FEATURE ARTICLE

Augustine C. OhanweFriday, June 16, 2006
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NIGERIA AND WAR AGAINST CHILD LABOUR


he recent move by the Nigerian government to add a clause on combating child labour to its Labour Standard Bill, though overdue, is a positive move. The Bill is said to have been presented to the National Assembly where it is awaiting enactment.


Child labour has a complex definition. Some include soldiering, prostitution, manuel labour etc. Whatever definition one might advance, the central disturbing issue is that child labour exploit and harms children physically, mentaly, morally and hinders access to education.

To wage war against child labour, the government must come to term that child labour and poverty are dovetailed. One cannot therefore wage war on child labour without tackling poverty among other things. Other factors whose tentacles are intertwined with child labour are HIV/AIDS, IMF harsh economic conditionalities, drought and conflict. Child labour therefore reflect the harsh realities generated by the above mentioned factors. The impacts such factors had on children in many african countries will help Nigeria to craft strategies that could help to keep child labour at bay.

How does the IMF harsh conditionalities create poverty and generate child labour? In Nigeria as well as most African states, school fees are paid in elementary schools unlike in the USA and Europe. Parents and guardians experiencing the harsh effects of the implementation of structural adjustment policies would have no other alternative but to withdraw their children from school because of the dire economic situation and depreciation of their purchasing power. They do so in order to survive. Tanzania's appalling experience is one case in point. According to International Labour organisation (ILO) study in Tanzania, ".schools under the structural adjustment policy programme contributed to high dropouts and truancy rates. This has brought down Tanzania's once high primary enrollment rate from 90 per cent in 1980, to 77.8 per cent in 1996".

The same study also discovered that thirty per cent of all children between 10 and 14 were not attending school and many ended up working. In villages around mining sites, the school drop-out rate was around 30-40 per cent. UNICEF contends that women and children in Africa are bearing the brunt of the debt crises in countries where governement are diverting resources away from health and education. As a consequence, millions of African children are sentenced to life of illiteracy. According to the UN report of 1996, Angola is pointed out as "the worst country for children to live in". Following Angola, the UN ranks "Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Somalia as the most dangerous places to grow up".

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Against this startling revelation, the UN children's organisation called for the outright cancellation of all debts. It also criticised the IMF/World method of debt relief to worlds poorest and most heavily-indebted countries as "too rigid and slow".

Other African states where the implementation of SAP brought about economic hardship and child labour are Ghana, Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire. The IMF prescription to Ghana did not help the country. In 1983 when Ghana sought assistance from the World Bank and the IMF, Ghana was prescriped an Economic Reovery Plan which included SAP measures as a precondition for securing loans. Implementation of SAP generated, among other things, increased level of unemployment, high level of inflation, severe urban poverty, labour unrest and increased hardship as a result of removal of subsidies. In Senegal, it provided unemployment, aggravated poverty and fall in standard of living. In Coted'Ivore the story had the same negative outcome. In all the mentioned countries children bore the harshest brunt - they left their schools in droves and took to child labour in cocoa plantations.

In East Africa child labour is intertwined with AIDS pandemic and poverty. In a family where AIDS has removed the breadwinners, other survivours become burden unto themselves. They leave school and either become street children or join child labour in response to their instinct to survive as in the case of Tanzania. Asked why he uses child labour on Tanzania Tea Estate, Mr Norman Kelly, general manager of Brook Bond Plantation replied, "the adult workforce is fast diminishing because of high incident of HIV/AIDS of many workers".

Consider this appalling reality where AIDS and poverty have produced helpless children, vulnerable to child labour:

"Ten-year-old Linda Sinoya sat atop a growing mound of dirt that would soon cover her mother's grave. With tears sliding down her face, she looked into the widening hole where men from her village took turns breaking through rocks and hard earth. Her mother's body laid inside their family home surrounded by women of the village who kept vigil over it. The people in the village outside Dandara Township are poor and they had to choose between buying a coffin for Linda's mother and purchasing food. The village chose food. The body was wrapped in a blanket placed inside a trench and lowered with heavy rocks before the mound of dirt Linda had been sitting on was returned to the hole".

Poverty deprived Linda's mother of a decent burial. Ten-year-old Linda has also become an orphan. She is said to be taken care of by her grandmother who has three orphans already under her care. When her grandmother's meagre resources is overstretched, Linda and the other three orphans might be forced into child labour.

Children of the poor are vulnerable to child labour. International Labour Organisation conducted a survey in Zimbabwe and found that 88% of economically active children aged 5-7 came from households with incomes below Z$2,000 ($36) per month. The survey also noted that as family income rose above Z$3,000, child labour participation dropped to less than 1%. Parents and guardians were questioned why they allowed children to engage in child labour activities, most of the respondents said, "supplement household income" or to help household in enterprise". These responses show that parents might not allow their children to engage in child labour if they rise above poverty level.

Based on the above revelations, Nigeria's noble effort to combat child labour might hit rock-bottom if adequate econmic strategy is not put in place to alleviate poverty. Subsidies to families struggling to extricate themselves from the downwards spiralling of poverty can free a child from the responsibility of working. The government should also intervene to save young girls in a culture where boys are prefered for education and girls left to hawk food items. Educated women produce healthier children and consul their children better in matters concerning HIV/AIDS. Poverty destroys choices not ability.