Child Labour: Hidden Slavery

The phenomenon of child labour cuts across several centuries and to one’s dismay,  it’s still here with us even though very guerrila-like in its operations.

Globally, the incidence decreased from 25% to 10% from 1960 to 2003 according to the World Bank. However child labour is still high with the United Nations International Children’s Fund   (UNICEF)  and the International Labour Organization  (ILO)  giving a figure of  an estimated 168 million aged 5-17 involved worldwide in 2013.

The ILO also estimates 250 million child workers in the developing countries, 61 % of which are in Asia and 32%  in Africa. 120 million of the total number of these children work full-time, aged between 5 and 14 years. 

Child labour means the abuse of children and deprivation of their childhood through paid work they are not mature for, disrupting their ability to attend regular school with its harmfulness cutting across mental, social, moral and physical dimensions of the child. 

Around 1 in 4 children are engaged in child labour in the world’s poorest countries, especially in Sub Sahara Africa. The children are engaged in jobs ranging from farming, mining, transportation, street hawking, house keeping, load carrying in markets, scavenging for scraps of metals at public dumpsites, restaurant workers, baby sitting to errand going,  and others. 

For instance, street hawking on major busy roads in Nigeria is a natural phenomenon,  typical of the Nigerian states . Children from poor homes are heckimg a living from child labour including involvement in criminal engagements such as drug dealing and prostitution. 

In 2017 , a research carried out in other African countries such as Mali, Benin, Chad and Guinea Bissau showed over 50% of  children aged 5-14 were child workers. Global agriculture is the major employer with a larger population of the victims in the rural areas and sub-standard urban areas. 


The major or primary cause of child labour has been identified as agriculture,  but the primary cause is poverty. For an impoverished home, the income earned by a child is part of the support for the upkeep of the family. Such families see their children as the workforce that will bail the family out of economic hardship. Income from working children even little may be between 25 and 40% of the domestic income. This conclusion has been reached by several authorities on child labour phenomenon, amomg whom are Harsch on African Child Labour, and Edmonds and Pavcnik on Global Child Labour. 

The US Department of Labour’s report submits in 2010 that child labour in Nigeria is the worst forms particularly in agriculture and domestic service. Most children are found in the agricultural production of cocoa, rubber, cassava,  which are always on large scales. They typically work long hours with little wages with their families. Indicated in the report is the health hazards they are prone to, among which are exposure to pesticides and chemical fertilizers in cocoa and tobacco plantations as a result of archaic farming methods, coupled with their status as forced labourers who are not equipped with protective kits. 

Child labour in Nigeria was estimated at 15 million in 2006, and its prevalence is in every state of the federation. Nigeria has 36 states. Other forms of child labour include children working as shoe shiners, vendors, apprentice mechanics, carpenters, vulcanisers, barbers,  tailors, and domestic servants.

Nigeria is a male-dominated society where the males are subtly considered superior to the females. The menace of child labour exposes the girl-child to sexual exploitation in the course of carrying out her duties in risky and unhealthy environments. In its efforts to stem the tide,  the Nigerian government in 2003 formally adopted three International Labour Organization conventions setting a minimum age for the employment of children. However, the present realities show the enforcement of the adopted conventions is next to nil. 

Nigerian mega cities of Lagos, Ibadan,  Portharcourt,  Onitsha, Kano, and the federal capital territory of Abuja are filled with child workers in their millions,  living a mature life and facing the burden of survival; a responsibility they are not mature for. Their formal education schedule has been jeopardized , with government’ s remedial schemes doing little to bring them a new lease of life. 

In the bid to eradicate child labour,  the global community has taken giant strides among which are the following :

The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) founded in 1992 aims to eradicate the menace by working in synergy globally. It operates in 83 countries, being the largest programme of its kind. It synergises with government agencies, NGOs, the media, and children and their families. The aim is to end child labour and provide education and assistance to the affected children and families. 

In the same vein,  from 2008 to 2013 , the ILO operated a programme through IPEC, entitled Combating Abusive Child Labour ( CACL-II) . The project was funded by the European Union,  it contributed the government of Pakistan by providing optional opportunities of vocational training and education for children withdrawn form the worst form of child labour. 

Periodical meetings of governments,  employers’, workers’ organisations are held to assess progress made so far,  identify obstacles,  and proffer solutions to the problem. Such meetings have produced Oslo meeting in 1997, The Hague in 2010, Brazil in 2013,and Argentina in 2017.

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