The Harsh Reality of Child Slavery In Nigeria by Don Abiodun Odedeyi

child_bricks_290_1In a world where education and acquired productive skill(s) play a pivotal role in the success of every man and woman, many middle-agents are neck-deep in the trade of human trafficking; employing ruthless means to keep their victims in line.

My sojourn on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 was nosy motivated, at least, it has been since December Friday, February 7, 2012 when I was commissioned to research into Microfinance operations in relation to poverty alleviation 1.

Had I determined to take my leave for the day, nothing would have been amiss. Save for the friendship that now exist between myself and Emmanuel (the bank official I was attached with) and the long day still ahead, my day’s observation was a wrap. I accompanied Emmanuel to Makoko where a group of orange sellers, in Asejere market, are waiting to discuss about a possible loan facility.

Asejere market, located on the marine side of Makoko, enjoy influx of Hausa/Fulani, Tapa, Yoruba, Ilaje and other coastal tribes from Delta to Togo, a distance of about 600 miles, who trade in timber, fruits, fish and other aquatic products.

The group is not a large one, ten orange seller, comprises of seven women and three men, crowded in an empty stall, their look depicting someone who is waiting for divine wonders. Like an artist who knows her trade, their wares were arranged in different interesting ways.

My admiration of this dynamic environment was cut short by a long shriek. I turned in time to see a large dark palm retract from the cheek of a little girl who should not be more than ten years old.

When the coast was clear, Maraba (her name) held her head, tight, with her two hands.

Stunned, I lost touch of time, it was as if was floating in space, like an astronaut. Looking into her fixated and white eyes, I thought I felt the impact of the slap; my head processed the whole movement, very slowly, like a Hollywood action movie.

How long this went on, I cannot say. Her piecing shriek, which increases with each gulp of air, brought me back to consciousness.

It never took long, other women within the vicinity in two and three crowded Maraba, some scolding, others petting her.

Maraba is a labourer with Iya Ibeji, an orange seller in the market. Lying close to her makeshift bed is a basket half-filled with ripe oranges meant for deliveries to customers within the market.

Although fluent in Yoruba, her pronunciation of some syllables gave her away as Tapa.

The Nupe, traditionally called Tapa by the neighbouring Yoruba country, are an ethnic group located primarily in the Middle Belt and northern Nigeria, and are the dominant group in Niger state and an important minority in Kwara State. Their chief town is Bida which is also the second largest city in Niger state. Again, her adept in Yoruba also suggest that she must have been around for a while.

When it was clear that neither coerce nor petting is working, her master, who was alarmed at her sudden change of attitude, was convinced that her association with another child-worker, Alimat, is the reason for her rebellious attitude. She suggests that Maraba’s behaviour is the beginning of her master plan that will see her move from her cofer to another master.

The suspect was quickly summoned.

Curiosity took the better part of me, without looking at the direction of my hand, I calmly brought out my midget, switched on the record. In other not to raise eyebrow, I cover it with my phone.

Alimat, in age and size suggest someone who shouldn’t have left her mother’s protective side, she is nowhere the age of twelve yet her utterances were far beyond her years.

Alimat got to know Maraba four days earlier and since then, they’ve both become bosom friends. She works in a pepper grinding shop not far from the orange section. When Alimat was told about Maraba insubordination, she clapped her hands then clips them akimbo, a show of disbelief to what she heard. What followed was equally surprising to me, if not for my fast fingers on my midget; the following conversation might never have come clean.

(Transcript of Alimat’s reaction)

“She can’t, she better not try it”, Aminat blurted.

“If she tries it, Alfa (the middle-agent) will withdraw her from here and send her elsewhere. Look at me, (she stretched forth her hands for the women to see), look at my hands, my fingers are as hot as fire, I sort pepper from morning till night, there is no time to rest. Every now and then, I dip my hands in water with the hope that they become normal but no, seconds after I pull them out of the water, the burning starts. Day and night is the same.

“I don’t eat before resuming ‘work’, many times; I eat morning and afternoon food together”.

The crowd roar into series of laugher as Alimat recounts her ordeal, much praise Maraba’s master for handling her princely.

“see this ungrateful girl o”, Maraba’s master interject, cutting short the crown in their laughing galore as they turn around to hear her own contribution. “We use the same soap o, use the same sponge, eat the same food at the same time, there is nothing I eat that she doesn’t taste from”.

“Hmm, they suffer a lot o” said one of the women, “there is no work in their country-home, and the treatment she gets here is charitable compare to what she gets from her country home. If she wants to leave, let her go”.

“Look at her skin”, said another, “she was this thin when she got here”. With her left hand, she held out her little finger out to describe Maraba size when she started working with Iya Ibeji.

While they continue in their condemnation and chat, my thoughts transcend the environment, away from the sheds filled with oranges, the heat and the noise emanating from the flux of languages that defined the multi-ethnic diversity of the market.


Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organisations.

Legislations across the world prohibit child labour. These laws do not consider all work by children as child labour; exceptions include work by child artists, supervised training, certain categories of work such as those by Amish children, and others.

Child labour is still common in many parts of the world. It accounts for 22% of the workforce in Asia, 32% in Africa, 17% in Latin America, 1% in US, Canada, Africa has the highest percentage of children aged 5–17 employed as child labour, and a total of over 65 million.

The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which was subsequently ratified by 193 countries. Article 32 of the convention addressed child labour, as follows:

…Parties recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

Under Article 1 of the 1990 Convention, a child is defined as “… every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” Article 28 of this Convention requires States to, “make primary education compulsory and available free to all.”

While they continue in their euphoria debacle, I was left to wonder, are children expected to help towards the family budget, despite the hardship prevalent in the country? What become of their future and indeed the future of their parents (then aged and helpless)? How can a developing country break the jinx of poverty when the circle of illiteracy and skills are not broken?

Toothless as these laws are, the future of children about 304 million (between the ages 5-17) are en-route to nothing, and we all are looking forward to a brighter, rewarding future?

What can you do to help?

Despite the enormity of the problem, child labour is a phenomenon that can be combated, not only by policy makers, but also by ordinary citizens.  Below are some suggestions on what students can do to take action and get involved in the fight against child labour:

Inform yourselves. The first thing you can do is BE AWARE about the state of child labour in the world, and be informed about the abuses and injustices that go on. It affects you more than you would think. Then you are in a position to go and inform other people about child labour.

Find out if your Government has ratified the ILO Conventions on child labour.  See the list of countries who have ratified ILO Convention No. 138 and ILO Convention No. 182.  If your government has not ratified the Conventions, write a letter to your government leaders to urge them to do so.  If your government has ratified the Conventions, find out what is being done to implement them.

Awareness-raising. Organize an event to raise awareness about child labour. This could be a play, concert or public debate and you could involve local musicians, actors and artists in your community. Remember to also involve parents and family members, who can be precious sources of knowledge and inspiration. Perhaps you could make posters or write to newspapers or magazines about the issue. What ideas can you come up with to raise awareness about child labour?

Encourage more participation. Involve your wider community in events leading to the World Day Against Child Labour observed yearly on 12 June, or organise an child labour awareness week to attract the greatest public attention possible. Distribute a press release informing and appealing to community groups and universities to join in, and establish contacts in the media for publicising such events.

No individual, no organization, even the largest one, can begin to stop child labour on its own, and no action, even the smallest, can be dismissed as being too small to bring about change.  It is only through joining the forces of goodwill on all levels of society that we can hope to put an end to child labour.


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