I once attended an event that kept me until late at night. While going back home around 8:30, there was this young girl of about 10 or 11 years, who was running helter-skelter in order to catch up with cars so as to sell her sachet water mindless of a possible accident which may likely end her life talk less of the possibility of either being kidnapped or raped but then how many of such children must have been killed in a motor accident or actually kidnapped, raped or trafficked? According to United Nations Children’s Fund( UNICEF), Nearly 1 in 10 children are subjected to child labor worldwide, with some forced into hazardous work through trafficking.
Child labor is not strange to every Tom, Dick and Harry in this part of the world because saying it is practiced in Nigeria will amount to nothing other than an understatement but in the real sense, it is not just peculiar to Nigeria as it is seen and practiced in other parts of the world although with different levels and percentage. The emergence of COVID 19 has brought about an increase in child labor. Statistics shows that roughly 160 million children were subjected to child labor at the beginning of 2020, with 9 million additional children at risk due to the impact of COVID-19.
According to International Labor Organization (ILO), the term “child labor” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or interferes with their schooling by: depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work. The worst forms of child labor involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities often at a very early age
According to Wikipedia, Child labor refers to the exploitation of children through any form of work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially and morally harmful. As posited by a source, child labor can manifest in the form of slavery or similar practices, child trafficking, forced recruitment into armed conflict, sexual exploitation, drug production and trafficking or other illegal acts, debt bondage, hazardous work that can cause injury or moral corruption.
The latest ILO global estimates on child labor indicate that Africa has the largest number of child laborers; 72.1 million African children are estimated to be in child labor and 31.5 million in hazardous work. Another source posits that most children working below permissible age limits (72 million) live in Africa, followed by Asia (62 million). Anyone under the age of 18 is considered a child, according to the United Nations.
In the olden days, African men married many wives to give birth to numerous or even uncountable children as evident in some cases. These children are needed for nothing other than helping them on their farmlands as laborers and such men were seen as wealthy and influential due to the profits they make from their children’s hard labor. Unfortunately, even after the emergence of western education, some of these parents still engaged in the practice and nowadays, many children are still going through the effects of the archaic culture.
Apart from the aforementioned cultural origin of child labor, what about the particular religious belief, which encourages child labor? According to a source, Almajiri begging system is a type of begging for alms that is prevalent in the northern Nigeria and practiced specifically by Muslim children. In that region, Muslim families send their children from their homes into major towns and cities to live with and receive qur’anic education from Islamic teachers called “Malams”.
These children are known as “almajiris”. It has been estimated by the Ministerial Committee on Madrasah Education in December 2010, that Nigeria has about 9.5 million almajiris.
The usual Islamic law is that the almajiris have to ask their host community for food only if they are hungry, and when they are satisfied, they go back to classroom. Unfortunately, these teachers “Malams” transform the children into professional beggars by forcing them to beg for money in the street and do other menial jobs for money from dawn to dust and surrender the proceeds (money).
The outrageous part of this is the fact that many of these children follow strangers to strange and dangerous places which may likely endanger their lives to beg for alms and this makes the research as posited by a source feasible that children on the move risk being forced into work or even trafficked, subjected to violence, abuse and other human rights violations
One of the causes of child labor is poverty. Since unemployment is on the rise, the aftermath is poverty and this explains why there are many professional beggars on the street. Parents who even have one or two children can hardly feed them talk less of those who have numerous children and since these parents are unable to cater for their children, it becomes expedient for the children to fend for themselves and hence, child labor. Even right from the olden days, poor African parents who are indebted used their children as collateral!
Also free education is not compulsorily accessible to all. Many children who are interested in getting educated either hawk or go to work early in the morning before going to school so as to get themselves their learning materials and also pay their school fees up till now the government keep advertising free education which is not actually free. Many parents cannot even afford the advertised free education and end up engaging their children in child labor. Yet, majority of the leaders enjoyed free education with other benefits attached in their own days.
Research shows that 30 million children live outside their country of birth, increasing their risk of being trafficked for sexual exploitation and other work. Family size also leads to child labor. Africans are fond of marrying many wives and giving birth to many children they cannot nurture and when poverty knocks on their doors, they end up sending their children to far places either to their relatives or places where they can start working and fending for themselves as house helps or factory workers.
In addition, broken family can lead to child labor. Many people break up with only their interests in mind, not concerned about the well being of their children who may end up being taken to a far away place or to relatives who will not get them enrolled in schools due to inability to take proper care of them or who due to their personal gains engage them in child labor. What about the orphans who have no one to support them, who should be the responsibilities of the government but left alone to roam about aimlessly and get kidnapped or trafficked for child labor?
Child labor can be minimized if there is an active government that has the interest of the people in mind. Some of these children work in order to support themselves. Since the government advertises free education, they should ensure that education is free indeed and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) which are working towards alleviating poverty should be fully supported.
Most importantly, Africans should put their archaic beliefs aside such as marrying many wives who will give birth to many children they will not be able to cater for and rearing children in order to have laborers. In addition, in filing for divorce, parents should have the interest of their children in mind because they are indeed the future leaders and if we fail to train them properly, we may end up having an improper future.
Adeparua Damilola can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org
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