The under-strength of the National Policy on Child Labour is glaringly evident in its lack of explanatory depth and insubstantial approach to its implementation. Child labour being a ravaging global issue cutting across many nations and continents, including the presumed ‘first-world’ countries, and often fueled by socio-cultural and economic issues, makes attempts by the policy to place a target date of 2020 for its elimination appear, at best, wishful. It clearly shows the superficial understanding of the extent of the menace and the hasty efforts at ending it.
The policy explanation failed to capture the indigenous views about child labour, even after acknowledging the multi-dimensions to it. Though guided by international conventions, the need to properly domesticate these conventions with the realities of the local communities was lacking. Such understanding would have laid bare the cultural and religious beliefs, practices and norms that supports this practice, and properly guide engagements with these institutions.
In efforts to fiercely eliminate the scourge, the policy will appear more repressive rather than collaborative, thereby overlooking the cultural, political, and sometimes, the religious context of the issue. This can also push the problem into anonymity thereby frustrating efforts at tracking and monitoring these issues. Placing efforts on elimination target instead of measurable industry-specific milestones only undercuts the supposed strength the policy at addressing the issue. With less focus on confronting the root-causes of child labour, and more on the consequences, the policy thrust appear to have been undermined from the on-set.
Child labour is very rampant, and often masked, making it sometimes difficult to differentiate from ‘child work’ or ‘help’ to family. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), sees child Labor as work that is likely to be hazardous, or interfere with the child’s education; or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual or mental development (CRC 198; Art. 32). Therefore, a child engaged in Labor would most likely be deprived of his/her childhood with resultant negative impact on self-worth and capabilities. From International Labour Organization (ILO) perspective, child labourer includes children younger than 14 years, who are economically active, and engaged in more than light work; and all children engaged in the worst forms of child labor in which they are enslaved, forcibly recruited, prostituted, trafficked, forced into illegal activities or exposed to hazards (ILO, 2003).
The issue of child labour requires serious attention, and because it is multi-faceted, should require the joint efforts of all stakeholders, especially those in education, agriculture, production, legal and medical fields at the national, state, and local governments, as well as at the community and ward levels. It also required harmony in measures and policy approaches of government, individuals, and organizations, both local and foreign, working in the area of child welfare and protection.
There is a need for a robust, well-targeted and all-inclusive policy to adequately protect the child, while offering a viable opportunity for proper development and access to quality life. It is therefore very imperative that such a policy is not draconic, but consultative. This paper therefore examines the strength of the National Policy on Child Labour with emphasis on the policy explanations and the implementation prospects. The Policy explanation, which stems from the understanding of the issue, would undoubtedly have guided the mapping out of implementation strategies, and with both serving as pointers to the workability of the policy. Whether these issues will be successfully tackled would be a determinant of the two.
The National Policy on Child Labour, 2013, arose from the global concern and domestic recognition of the increasing prevalence of child labour, especially its worst forms. The trend not only poses a serious threat to the future of the child, but to the overall development of the country.
About 152 million children are engaged in child labour globally, with about 108 million between ages 5 and 17 working in area of agriculture; mainly farming, livestock, forestry, fishing and aquaculture. (ILO, 2017). These children frequently work for grueling long hours in very harsh conditions while being exposed to toxic pesticides and high degree of injuries from dangerous tools and implements, as their rights to health, education, and protection from harm and exploitation are constantly violated. They face some of the most dangerous and damaging threats to their health and well-being including carrying of heavy loads, machete cuts, extreme weathers, amputations from heavy machinery and proximity to dynamite fishing. (FAO, 2017)
In Nigeria, children are engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation and production of pornography, human trafficking, forced begging, domestic work, street vending, textile manufacturing, mining and quarrying gravel and granite, labor in agriculture, illicit activities for armed groups, extortion, armed robbery, and drug trafficking. They are also used in tobacco production, fishing, and herding livestock, artisanal gold mining and processing, harvesting sand, and construction, public bus services, automotive repair, and street scavenging. A 2011 UNESCO Children Work Project analysis shows that 31.1% of the children population, aged between 5 to 14 years are working, representing a total of 13,924,739 children; 76.2% are attending school, while 26.8% aged between 7 and 14 are working and attending school (ILAB, 2017)
The nature and peculiarity of labour children in Nigeria are subject to vary from region to region. Almajiri system is common in northern Nigeria, where parents send their children to undergo Koranic training under Islamic teachers, who often put them through forced begging on the street. This makes them readily available to abuse and for recruitment by Boko Haram. In the south-south zone, particularly Benin City, human trafficking is rife, as girl children are shipped out to Europe and North-Africa for commercial sexual exploitation and manipulative labor. On the other side of the south is the unstructured and often exploitative apprenticeship system in the south-east. Mostly, young boys are sent to ‘serve a master’ in a particular trade for an agreed number of years with the expectation of being empowered financially to start-up a similar business. Children have also played an integral part of the war that has ravaged the North-East. Their involvement ranges from being recruited by insurgents as child soldiers, suicide bombers, spies, porters, bodyguards, sexual workers, and cooks, to being used by the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) and Nigerian Military in intelligence gathering, security searches and identification of insurgents. There are also reported cases of unaccompanied minors, mostly girls, being subjected to sexual exploitation in IDP camps and military barracks, often by members of the Nigerian military, the CJTF, and other camp security personnel in exchange for food. (ILAB, 2017). There are other recorded cases of being used in mining activities in the North, particularly in artisanal gold mining in Zamfara State, and in street vending, begging and as commercial bus conductors in south-west. In all these, children are made highly vulnerable to physical and psychological harm.
