Millions of elementary and secondary school pupils in many parts of Nigeria are back in school for academic activities after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
But this is not so for many other children, who will remain in the street day and night, where they engage in all manner of commercial activities. Hawking by children is a form of child labour, as they move round streets and other areas not designated as markets to sell essential products.
Many Nigerian parents or guardians subject their wards to child labour in a bid to ensure that the children are productively engaged and contribute to the earnings of the family. To many of these parents, nothing really is wrong with this practice, which has for long been a tradition in many homes. The money earned by children is a significant part of the income of poor families.
These young ones should be in school, but they are in the markets, farms, shops and streets fully occupied in commerce because their families need the extra income. Their rights are, knowingly or unknowingly, being violated by those who are supposed to help them protect such rights.
A child is any person that is less than 18 years old. And the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a child as a young human being below the age of full physical development.
Children are the future of society and they should be protected with everything a society has to offer. But many of these young ones have been unlucky, especially in this part of the world. The hawker learns many societal vices on the streets and is exposed to deviant behaviour at a very early age.
Stakeholders across different sectors have stressed the need to intensify efforts to ensure that national legislation and international conventions with regard to the elimination of child labour are fully enforced.
Mr. Aigbovbiosa Aghayere, a father of four boys aged 14, 12, 10 and seven, told the correspondent that there was nothing wrong in asking one’s children to support the family’s means of income.
“This is what has been in existence for ages. I don’t think that there is anything wrong for a child that is mature and strong enough to assist his or her parents in putting food on the table. When we were in the village, immediately one attained age 10, one must have started going to the farm to assist one’s parents. We must not encourage laziness in whatever form. What works abroad might not necessarily work here in Nigeria.
“The only thing I am against is people subjecting little children to hard labour or denying them the right to go to school and achieve their goals. When you see a child, you should know one. When things were rough for my family some years ago, my children helped us to hawk in our area. I am not saying that it is the best thing to do, but necessity gives rise to some certain decisions,” he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that child labour remains a major source of concern in Nigeria, in spite of legislative measures. It defines child labour as works that are mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and deprive them of opportunities for schooling and development.
According to the International Labour Organisation, the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15 million. The high level of diverse and tedious jobs that children execute in dangerous circumstances is particularly worrying. These jobs include being street vendors, beggars, washing cars and shining shoes. Others work as apprentice mechanics, hairdressers and bus conductors, while a large number work as domestic servants and farm hands.
Different findings have revealed the emotional distress of street hawking, particularly for girls who are open to sexual abuse in the form of rape, harassment and molestation. Many have, on several occasions, lost their dignity to shameless men who took advantage of them.
The tendency for such female children to become street-wise is high. And most often, they go after men with outrageous passion into commercial sex, thereby learning anti-social and criminal behaviour. The men, of course, compensate the young girl generously for such services. That way, hawking thus becomes a mere façade. She forfeits education, and loses the opportunity to attend school and gain all the benefits of education.
Street hawking also exposes the female child to dangers posed by fraudsters and ritual murderers because of her vulnerability, especially during odd hours. Apart from the risk of being kidnapped, female hawkers are also susceptible to rape and could contract HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases through coercive sex.
Studies have also revealed that street hawkers are adjudged to manifest inadequate moral development and are deficient in problem-solving situations. Self-esteem is believed to be important in the ability of children to relate to their environment. And the abuse of children will always create problems for the children and society at large, which may cause the children to be depressed as they often lose their self-confidence and ego.
Many children, paid or unpaid, are still used as helps across the country. Most of them are denied the opportunity to go to school and also not allowed to learn any trade that will be useful for them in the future.
The major causes of child labour have been identified to be widespread poverty, rapid urbanisation, breakdown in extended family affiliations, high school dropout rates, and lack of enforcement of legal instruments meant to protect children.
The chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Roy Olokungboye, in 2018, said that the state government has not done enough to curb child harassment.
While creating awareness on the menace, he lamented that the public education system was not functioning well in the state. He also vowed that the group would do everything possible to ensure that the laws against child harassment were enforced in the state.
Perturbed by how more children were being used for hard labour, in May 2019, the International Labour Organisation set up a framework to eliminate child labour not just in Nigeria but extending to Mali, Malawi, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, and Uganda.
It was part of the Acceleration of Action in the Elimination of Child Labour in Supply Chains in Africa Project, which covers the six African countries.
The ILO country director, Dennis Zulu, said that while Nigeria had ratified and domesticated several United Nations and ILO Conventions, statistics indicate that about 43 per cent of Nigerian children aged between five to 10 years were involved in child labour.
According to him, the children were involved in the worst form of child labour, adding that this was not covered by any of Nigeria’s legislations and policies addressing forced labour, child labour, and human trafficking.
Zulu stated: “Developed in 2003, the UN Convention on Worst Form of Child Labour – which involves works in quarry, granite and mining extraction, international sexual exploitation, and armed conflict, is not captured in any of Nigeria’s legislations and policies addressing forced labour, child labour, and human trafficking.
“We are optimistic that our effective and efficient approach of the project result will contribute to the reduction of child exploitation in the artisanal mines and global supply chain.”
The national coordinator of the body in Africa, Mrs. Agatha Kolawole, said no community in Nigeria was free of child labour, adding that the ILO was engaging with state governments to combat the issue.
A lawyer and human rights activist in Lagos, Mr. Michael Olawale, described child labour as a wicked act that must not be treated with levity.
“Every child is seen as an innocent being and must be treated so. Except parents and guardians who violate the rights of children are severely dealt with according to the provision of the law, we will continue to have the same problem,” he said.