Criticism trails Women Affairs minister’s advocacy for child labour, reduction in school hours

COMMENTS by Minister for Women Affairs Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye that school days should exclude Fridays to enable children to get involved in production activities to boost urban development has received a lot of criticism from Nigerians.

On Thursday, September 7, Kennedy-Ohanenye, while speaking at the 2023 Anambra Investment Summit, said that Fridays should be made free for school children to allow them to produce items like matches and sanitary pads for sale.

“I am pleading for us to look into more production of some of these things in our society. Especially the necessities like the matchbox, the toothpick, the cotton buds, the sanitary pads and stuff like that. Let us introduce urban development in the schools. If we can think about using Fridays as free, for our children to start producing things just like they do in China … In China, even young kids get involved in production,” she said.

Kennedy-Ohanenye also disclosed that she contacted Nigeria’s Traders Union, who indicated an interest in marketing the items produced by the children.

“I was able to speak to the president of the Traders Union Association, and they are ready to partner on this where when they produce these things, they carry it and market it within our country.

“We will not only create jobs; we will not only stop the issue of giving handouts to our Nigerians when they are supposed to be eating fat. We will equally curtail the drug intake of our children because they will be more occupied. They will go to school and equally do some productions to start earning money on time. It will equally curtail the insecurity in our society,” she said.

However, the speech has been widely condemned by Nigerians, who described it as advocacy for child labour on various social media platforms.

“The Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, is at the Anambra Investment Summit, advocating for the reduction of school days and the use of school children as workers to manufacture essentials such as toothpicks, sanitary pads and cotton buds!

“The solution to drug abuse is child labour? The solution to insecurity is child labour and reduced school hours? In 2023, when children across the world are being taught digital skills a Minister is advocating that our children should be sent to labour camps?” a Twitter user I_am_Ilemona posted on Thursday.

“Can you imagine what she’s saying? Education isn’t important to them,” another user Shegun posted.

On Facebook, David Shuaibu reposted a video of the Minister speaking at the Summit with a caption that read in part, “Your plan to introduce child labour will not succeed.”

Another user, Quassim Olamilekan Ayodele, who also reposted the video, added a caption that partly read, “ Mind you, this woman sits on the FEC! She may introduce this very sickening idea and they will clap and adopt same,” he posted.

Reuben Abati, a former presidential spokesperson and one of the anchors of “The Morning Show,” a magazine programme on Arise TV, condemned the minister’s statement.

He said Thursday morning on the show that the minister’s position reflected how public officials were bereft of ideas and needed training on what they should say in public.

Child labour has been a matter of increasing concern in Nigeria.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), over 15 million children in Nigeria between five and fourteen years are engaged in child labour as of 2022.




     

     

    Despite this, for some Nigerians on social media, the Minister’s suggestions were not tantamount to child labour but aimed at developing children’s skills.

    “Bunch of bad mouths. If you could do better, trust me, you would have been there. There is nothing wrong with her suggestion. Besides, there are other ventures aside from tech. In other words, she is helping these young lads build something without seed funding,” a user, Kaybydesign, posted.

    “She’s simply talking about developing vocational skills of children during their leisure hours. And I don’t see anything wrong with that. You quoted her out of context,” another user, Gbenga Saka, noted.

    However, according to the ILO, certain factors determine what constitutes child labour, including work that “interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.”

    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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