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Despite Bans, Child Labor Prevalent in Nigeria

Boy loads gold rocks into a crushing machine at a local goldmine in Bagega village, northeastern state of Zamfara, Nigeria, Aug. 14, 2013.
Ten years after Nigeria adopted international prohibitions on child labor into law, millions of children in the country are still engaged in child labor activities.

The International Labor Organization estimates that about 25 percent of Nigeria’s 80 million children under the age of 14 are now in the work force.

Most of the children are involved in domestic work such as cooking, gardening, collecting water, caring for other children and household cleaning.

Amina, 13, is one of them. Her father died when she was 10 and her mother gave her away when it became impossible for her to maintain a household in the northern city of Kano. Amina now works there as a household helper.

Talking about her experience, Amina gives a rundown of what she does on a typical day: "I wake up at 5 a.m. in the morning and start my day by fetching water for the house from a well in the neighborhood. I fill a drum with the water, and by 6 a.m. I have to bathe the two children of the house and prepare them for school.

"After that, I then wash plates and sweep the house," she said. "When the children are gone to school and my masters gone to work, I wash the children's clothes and cook lunch for them before they return from school."

"Sometimes I go to the market and buy things for the house, and anytime I get it wrong I am severely beaten, as if I am not a human being,” Amina said, adding that she hopes for the opportunity to attend school herself, and escape the hardship of manual household labor.

Girl hawks drinking water packed in sachets along street after days of religious clashes in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, Aug. 4, 2009.
Girl hawks drinking water packed in sachets along street after days of religious clashes in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, Aug. 4, 2009.
While Amina is working in a city, many other children are taken to farms where they work long hours weeding in gardens or cultivating crops. Still others become roadside hawkers or collect firewood.

Roadside hawking is especially popular for young girls, many of whom help supplement the family income. Many of the girls report being raped.

Movement to end practice

The prevalence of child labor is raising concern among activists who are calling for new programs and tougher laws to control the problem. Among them is the Nigeria-based League of Democratic Women, which has become a key actor in efforts to end child labor in the country.

"Those subjected to child labor are under the control and mercy of their masters, as they rarely have access to education and are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse," said Abel Adejor, a League official who called better parenting the key to addressing the problem.

"Every parent is responsible to provide for the needs of their child until they reach maturity," he said, noting that three girls recently rescued from forced labor were all under the age of 12.

Not all states on board

In 2003, Nigeria passed a Child's Rights Law that was designed to incorporate into its laws all the rights guaranteed in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.N. convention, adopted in 1959, states that: “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. He ... shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age; he shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development.”

Though the U.N. convention was signed by Nigeria as a nation and its provisions incorporated into federal law, it was not incorporated by all of Nigeria’s 36 states. For that to happen, the Houses of Assembly of each state must pass it into law. As at now, 24 of the 36 states have done so.

All but one of the states that have not incorporated the U.N. convention into its local laws are in northern Nigeria, where child labor is common.