With some 15 million children working in Nigeria, often in dangerous jobs, the International Trade Union Confederation has decried the alarming level of child labour in the country and anti-trade union violence in a report to the World Trade Organisation.
The Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation, represents some 175 million workers in 151 countries, including Nigeria. In the report submitted to the 153-member World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva, the group said that “Some 15 million children are at work, many in dangerous jobs.”
Analysing the effect on the Trade Unions, the reports say that the children “frequently experience violent attacks and there is little protection from anti-union discrimination.” The ILO study also revealed a regular breach of the rules and widespread discrimination against women and minority groups in the country’s labour market.
According to the report, “In rural areas, children can be found performing hazardous work in mines, fisheries and agriculture, particularly tobacco and cassava, dealing with pesticides and dangerous tools. In urban settings, children are most often street vendors, scavengers and beggars. It is estimated that most children in rural areas and many children in urban areas have experienced work accidents and injuries. Girls mainly work as domestic servants and many have been forced into commercial sexual exploitation in houses, port cities and refugee camps.”
The group, however, states the minimum age for employment in Nigeria as 12 years of age, and that the 23 states in Nigeria that have ratified the Federal Child Rights Act have effectively raised this limit to 14 years of age, but advised that, “the national minimum age for employment should be consistent with the ILO Convention 138 and should not be below the age for finishing compulsory schooling, which is 15 years of age,” in order to reduce the child labour trend.
The Labour Act establishes an exception to the minimum age, which permits children of any age to perform light work alongside a family member in agriculture or home-based activity. Children younger than 15 years can only be employed in home-based agricultural or domestic work, but not in commerce and industrial work, and they are not allowed to work more than eight hours per day.
Poverty is responsible
Citing reasons for the high rate of child labour, the group states that, “Parents cannot always afford the education of their children, and children often work in order to pay their fees, or do not attend school at all and work instead to pay for their siblings’ education or the household’s budget. Many rural children are sent to the cities in order to study in Koranic schools; however, it is reported that many children, called ‘almajiri’, end up in beggary and child labour in order to pay their teachers, or are not provided with shelter and food by their schools and are eventually homeless.”
Nigeria, with a population of some 155 million and extensive oil resources, has ratified all eight of the core International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions protecting workers’ rights including freedom of unions to organise and ending child labour.
In his statement with the report, detailing attacks on workers and union offices, ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said, “Nigeria has failed to live up to this. Many Nigerian workers live in fear of employer and police violence.
“This failure not only hurts Nigerians, it also undermines efforts by other governments to uphold decent employments standards in the globalised economy,” Mr Burrow declared.