We all know that it is wrong, and yet we continue to subscribe to it. Child labour is a serious problem that remains shamefully unaddressed by Nigerian society. According to the Vanguard, 72.1 million children are engaged in child labour in Africa, the highest number in the world. Because of Nigeria’s large population, a significant number of these children are concentrated here, in our country.
In school and political institutions, child labour is overtly condemned. But in day to day life in Nigeria, it is clearly an unaddressed occurrence. We cannot wait for international organisations such as the United Nations to intervene in human rights affairs within our own country.
According to Dr Florence Undyaudeye, engaging in labour below the age of 15 has profound psychosocial effects. Child labour results in psychomotor manipulation and affective distortion of the self.
Children who work in big cities such as Lagos and Port Harcourt are in an even worse position. These children, often street hawkers, are at constant risk of injury or accident, as indicated by the death of a teenage hawker working in Lagos two years ago. We as a people are responsible for the protection of our children from this socially-endorsed psychological and physical trauma.
Poverty is the primary cause of child labour, according to the International Labour Organization (1996: 17). In addition to that, ignorance on the part of the parents regarding the negative effects of child labour allows the practice to continue (Ugal and Undyaundeye, 2009). But a much worse epidemic perpetuates child labour in Nigeria.
The issue of social norm (Ibid) and tolerance allow child labour to continue in Nigeria. If a parent lives in a society where sending children to work is the norm, opting not to do so would prove detrimental to the family’s income. Poverty and ignorance cause child labour in Nigeria, but excessive tolerance to child labour perpetuates it. We must do better.
The Nigerian government is leading the movement against child labour. In 2016, the federal government launched a National Social Protection Program providing cash transfers to extremely poor households on the condition that their children are enrolled in school.
What follows is for Nigerian society to undo its desensitisation to child labour. As a people, we should be more dismayed at the numbers of school-age children we see selling goods in the streets or begging during school hours.
Furthermore, let us stop patronising businesses who overtly employ and exploit children, many of whom have no parents to defend their fundamental human rights. Let us eradicate the excessive tolerance of child labour and create a Nigeria in which future generations may grow and develop free from exploitation.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.