The issue of child labour is compounded by the high rate of poverty and unemployment and reduced access to education, especially in the rural areas. Aside the economic dimension, there are also the political, religious, social and cultural dimensions, further complicating the perception, the local realities and efforts at eliminating the issues. It becomes even more difficult when there are beliefs, values and norms that accept, encourage, justify and sustain these practices.
The unemployment figures in Nigeria have been on the rise, from 10% in 2013 when the policy was put together to 23.1% as at last quarter of 2018. Together with the rate of underemployment, the combined figure for 2018 stands at 43.3%. (NBS, 2015; 2019) Poverty rate have not been any better; with the deteriorating Human Development Index (HDI), more families drop deeper into the poverty zone. Poverty, especially in rural areas, is considered to be a major contributor to child labour. The need for the promotion of rural development only puts pressure on such families to utilize the services of children to earn additional income for family support.
Lack of access to free and quality education has been enabler of child labour. Though education is free and compulsory as provided in the education Act, it is not always pursued at the state level. Introduction of fees and additional costs of materials are usually witnessed, which often scare away poor families (ILAB, 2017). Low awareness, proximity to school and quality of education are other prohibitory factors. Even when they combine school with work, their academic performance takes the hit, which further hampers their development, and that of their communities. With low level of education, access to information is limited, and other future opportunities for technology use, higher skills acquisition and obtaining of a high-level work is practically lost. (UNICEF, 2014)
Culturally, in Igbo culture for instance, the extended family structure encourages strong ties among family members, which makes child fostering popular. Such practice is encouraged to lighten the burden of child-rearing on nursing mothers (Nwokoro, 2011). Children here are engaged in domestic work early in an effort to assist the families that have taken up the burden of their upbringing. Their help are often immediately transformed to forced labour. In northern Nigeria, and amongst the adherent of Muslim religion, early marriage of girl child is allowed. In many instances, such girls, often lacking in mental maturity, are subjected to early motherhood against their wishes. Their roles as young wives are often heavily tilted to performance of domestic work.
Scholars have attributed other causes of child labour to large household sizes, broken marriages and early loss of parents, ineffective laws and policies, lack of enforcement of extant laws, corruption and lack of appropriate social safety nets. Nwokolo (2011) suggested that many, who engage in child labour, do so as a survival strategy than real preference most of the time.
There have been numerous independent efforts championed by government, local and international organizations and groups aimed at safeguarding children from harm and guaranteeing their overall protection. Efforts by Nigerian government include the ratification of all key international conventions concerning child labor: ILO Convention 138 on Minimum Age; ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labor; United Nations Child Rights Convention (UN CRC); UN CRC Optional Protocol on Armed Conflict; UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography; Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons; African Charter of the Rights and Welfare of the Child; and ECOWAS Child Policy and Strategic Plan of Action. Also, government established programmes, laws and regulations concerning protection of children especially against child labour. They include: The Child Rights Act (2003), Universal Basic Education Act (2003), Labour Act (1990), National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act (2003), National Orphan and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Action Plan and a host of others. The National Human Rights Commission, Legal Aids Council, Nigerian Bar Association and Public Defender (Ombudsman) were all empowered to advocate and protect the rights of Children. Other non-governmental bodies like Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Network Against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour (NACTAL), International Labour Organization (ILO), United State Department of Labour (USDOL), and Christian Association of Nigeria, have been working independently to end child labour.
