both internationally and regionally, as well as nationally, must work in partnership to curtail this dreadful and destructive plague afflicting the African child. Together, we can choose to make the African child grow up in a safe society free from violence, exploitation, poverty and discrimination.”
Another lawyer, Bode Oladinni, said the average Nigerian child has become an endangered species. He said it was time a state of emergency was declared to frontally fight child labour.
“We must stop paying lip service to issues relating to child labour,” he averred. “The statistics churned out by the National Bureau of Statistics and other international bodies have shown that, rather than the percentage of children involved in child labour decreasing, it is actually skyrocketing at an alarming rate.
“Implementing the recommendations contained in the National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour in Nigeria, packaged by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity; will salvage the future of the Nigerian child.”