By, Temitope Mustapha, Abuja.
JUDE kadiri hits the road every day 6:30 am to sell facemasks since the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The 13-year-old J.S.S 3 student of Gwarinpa Secondary School does this with his friends around Karmo side of the city.
Jude produces the facemasks with his mother who is a tailor and hawks them at major bus stops of Jabi and Deidei of the FCT to make extra income for the family.
“It is a way to assist my mother,” said the boy.
Jude’s mother, Julie Edjeba Kadiri, a widow of eight years and a domestic worker and a trained tailor, confirmed the efforts of the boy in contributing to the finance of the family in a period of “so much financial pressure” as she described it.
According to her, “Jude has made over N25,000 since this coronavirus trouble started and I have been able to save N15,000 for him out of the money. We also feed from the money he brings home sometimes because since March ending, I could not go to my place of work where I clean the house. So, my son told me he could make facemasks. He told me he was taught where he used to learn tailoring after school hours before the restriction on the movement started. I am also a tailor by training and I have a small shop where I manage to get additional income. We began to make the facemasks together in my shop since I was not going to work again, while he goes out to sell them every day.”
Jude is not the only one helping her parent to earn a little more income during the lockdown. Fourteen-year-old Abednego Peter and 12-year-old Jennifer Peter also lend hands to their struggling parents. In torn and loose clothes, they stood in their father’s farm, wiping sweats off their faces. They were found applying manure to their father’s maize farm in Idu Kooro area of FCT.
“I was the one that did the planting this farm, I helped my father to plant groundnut also in three other farms that belong to us in Hulunmi and Paipe village,” said the boy, who added that he was preparing for his junior WAEC exams in Junior Secondary school, Idu koro, before the outbreak of COVID-19 in the FCT.
The two underage children work on the farm without the supervision of any adult nor with any form of protection, making the girl vulnerable to rape and to kidnapping. The two siblings are among the 108 million children said to be child farmers across the world, according to the International Labour office global estimates of child labour of 2012-2016.
Since the schools were shut-down in March this year due to the coronavirus, Abednego has planted beans, maize and groundnut. Although he is not in school, he has assisted the family so much. “His mother and I have been sick, but since March he goes to farm with his sister. Only once in a while, I check what they have done, that is when they apply manure because the time for it was rolling by. He has saved me from the trouble of hiring an outsider to do the farm work for me,” said Abednego’s father, James Peter.
The father of four, Peter, a full-time farmer, said his inability to provide smartphone or laptop for his son has deprived him the opportunity of joining the internet classes he heard about during the closure of schools. But the period has paid off well for him. He said his family got some palliative during the lockdown though it was not enough to sustain the family.
“We had to prepare for the rainy season on our farm, I believe it is what will sustain my family beyond this Coronavirus period and moreso, these children have been sitting at home doing nothing,” he added.
Another child working to shore up finances at home is Amarachi Isaac. She is the second child in the family of five and has been selling vegetables for her mother since she was 11.
“Some men ask if I could follow them to their car to collect my money sometimes,” Amarachi said, confirming the fear of her mother who, in spite of the assistance provided by her daughter, knows the danger of allowing a young girl to hawk in Abuja.
Amarachi’s mother, Mercy Isaac, a petty trader in kado told VON that asking her daughter to hawk vegetable is a way of reducing the financial burden on the family. She said since her school was closed due to COVID 19, Amarachi has made customers of her own. She said she is sometimes afraid of her going too far from her shop due to the fear of rape or kidnapping, but she has no choice.
“As you can see I cannot afford to buy a computer or get data for my daughter to learn via the Internet, for me it is as good as no learning for them since four months now because she attends public school, so most times she is in the shop with me selling or making extra money in her known location”.
Mrs Isaac said the family feeds from what she and her daughter make every day hence, she could not risk her daughter not being in the market in a day.
Section 28 of the Child Rights Act 2003, prohibits employment of children and forbids anyone below age 18 from performing any work that is hazardous or interferes with the child’s health, physical, mental or social development.
The Child Labour Act of Nigeria ratified in 1974 sets the minimum age for employment at 15 years, precisely to include light domestic work performed for the family.
A National Modular Child labour Survey of 2000/2001 revealed that over 15million children are engaged in child labour in Nigeria. The report stated that major reasons given by the children to engage in the act is the need to generate extra income for their family.
Jude, Abednego and Amarachi are among the under-aged children engaged in child labour and made to bear the burden of school work at the same time.
Child Rights Advocate, Kolawole Olatosimi of Child Protection Foundation, lamented that despite the fact that Abuja child hawkers are victims, their trading activities are also criminalised by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board AEPB and the FCT Social Development Secretariat.
He said: “The partnership between the FCT Social development secretariat and the AEPB is in discordant to the Child’s Rights Act of 2003. The AEPB is totally doing the wrong thing, their manner of picking up these children off the street is against the CRA. It is against the UN Convention on Child Rights. It is also against the Africa Charter on the rights and the welfare of a child to which Nigeria is a signatory. I believe the FCT Social Development Secretariat is criminalising the children who engage in hawking other forms of child labour. They make them feel responsible for hawking on the street or farming around, they arrest them, chase them to vehicles and so many of these children have been hit by vehicles., they criminalise the victims, to me its victimisation, they claim they are doing this because of implementation of the 2003 Child’s Rights act.
“The AEPB is not qualified enough to handle the children. It is wrong to handle children in such condition, the implementation is still at zero level in the FCT Secretariat, hawking for children on the street is a crime against the CRA, instead of arresting the criminals these people arrest the victims, for me, the CRA is not been implemented in the FCT.
