A Lost Childhood: Price Of The Child Worker | Independent Newspapers Limited
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A Lost Childhood: Price Of The Child Worker

Posted: May 7, 2016 at 5:14 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The burden of taking care of the family in the midst of economic pressures is gradually telling on parents and guardians who now resort to involving children in baking the bread for the family, especially in Nigeria’s growing urban centres. Hazeez Balogun looks at the moral and social implications for this growing army of child workers.
Mary, looks plump with a fresh baby face typical of a young girl just about to hit puberty. She is a 10-year-old-girl with a very pretty face, and a calm demeanor. However, when you see her doing her ‘job’ she turns into a vicious butcher literally. In the Ogba frozen food market, Lagos, you can see her wielding a very sharp cutlass and slamming it down to severe the frozen chicken, turkey or fish as the case may be.

Looking at her cutting with accurate precision, one can tell that she must have been doing this for a long time. If she is just ten, one can wonder how old she must be when she started the job. She was not the only young girl at the place with similar job description.

There is Esther who looks even younger than Mary, but says she does not know her age. She, like Mary does not speak good English, and their accent does not give away their tribes.

This reporter had noticed these children for a while and tried to get more information about them. Under the guise of a customer, Mary opened up that she is from Benin Republic and had been brought in to work in the market when she was still eight years old. She is given a place to stay and also paid some stipends most of which goes to her parents in Benin.
When asked if she has ever cut herself while doing the obviously dangerous job, Mary she said she had minor cuts when she was still new to the job “but now I am an expert,” she brags.

She even showed the reporter some tricks on how not to get cut. She said that you could balance the meat with the left hand and cut with the right hand. When the cutlass is about to reach the meat, you quickly remove your hand. Another trick is to always make a mark at where to cut on the meat before applying the cutlass. This she says allows for accuracy.

Our chat was however cut short when one woman was shouting at another who looks like the owner of the place. “He’s taking pictures!” she shouted in Yoruba. The woman walked up to the reporter and asked him to buy what he wants to buy quickly and leave. The reporter tried to ask why she was allowing an underage to do such dangerous job, but she burst into a tirade of insults.

Mary and Esther’s case is just a little drop in the big ocean of child labour in Nigeria. And the case is even worsened when children are exposed to dangerous menial jobs, which can lead to their death or injury. From our findings many of these children are made to work under the guise of being apprentices.

Lukmon is an underage vulcaniser who plies his trade in the Ikosi area of Lagos State. You would usually see him working tirelessly from dust till dawn using huge tools to remove tires, replace them and inflate them. He wears an oversized dirty jacket, which has LSVAN on it, the acronym for Lagos State Vulcanisers Association of Nigeria. Obviously the jacket must belong to someone else; as such a young boy cannot be a member of the association.

Meeting with Lukmon, he explains that he is an apprentice with someone he called Rauf. Rauf, his master is more of a businessman than a vuclaniser. Lukmon announced with pride how his boss has three other vulcaniser spots with other apprentices manning them. He said he is just 11 years old and he knows the nifty gritty of the job. When asked if he has attained his ‘freedom’ he says no. Yet he works unattended morning to evening without any formal education.

According to Lukmon, his boss (not master) comes around once a day to collect the earnings for the day. He says he is being paid between N1,000 and N1,500 a day depending on how much business he got for the day. Sometimes he is just given transport money to go home and money for food.

“When the boss comes he brings along fuel and other supplies I would be needing for the job,” he said in Yoruba. He says the boss is actually a distant relative whom his parents sent him to learn the trade. When he finishes work in the evening, he goes to sleep at an auntie’s house in Mowe, Ogun State. He claims he loves the job despite being in the sun all day.

There are many other young children doing menial jobs all around the country and there are few people raising eyebrows. Despite the fact that some of these children are apprentices, some believe that they should not be allowed to use dangerous or risky tools before they reach a certain age. And there is a big difference between an apprentice and child labour. Many of these ‘masters’ actually take advantage of apprenticeship to work young men and women.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), has raised an alarm that there is a worsening situation of child labourers in Nigeria.

“Child labour is any work that deprives children of their childhood, their potentials and their dignity, and it is harmful to their physical and mental development. It refers to work undertaken by children below the appropriate legal minimum working age, based on the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), as well as the worst forms of child labour defined by the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999, (No. 182).”
At the moment, Nigeria has 15 million child labourers and there is no definite action by government on the issue.

The children aged 5-14 often perform tasks such as hawking, farming, cleaning, ironing, cooking, gardening, looking after other children and caring for elderly. In Nigeria, males are more in demand as out of fifteen million child labourers, eight million are males and seven million females.

Caroline Igbokwe of Little Angels Foundation says “the issue should be taken really seriously as Nigeria is losing a lot of brilliant young men who instead of being enrolled in school are forced to work.”

She explains that according to their research, there are over one million children who are not in school but are working menial jobs in Lagos alone.

“When we talk about child trafficking, we talk about children being taken to other countries to work. But right here under our noses, under our watch, we have children working tough jobs just like adults. They do not have the opportunity to go to school. They are illiterates yet we see them every day. We patronise them. This is very sad,” Caroline said.

According to her, government should make sure that every child should finish secondary school even if they will end up learning a trade.

“A child that finishes Primary School is still uneducated in today’s world. What can he or she achieve with primary school education? I understand the concept behind apprenticeship; there are many people who are doing well in life despite not going to university. But at least they should finish secondary school and the government must make this a law,” she said.

Alhaji Saka Jamiu of God’s Time furniture, a carpentry businessman in Ketu Lagos seems to have a different view. Walking into his expansive workshop, one can see that he makes use of a lot of child workers some as young as nine years old. They could be seen handling tools like saws, hammers, and even heavy machineries. There are also adults working for him, but they seem to be more of supervisors to the younger ones.

“All these are my children,” Jamiu said, adding “the moment their parents bring them to me they are instantly my children and I train and treat them like my children. I teach them all they need to know about the carpentry work.”

When asked if the boys were not too young for the job. He says “it is best to train them very young, you know children learn very fast.”

Talking about safety, Alhaji Jamiu explained that he teaches his apprentices the proper way to handle implements and he does not allow them to handle some equipment till they reach a certain age. He also said that the children really do not work but instead they learn and it is the adults in his workshop that works. But while the reporter was in the workshop he noticed that only the young boys were busy, the adults only come around intermittently to supervise the work.

According to Igbokwe, there are a lot of hazards associated with child labour. One of the major hazards is that the future prospects and potentials of the child may be destroyed as the child may not be fortunate to leave the odd job and grow up with it and may not bother about education or going to school.

The heavy manual labour is likely to affect the fragile physique of the children and may impede their full physical growth.  Another hazard is that the females and even young males can be sexually exploited while doing these jobs.