There was then a need to present a united front through a policy that harmonizes and organizes the activities of all stakeholders into effective strategies, with measurable outcomes. This birthed the 2013 National Policy on Child Labour, and accompanied by a 4-year National Action Plan for the elimination of child labour. The Policy aimed to presents a coherent framework for multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary action against child labour, with the ultimate goal of providing “legally binding, and standardized guidelines for actors implementing the national programme on child labour, especially its worst forms, towards a drastic reduction of its prevalence in Nigeria by 2015 and total elimination by 2020” (NPoCL, 2013:14). This mirrors the UNICEF’s and other child protection actors increasing preference for system approach as against small-scale, issue-specific projects (UNICEF, 2014). The policy recognizes the need for networking among the stakeholders. It visions a society that is child friendly and progressively child labour free. The mission therefore is to eliminate child labour in its worst form, so as to have a society that is devoid any form of child exploitation and abuse. The National Action Plan made provision for realistic and achievable intervention strategies in areas of Institutional Capacity strengthening, sanctions, and monitoring and evaluation (NAP, 2013).
The National Policy on Child Labour aligned itself with section 227 of the Child Rights Act and Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in defining a child as a person under the age of 18 years.
As the policy is centered on elimination of child labour, especially its worst forms, attempts were made at differentiating between child labour and child work. Child labour Child labour is seen as “work which by its nature and/or the way it is carried out, harms, abuses and exploits the child or deprives the child of an education or work that harms children’s wellbeing and hinders their education, development and future livelihoods” (NPoCL, 2013:6). Basically for work to be considered child labour, it must be done by a person below the age of 18, and must be exploitative and/or injurious to the development of the child, be it physical, social, mental and moral. The International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor also included in her definition, any activity that warrants separating children from their families, depriving them of educational training opportunities, or forcing them to lead prematurely adult lives’ (ILO 2003). Alternatively, child work is defined as child work as work “done by a child that does not affect their health, personal development and schooling, but contributes to their development, welfare, skills and experience to help them become productive members of the society in their adulthood” (NPoCL, 2013:6) It is expected that child work is carried out in a safe condition and environment, and often as a means of socializing children in the necessary norms, traditions and skills that will prepare them for greater roles in the society in future.
This differentiation appears very sound on a pluralistic perspective, but is subject to multiple local meanings. Definitions are at disparity with the local concept of child role, responsibility in the family and society. Often, the very activities that are classified as child labour by the international bodies dominated by western cultures, are seen by the local communities as child work. In fact these works are justified as necessary for the development of the child, as the definition of child work seem to portray. For instance, Igbos of South-East Nigeria see ‘child labour’ in the context of child work as an inevitable process of growth, development and integration of the child. It reflects an informal learning process as sons and daughters are groomed to be ‘men’ and ‘women’ respectively (Nwokoro, 2011). Consequently, parents are expected to teach their children relevant skills and gradually integrate them into the society. This they achieve by taking them along to the farms, markets, streams, and paid-jobs.
Evidence shows that a community’s beliefs, attitudes and practices can shape the attitudes and practices of institutions, structures and services, and vice versa. (UNICEF, 2014). Efforts would have been made through participatory research, which appeared to be lacking, to better understand local realities, beliefs and meanings attached to certain practices that, on the surface, would have appeared misplaced. That way, a less ambiguous differentiation would have sufficed. UNICEF recognizes this challenge by advocating that individual researchers and countries alike should try to address the definition of child Labor within the context of their own unique enlightenment, circumstance, culture, laws, institutions and experience in general (UNICEF, 2014). Certainly, certain local cultures appear abhorrent and highly unjustifiable, but a better understanding of such cultures is the first step to developing creative and effective strategies at turning the tide.
The policy further made a special case against the worst form of child labour which should be fiercely tackled. Violence acts against children at work used to coerce or put them in servitude inflict permanent psychological and physical harm on them. Stamping out these ills should be paramount, and an important indicator to the success of the policy.
According to the policy, any child up to 14 years of age is allowed to engage in minimal work that does not interfere with his/her development, education, recreation and rest, nor endanger endangers his/her health and safety, and must be remunerated fairly for work done. However, in a country characterized by low wages even for adults, inclusive of workers engaged in government institutions, it becomes even more difficult to determine what a fair wage will be for a child. When it comes to the informal sector where the incidences of child labour are more, and typified by hard labour and low profit ventures, the definition becomes even less applicable.
