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A Day With An Underage Bookseller In Ibadan

Unlike the practice of hawking sachet water, soft drinks, groundnuts and snacks often associated with underage kids on streets and highways in Nigeria, Kemi Adebayo, 12, was seen in front of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) in Challenge, Ibadan, selling fairly used books.

She sat at the foot of the fence close to her stock hoping for the many legs treading the sidewalk to patronize her.  

I asked how much she sold her book and was surprised to hear her utter what I would call a giveaway price. I was almost forced to ask if she meant the rolls of gala near her.

Kemi stays with her grandmother at New Garage in Ibadan, which is about five minutes drive to Challenge, where she sells books. She is a Junior Secondary School class 2  student of Methodist High School, New Garage, Ibadan.

She used to live in Lagos with her parents before she came to stay with her grandmother.

 ” My dad and mum are in Lagos and I came to stay with my grandma. The books are my grandma’s that she sells and she buys from someone,” Kemi explained.

The majority of her books cost between N100 and N200,  while bigger textbooks like Revision Course For G.C.E. ‘O’ Level Mathematics cost N500 each. 

Pointing at the books by their prices,  she said,” I sell my books  N100, N200 and N500. The mathematics textbook is N500.”

She resumes at her spot by 3 p.m. and leaves for home around 5 p.m. At the end of each day, she makes between N1,500 and N2,000. 

When asked if she had read any of the books she sold,  she replied,  “No, if I go to school, hmmn, my grandma will say I should go and sell books that is why.”

Before the closure of schools to curtail the spread of coronavirus, she sold the books in school and now that schools are on a compulsory break, she stepped up her game to Challenge where people move around in large numbers. She wishes to become a nurse in the future. 

On sunny days, Kemi stays at her spot unprotected from its scorching effect but finds refuge under the UBA ATM tent on rainy days. 

Although she is aware that coronavirus exists, I saw no sanitizer or face mask with her but just a Dangote Cement pack improvised as a bag for carrying the books after each day’s sales. The face mask she says, she hates. 

Child Labour in the World and Africa

Child labour is a global issue of great concern. It refers to the engagement of children in any work that deprives them of their childhood, affects their education and is physically, socially, morally and mentally hazardous. 

Following a changing world order in 1989, world leaders came in unison to adopt an international legal framework – the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

The treaty preaches that children are not just objects who belong to their parents and for whom decisions are made, nor adults in training. Rather, they are human beings and individuals with their own rights.

The International Labour Office defines child labour as a sub-set of working children. It includes all children in the age bracket of five to 11 years, who are working; all children between the ages of 12 to 14 years, who are performing work not considered as light work and working more than 14 hours a week; and all those in the 15 to 17 years group whose work may be deemed hazardous. 

In a speech to commemorate the World Day against Child Labour on June 12, 2020, the Assistant Director-General and Regional Director in Africa, Cynthia Samuel Olonjuwon, stated that “about 152 million children between five and 17 years were victims of child labour globally. 

She said 73 million of them were involved in hazardous child labour, which is work that places their health, safety and development at considerable risk. 

“The good news is that child labour has decreased globally by nearly 94 million (40 percent) since year 2000,” she noted.

This positive and drastic decrease however cannot be said of Africa on a continental basis as the “Progress in the fight against child labour seems to have slowed down. With the equivalent of 72 million in child labour, Africa has the highest prevalence in both absolute numbers and percentage,” Olonjuwon said.

With the unprecedented effect of economic regression, the COVID-19 pandemic has struck the world with, it is perceived that there would be an increment in the number of child labour 

Child Labour in Nigeria

The Child Rights Act was incorporated into the Nigerian legal code in 2003 to domesticate the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. After 17 years of its incorporation into the law, Nigerian children in their millions are still victims of child labour. 

The National Bureau of Statistics 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey says “about 50.8 per cent of Nigerian children, aged between five and 17, are involved in child labour.”

In 2019, Dennis Zulu, the Country Head of the International Labour Organisation, explained that at least 43 per cent of Nigerian children were trapped in various forced labor against international conventions.

As bad as the statistics are, the government is not up and running with methods to eradicate child labour. 

Although there are laws and policies, they are hardly implemented. In fact, some states of the federation are yet to adopt the Child Rights law.

Premium Times reported that at least 11 northern states in Nigeria had  yet to pass a child rights law despite its obvious benefits for children. These states are Bauchi, Yobe, Kano, Sokoto, Adamawa, Borno, Zamfara, Gombe, Katsina, Kebbi, and Jigawa. 

The way out

The Executive Director of Child Rights Awareness Creation Organisation, Mr Joseph Igwe, is of the opinion that the creation of jobs and strict punitive measures for defaulters of the Child Rights Law are some of the important ways to eradicate child labour in Nigeria.

“It’s not that children cannot work to assist parents. As a matter of fact, children ought to be taught the dignity of labour as they grow, in line with the scriptural injunction: ‘train up a child the way he should go and when he grows up, he will not depart from it.’

“However, parents and guardians must ensure that in doing this, they do not subject the child to any form of work that is above the age and capacity of the child, and which will be hazardous to the health and education of the child,” Igwe said.

He said, “To eradicate child labour, the government must create jobs and ensure that every parent has a meaningful job that can help them adequately cater for their children.

” It is only in the effort to make ends meet that parents subject their children to hazardous works. It is not enough to make and enforce laws that every child must be in school and prosecute parents who contravene such laws. Government must know that a child cannot go to school and study with an empty stomach. Survival first.”

However, Igwe said “Government must identify and sanction individuals and corporate bodies that employ children to do hazardous work. 

“The truth is that most companies see children as cheap labour who they can employ, easily manipulate and pay peanuts. There are many industries employing children for such, especially in the mining sector.”

Mrs Imaobong Ladipo Sanusi, the Executive Director of Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation, called for the implementation of laws and the efficiency of government agencies in charge of child protection.

She said “The Government should first implement all ratified conventions and key into alliance 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Government Agencies involved in doing child protection work should also be up and doing.”

She explained that education, empowerment and enlightenment were necessary tools the government should use to wage war against child labour. 

“Education should be seen as a right and as such, it should be free and accessible by all regardless of where a child lives. Empowerment is necessary for all because most families give out their children out for child labour because of poverty,” Sanusi said.

She urged religious leaders to get involved in the campaign to end child labour. 

“Nigerians are religious and listen to their clerics, hence the religious leaders should be involved in the campaign to end child labour,” Sanusi said.

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