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‘Our labour laws should be more child-friendly’

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‘Our labour laws should be more child-friendly’

With over 30 years’ experience in designing and managing programmes in education, social development policy, community development and results-based management on a global scale, Joel Ihebuzor, in this interview with REGINA OTOKPA, harps on the need to implement the Convention of the Rights of a Child in Nigeria

 

How has Nigerian labour laws impacted on the rights of children?
We have not been very good in enforcing our labour laws and we find in places where children should otherwise be protected, our children’s rights are being violated because of parental poverty. A lot of parents send their children, who are minors below the age of 18, to go and work in environments where they shouldn’t work. That is clearly a labour violation and it can be checked with better enforcement and with better education of the parents. But ultimately, if you want to control those things, you must also ensure that you improve on the conditions of parents.

Do you think the Ministry of Labour and Employment is proactive enough to curb these violations?
Right now, we are very weak on social safety nets, in other countries including small countries like Kenya and Tanzania, they have a social safety net programme where families that earn a particular level are supported by the state in certain ways, which then reduces their tendency to send their children to go and earn money to support the family. In terms of labour, a lot still needs to be done in Nigeria, labour laws need to be made more sensitive, more child informed, more child aware and more protective of children. The Ministry of Labour should also be more forthcoming to go and inspect violations of children. The law says a child can work but it also defines the kind of work the child can do and it also defines the amount and the type of adults who should be there to supervise that work. None of that or very few of that is done in this country.

Would you say the level of child right violation in Nigeria is high?
There are quite a number of issues here; a violation in terms of their rights, yes it is very high, violations in terms of their entitlements to education is also very high. You see a child being beaten up by an adult, the police are also seen assaulting the child and those are issues that touch on child’s right. Children should be protected; children should be nurtured, but then because the duty bearers and, by duty bearers, I mean the policeman, the social worker who are supposed to be informed are not so informed as they should be. If you go to the market and the motor parks, the wheel barrow pushers you see there are children, they shouldn’t be doing that and they should be in school, but why is it so? Why does a police man look the other way when he sees a child with a barrow, why does the social worker look away because he either doesn’t know or is complicit in a society that pushes children down.

What are the challenges confronting implementation of the Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) in Nigeria?
The reason it is yet to be implemented is partly because most Nigerians don’t know about it so we have not done enough to simplify it. The first thing we have to do is translate it to make it a bit simpler to read. We can make use of local dialects, say Igbo, for instance, to pass on the messages; unpackage it in such simple terms and the people responsible for providing these things are the states. Somebody has a duty to do this and that somebody is failing on that duty. Somebody has dropped the ball and what do you do, you call attention to that. Rather than preach salvation in churches, I think the churches and mosques should also preach social obligations and social responsibilities because they have a captive audience, they should use it for social change; don’t just use it to capture people for heaven. Let them live well here.

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