Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
It was just as well that at the recently concluded 105th international labour conference in Geneva, Switzerland, echoes of the campaign against child labour reverberated poignantly on the conscience of humanity. This desecration of the innocence of children and violation of their dignity, which have constituted a blight on the soul of humanity must stop.
A child who is exposed to a certain degree of work or physical exertion not commensurable with his or her age is no more than an exploited slave. To use a child to the extent that an adult can be used for work without his/her consent is a crime, which should never be condoned.
Sexual abuse of children, unwanted pregnancies, rape and molestations have become so rampant that such no longer make news. Millions of out- of- school children and child hawkers are now vivid realities of modern life to the shame of all. In recent times, child labour has become an organized trade with underground routes, axis and commissions where the contractors and the poor parents are in league. This is, to say the least, an outrageous act of man’s inhumanity to man.
Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILD) during the conference said that the scourge is silently spreading wide, hitting 168 million children worldwide. In similar vein Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, said that about eight million Nigerian children are in exploitative labour. This represents a phenomenal wave of abuse.
Poverty, economic hardship and corruption have combined to create an outrageous gap between the poor and the rich in the society leading to practical enslavement of the majority. In this vicious cycle, trafficking in children, particularly females as child sex workers is fast becoming a staple. Exploited girls are used as domestic servants and prostitutes, while the boys are used as scavengers, car washers, bus conductors, drug peddlers and farmers.
Trafficking in human beings, especially women and men is not new. It is a complex multifaceted phenomenon involving multiple networks at the institutional and commercial levels with a huge market for cheap labour and commercial sex. The scourge subsists in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, tourism as well as in rural and informal economies where the child labourers produce goods and services without even being adequately rewarded.
Hence, the economic undertone of this menace is the reason for governments at all levels to re-invigorate their programmes of poverty alleviation.
Poverty is now a vicious-cycle, especially in Nigeria. The same people who are poor, have had to engage in prostitution and live in squalid conditions where they raise children whose chances of escaping poverty and prostitution as well as other forms of child labour are reduced daily by the nation’s harsh economic conditions. Only good governance with focus on service to the people and assistance to the poor can redress this ill in the society.
Illiteracy multiplies poverty and ignorance is the soil on which it thrives the most. So education is the key. Children with the requisite education and knowledge have little chance of falling prey to traffickers. So Nigeria must invest more in education for all. And the NAPTIP plan to introduce trafficking issues into the curricula of schools with a view to enlightening people about the menace is a pragmatic leap towards checking this scourge.
Apart from the local dimension of the trade, the global chain structure is also very worrisome. According to NAPTIP, with new human trafficking strategies and routes being developed and established by traffickers, uninformed victims are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cleverly crafted schemes. It is unfortunate that despite the agency’s best efforts in prevention and prosecution of persons involved, many Nigerians are still eager to leave the country and therefore become victim of traffickers. It is therefore, important to stress that concerted efforts of all stakeholders in the battle against child labour and trafficking are needed now more than ever before. Once again, the poverty alleviation programme of various governments should be reinvigorated with the objective of scaling down the community of the vulnerable.
Welfare departments at all levels of government should optimize focus on child education through the universal and compulsory basic education programme. A vigorous campaign for more effective enforcement of relevant laws should also be mounted. The menace of child labour and trafficking calls for a strong will and commitment on the part of all.