Reference was made to a year 2000 National Labour Survey to buttress the seriousness and the magnitude of child labour. The survey shows that 15,027,612 working children existed in Nigeria at the time, consisting of 7,812,756 males and 7,214,856 females. Out of that number, 6,102,406 children were in child labour, out of which 2,366,449 were in worst form of child labour, working for very long hours in dangerous working conditions. Less than 60% of these working children were attending school, with 36.3% combining economic activities with schooling, while 63.7% combine housekeeping with school. Over 70% of working children schooling and non-schooling started work at ages 5-9. Child labour was reported to be more prevalent in the informal and semi-formal sectors, with few cases in the formal sector. These figures are very disturbing, and were well used in painting a gloomy picture of a very worrying situation, requiring all the necessary attention that this policy accords it.
The policy unequivocally linked causes of child labour to poverty, rural-urban migration, cultural and religious practices, large family size (polygamy, multiple births, lack of family planning), illiteracy, ignorance , school-related factors (availability, accessibility, cost, friendly teachers), unemployment, poor quality apprenticeship schemes, HIV/AIDS impact (generation of orphans and vulnerable children). Invariably, these postulations may well be true, but shallow. A deeper perspective of the underlying factors and local dimensions that trigger the demand for child labour is lacking. Viewing the issue of child labour from a mostly general distant lens only rob the policy of the strength that ought to guarantee its success. For instance, poverty and inequality are mostly perpetuated by unjust social structures and institutions which often appear to be designed to deny a certain class of people the chance for a better life. It is further made worse when there are no social cushioning, When the state has renegaded on her duties to her vulnerable population, the weight of burden of survival becomes very unbearable that these individuals are forced to deploy every resources at their disposal, including child labour, in a desperate grasp to eek out a living. The failure of government in these instances is quite glaring, and must not be overlooked.
Education appears inseparable to child labour because education attendance and performance can be robbed off by child labour. The issue of illiteracy is always tied to access and quality of education. Aside from the rising cost of education, poor quality of education and lack of employment opportunities afterwards means that families no longer see a path forward after spending huge resources training their wards, and would prefer they acquire readily usable skills for a chance at a better life. Education which is an important measure to child protection, is gradually being taken away from the reach of the poor. Ironically, oftentimes, children are subjected to child labour by their parents in efforts to raise the resources for their education. Therefore, in an effort to get education, such child is driven further away from education.
What the policy enumerated as the causes of child labour are mere symptoms of the main underlying issue – the failure of government in protecting and providing for her citizens, and the resultant vulnerability it creates. Child labour feeds off people vulnerabilities, occasioned by poverty and deprivation. The policy’s failure to acknowledge vulnerability as the fundamental cause of child labour means that preventive measure that would have been directed at reducing these vulnerabilities, mitigating economic shocks, and providing social protection, would be sidestepped for superficial corrective measures.
Overall, the implementation approaches are devoid of well laid out step-by-step concrete action specifics with measurable deliverables. The general policy language sounds more suggestive rather than directive.
In mapping out the implementation strategies, and in line with its objectives of provision of coordinating and networking framework of action among stakeholders, the policy robustly captured all relevant stakeholders and their specific roles. Such inclusivity will maximize resources towards clearly targeted action plans. Surprisingly, the role of Federal Ministry of Education was not stated despite the special recognition the policy accorded the role of education in ending child labour. Education should be at the forefront to tackling this issue. All inhibitors to education access and quality ought to be adequately addressed, with concrete plans to remove them. Such efforts will also include co-opting teachers into the frontline alert systems. Teachers, by their virtue of having close interactions with the children, can easily detect signs of distress, fatigue and body injuries. This will also entail granting these teachers unhindered access to social workers at the community level, and as well as the social workers providing prompt responses, be it health, welfare or justice related to reported cases.
In areas of resource mobilization, the policy placed the responsibility on government at all levels, employers, trade unions, non-governmental organizations, international development agencies and individual philanthropies. It also called for active participation beyond the provision of resources, and for making child labour a priority item for budgetary appropriation. These measures by themselves are not forceful. A certain percentage for child labour interventions in the MDAs’ budget line items should have been clearly spelt out. Prior to the policy, the issue is often treated as secondary, and is hardly paid any serious attention, and the policy did little to change that. Also, how funds are to be sourced, and channeled were not stated. Fund sourcing has been exclusively donor-driven, and the policy could have provided alternative ways to diversify.
For policy sustainability, the policy made case for the establishment of well-equipped and functional Child Labour Unit (CLU) in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity to oversee the coordination of child labour programmes of government, monitor and report routine data on child labour activities and analyses of findings from research studies, national surveys and special duties. This will involve collection of data for set of global, national and state-specific indicators with appropriate data recording and reporting tools. It also called for routine localized and national research studies on emerging issues on child labour, as well as development of database application for child labour information management. It capped it all with the request for the periodic preparation and sharing of quarterly and annual report on child labour activities. These steps by the policy are all in the right direction, only that it appear more rhetoric as clear and robust structural frameworks and timelines were not laid out. A definite date for the development and deployment of the database application could have been suggested, same with the structure and the indicators to be captured. Who are the stakeholders that will have access to the database, and their level of privileges? Also lacking, is provision of reporting channels for organizations and individuals on cases of child labour, and mechanism for investigation and provision of interventions.