“Some parents believe children need to assist in the provision of basic necessities for the family, some believe children need to take over in the family line of business. It is also on the increase due to the closure of schools and students of most public schools in Abuja have been at home, going to school for these children is one of the things they have that makes them close to being normal.”
Olatosimi called for effective family court in the FCT, saying the CRA provides for the court at the magistrate level and the high courts.
According to him, “the court has powers to issue a protection order when a child in the custody of a caregiver cannot take care of such child, the family court will issue a protection order that will make the government take over the care of such child”.
He advocated the full implementation of the CRA, saying fostering is another major aspect of the Act that the government must consider.
“If you take ten children off the street in a wrong way, twenty of them replace them immediately,” Kolawole added
He lamented that children engaged in child labour are those who have not come in contact with the law.
“These are children in conflict with the law, they are not even to be taken to the regular court, they are not to be sentenced but rehabilitated, but borstal homes are not provided for in the CRA”.
The Child rights advocate queried the strength of FCT social development facility in Gwagwalada, saying the CRA only provides for complete support for the children.
“Some of this crucial facility is not in place, and because this is lacking, we will continue to have an increase in the number of children hawking on the streets of Abuja.”
Felicia Onibon, also Child Rights activist and the President of Change Managers International Network, said child labour could expose children to health hazards specifically in the period of the spread of COVID 19 pandemic, she condemned hawking and other forms of child labour, adding that child labour violates child right act.
“ We need to look at the situation that has led the children on the street to hawk items to bring food to the table of members of their families, we need to critically ask questions about parents who engage their children in farm work at underage, all of these affects children directly, specifically as they have been at home for too long during the COVID 19 lockdown. Also the situation of things affecting the environment, most of these children live in a tight environment, they have found themselves at home asking for more food which parents do not have, some parents practically see the idea of hawking as a way of occupying the time of their wards without considering the fact that they are violating the children’s right.”
But when contacted, Kenechukwu Onyedima, acting Secretary Social Development Services of the FCT, boasted of the synergy between the FCT Administration and the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, saying the board has enhanced the implementation of the CRA in the FCT.
Onyedima said the FCT has taken custody of over 67 children engaged in child labour in the FCT, and a minimum of eight are picked weekly by the AEPB.
“The FCTA frowns at child labour because we have domesticated the Child Rights Act, in most cases, it is difficult for us to locate where they are, especially the children who do farm work, but once our attention is called to the plight of such children, we retrieve them from their parents and take immediate custody of them and their parents stand the chances of losing the children to the government.
“In most instances, the parents come begging for the release of their children, we then delegate officers to know where they reside in the FCT and we ensure they write undertaken that if such child is engaged in child labour again, they will lose complete custody of their children,” the FCTA official said.
On bringing alive facilities like the family court, Onyedima said enacting laws for punishing individuals who engaged children in child labour may not work. She said her experience on the job has revealed that most times, the lives of the children may be under threat if the FCT social development sues the people involved. She added that most guardians are involved.
Assistant Chief Community Development Officer, Child Protection Unit of the Federal Ministry for Women Affairs, Felix Nwaeseni, said the CRA of 2003 is on state governments residual list, making them fully responsible for the full implementation of the act.
Nwaeseni stated that effective implementation of CRA in the FCT or any of the 36 states is faced by the issue of structure and cases of differences in institutional capacity for relevant organisations to intervene.
He said the absence of family court, unavailability of substantial structure such as availability of judges, child assessors are major setbacks to the successful implementation of CRA.
“In the 14 states, including the FCT, that have already domesticated the CRA, they all have what they consider to determine if an activity is child labour. These are areas we have logjams but internationally there are minimum standards of survival issues, you measure the kind of labour a child is engaged in, it must not be that labour that submerges the right of a child to live and survive.
“Over 90 per cent issues of children is not in the legislative list, not in the concurrent list but in the residual list where the states have their powers, so what was expected of the state government was for them to take these laws, sieve it and make it capture socio-cultural realities of different states.”
The AEPB officials taking the child hawkers off the street are not trained on handling matters of child labour, he added that those who have adequate training and empowered by law do not have the facility to accommodate these children, Nwaeseni added.
He mentioned social protection shelter for children, provision of food, medical needs and engagement of counsellors as major items on the CRA as well as requirements to provide under the Child Rights international policies if the FCTA must keep the child hawkers off the street, end or reduce child labour in the territory.
“ The gender and Social Affairs department of FORCE CID under the Inspector General of Police is responsible for this activity, they are the ones FCT administration is supposed to be using, but possibly the AEPB have facilities to keep these children temporarily. This is not the best intervention under the minimum standard, the standard says these children are human beings and they have the right to good shelter for six months and feeding, to survival, medication and others.”
The Social protection worker disclosed that the ministry of labour still faces challenges on the issue of Nigeria’s law on child labour of 1974, which presently is being repealed at the National Assembly.
Looking at the budgets of most state governments, many do not prioritise children welfare. Little wonder children are often in the farms tilling the soil. The matter of children welfare is in the residual list. Therefore, it is crucial for stakeholders to approach the National Assembly for constitutional change so that matters of children’s welfare and protection can be moved to the concurrent list.
He lamented that the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs is incapacitated to carry out major advocacy on issues of child labour following the approval of child labour funds to the Federal Ministry of Labour.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, while reacting to the accessibility of pupils to Online studies during the COVID Pandemic in Nigeria, said less than 11 per cent of children in public schools have access to the online teaching content made available by the federal government due to unavailability of facilities
This report was sponsored by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, IWPR and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, under its Human Rights Accountability and Justice project.