JOS, NIGERIA - In 2003, then-Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Child Rights Act into law, to preserve the rights of children and protect them from exploitative labor. But 17 years later, millions of Nigerian children still take on physically challenging work to earn money to survive or to support their families.
In an auto-mechanic workshop in the heart of the city, 13-year-old Awwal Abdulahi and his friend are pushing a broken-down 1988 Toyota Starlet, trying to get it to start.
Abdulahi has been learning how to repair cars in this workshop for the past three years.
Abdulahi says he knows how to repair power steering, patch tires, repair stereo and jack up cars. He adds that many times, he gets exhausted by the work and the sun makes it even more tiring.
Abdulahi’s parents don’t make enough to provide for him and his six siblings. But he is glad to be able to provide for himself.
“I earn about a one dollar a day, Abdulahi says. “Even when I get it, I don’t spend it. I go and save it in my piggy bank so that when I need it, I use it.”
There are more than 20 boys below the age of 18 working in this automobile repair workshop, many of whom do not go to school and, instead, work full time as apprentice mechanics.
Their employers say they are not subjecting these children to child labor. They say they take care of these children like they would their own.
“When we close, we give them some change to at least to eat and buy soap to wash their clothes that help them live better. Instead of staying at home and doing nonsense, playing bad play or going around to pick dirty things from the dustbin. Here we encourage them so that they also encourage the ones at home to come here and learn this work because the work is good,” Omuwuri said.
Less than three kilometers from this automobile workshop, other children like Abdul Multalif and his brother Yusuf, have to beg on the street to provide for their daily needs.
Honestly, I don’t want to beg, Adbul says. I wish to get some money to buy sweets and chocolates to do business.
In 2003, President Obasanjo signed the Child Rights Act, to protect the interest and rights of the Nigerian child.
But legal expert Ibrahim Carson says various factors are preventing the law from being enforced.
“Unfortunately, in this part of the world, poverty, and illiteracy, and cultural beliefs, religious prejudices are some of the reasons that have actually affected the efficacy of the Child Rights Act implementation in Nigeria,” Carson said.
The International Labor Organization says that 43 percent of Nigerian children are involved in various forms of child labor, despite international conventions banning it.
Experts say until the ban is fully implemented, many Nigerian children will never be able to enjoy the joys of childhood.