On the part of coordinating the implementation, monitoring and review, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity bears the responsibility in collaboration with the National steering Committee on Child Labour (NSCCL) through a yet-to-be-developed plan. Furthermore, the members of NSCCL and the State Steering Committee on Child Labour (SSCCL) shall provide oversight functions, run reviews, while providing stakeholders with progress reports. Beyond these, there should be provision of child labour desk in all established organizations, especially in public services like schools and health care clinics that have direct access to functional child labour committee at the ward/community level. Greater link should be established between the different child labour committees at all levels of government.
Dishearteningly, the policy was particularly silent on many underlying issues that would have played a critical role in its success. The full range of vulnerability faced by children was inadequately dealt with, same as lack of rehabilitation strategies for children rescued from child labour. A more systematic approach should have been championed that focuses on dealing with social drivers such as marginalization and discrimination, while providing better coordination for poverty reduction, social welfare, justice, labour, and education policies. For instance, a more flexible and responsive education system, that is free, accessible and of good quality, in a safe, inclusive and child-friendly environment, would be helpful in getting working children into school. A well-functioning social protection programmes such as social transfers, social health insurance, social support services, family leave policy, unemployment benefits and accessible child care would be paramount in preventing, reducing and eliminating economic and social vulnerabilities to poverty and deprivation. (UNICEF, 2014).
The policy could have enforced codes of conduct in contractual agreements across the supply chains that mitigate the use of child labourers by businesses. Beyond that, the monitoring system should adequately audit supply chains stages so as to track such incidences in a bid to sanction erring businesses. Part of the efforts should be to ensure decent working conditions and adequate remuneration of workers by businesses.
It was expected that the policy should set the stage for removal of all legal hurdles that have hampered the elimination of child labour, beginning with the harmonization of minimum age for work between the conflicting 12 and 14 years as stipulated by child Rights Act and Labour Act. Strategies beyond mere advocacy would have been in place to get the remaining 13 states that are yet to adopt the Child Rights Act, to do so, and also securing the exclusion of children from the Terrorism Prevention Act’s penalty of life imprisonment for assisting in acts of terrorism. Minimum age in the Labour Act should also be made to protect self-employed children or those working in the informal economy. The types of hazardous activities prohibited in the Labour Act to protect child workers should all be clearly stated to remove all ambiguities. The policy should clamour for full integration of all measures at eliminating child labour into national policies and programmes of government at levels.
The CLU is understaffed with labour inspectors which hampers enforcement hugely. The exact number of inspectors needed to adequately cover the workforce should have been stated, along with detailed analysis of recruitment strategies to attain the number, accompanied by capacity building plans.
There was no evidence of sector-specific target programs to address the known and most common incidences of child labour in Nigeria like in agriculture, quarrying, commercial sexual exploitation, domestic work, and arm conflicts, and others. For traditionally and religiously guarded practice, the policy could have advocated for a better structure that protect the child without delving deeply into the underlying values and belief systems of the people. For instance, the apprenticeship system could be formalized with a sound structure to adequately protect the child. Gender mainstreaming was also lacking despite some of the child labour cases being gender-specific with varying level of risks. Apprenticeship, child soldiers, almajiri and herding appear common with the males, while sex trafficking and child marriages are common with the female child.
As a nation, we fail the children when we fail to adequately guarantee their well-being as well as protecting them from vulnerabilities. Often, shipping them out early for labour only reinforces the cycle of intergenerational poverty and violation of their basic human rights.
Succor was expected from the National Policy on Child Labour, but the shallow conception and the light-weight implementation strategies have not substantially dealt the needed blow to the issue. The confusion of “helping out” as a strategy to keep enagaging children, and the tradition of dependency on child labour will most likely persist, as preventive measures to deal with their vulnerabilities were not fully addressed. The labour inspectors underserved urban areas and are virtually non-existent in the rural areas. As conceptualization of child labour did not adequately capture the perspectives of traditions, norms and belief system of local communities, clashes with these institutions might ensue.
The policy made room for its revision every five years, but there is not a public record of such exercise in year 2018. The worry now is that such a good policy will most likely be undermined by its own understrength.
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