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Insecurity, pandemic trigger resurgence of child labour 

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[File] Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Peter Tarfa

Stakeholders are unsettled by the rising number of child-labourers across Nigeria as insecurity and partly COVID-19 pandemic is now pushing more children into the labour market.
 
With roughly 160 million child labourers at the beginning of 2020 and an additional nine million since the outbreak of coronavirus, stakeholders are apprehensive that nearly one in every 10 children caught in the web of the menace spells doom for African countries. 
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The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Peter Tarfa, who quoted figures by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), noted that the remarkable reduction in child labour by about 94 million between 2000 and 2016, could be eroded soon.
   
He lamented that an ILO simulation model showed the number of children at risk could rise significantly to about 46 million globally if critical action is not taken.
   
Tarfa, who spoke at a one-day workshop on reportage on the elimination of child labour, in Abuja, revealed that the Nigerian government is taking steps to address the issue.
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He submitted that Nigeria’s current national socio-political and economic situations, coupled with the impact of COVID-19 are predisposing factors for increased child labour in the country.
   
Deputy Director, Inspectorate, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olaolu Olaitan, cautioned that not all works done by children are child labour, saying there are differences between child labour and child work.
   
Her explanation: “Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour. Whether or not particular forms of ‘work’ can be called ‘child labour’ depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individuals or parents for engaging in such work. 
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“Children or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is generally regarded as child work and something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to the development and welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.”
   
She stressed that the worst form of child labour involves children enslaved to serious hazards and illness or left to fend for themselves on the streets – often at a very early age. 
 
Olaitan insisted that while child labour takes different forms, the priority is to eliminate the odious practice without delay in accordance with Article 3 of the ILO Convention No 82.
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She listed poverty, ignorance on the part of families and children of the risks involved in child labour, poor access to decent work, limited understanding of what child labour is, high demand for cheap labour especially by small and medium scale enterprises in the informal sector, death of parents or caregivers, natural disaster and climate change, conflict situations, inadequate laws and enforcement, existing laws and codes of conducts often violated and national laws often include exemptions.
 
To the Acting Director, Inspectorate of the ministry, Ajuwon Dauda, child labourers are mostly found in the agriculture, mining, domestic service, construction and transportation sector. 
   
He further revealed that some of the children working in the various sectors are either victims of trafficking, forced or bonded labour subjected to both national and international flows, mostly within the ECOWAS region.
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In the mining sector, Dauda said child labour is prevalent in quarries and artisanal or small-scale mining, which mainly involves individuals, groups, families, or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanisation. Often in the informal sector.
   
Also, the age group involved in quarrying activities is 11 to 15 years with a predominant male distribution where children are involved in various dangerous activities such as digging, breaking, chiselling, heating, cracking, crushing, hammering, excavating and carrying of rocks, stone dust and sands.
 
In the construction industry, child labourers are involved in the task of brickmaking, carrying and stacking bricks and other construction materials. Children’s work in this sector often accounts for between three to four hours after school hours and longer during weekends and holiday periods. 
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In the transportation sector, the involvement of children often occurs at an early age when they are vulnerable to unhealthy influences and peer pressure. The gender distribution is skewed towards boys, with girls involved in providing ancillary services such as the sale of food and alcoholic drinks.
 
To tackle the menace, Dauda mentioned that the ministry is currently reviewing the Labour Act CAP L1, LFN, 2004 and other Labour laws to address the gaps and barriers to effective labour administration and elimination of child labour in Nigeria.
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However, he was quick to point out that about 43 per cent of Nigerian children between the ages of five to 17 years are engaged in economic activities, which is an indication that modern slavery and child labour are still prevalent in Nigeria; and have remained formidable challenges.
     
He added: “Key challenges include poverty, cultural/religious factors, poor education system, inadequate social protection strategies, wrong perception /ignorance of the effects of child labour and wrong or misinterpretation of Almajiri system amongst other problems.”
 
To successfully tackle child labour, Dauda said united efforts between government, institutions, civil society organisations and individual entities in line with the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy are urgently needed.

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