Guilty as charged of child exploitation

It could be a bitter pill to swallow but truth is almost everyone, including those canvassing against it, is involved in child labour and trafficking in one way or the other! Those who employ them as domestic help, those who pay for their transportation down to Nigeria, not minding the circumstances these children go through in Nigeria and those knowingly employing the underage as domestic help with a false sense that they are safer with them. Everyone is guilty! Oluwatosin Omoniyi writes

Unfortunately, the global pandemic (COVID-19) has given ‘just’ reasons not only to the children, but also to parents, guardians and aunties to send the children to be on the streets ekeing a living for themselves and their families. Most children on the streets of Lagos city that New Telegraph spoke to gave every reason to be there. They had various excuses, ranging from their parents losing their jobs, fathers absconded leaving them behind with their sickly mothers, or that they needed to assist with the meager earnings their parents were earning.

These children were seen either begging passersby for money to feed, hawking different seasonal fruits and crops, some joined in bakery, factories. Some even took to load carrier associations in many markets and so many other places. It is not difficult to notice the aggressive and unique competitions of marketing among these children on the roads and their various places of work. Some even took to emotional marketing like, “aunty, buy now, please buy one and get free tasting.”

“Aunty, you looking pretty, please buy some groundnut and add to your beauty,” that was some of the street slogan of these children. For these children and their parents, it is survival of the fittest and anyhow, so long they are not stealing or doing anything contrary to the law. Ironically, it is called ‘Child Labour’.

It explained that Child labour remains a major source of concern in Nigeria, in spite of legislative measures. It added that, “major causes of child labour are widespread poverty, rapid urbanisation, breakdown in extended family affiliations, high school dropout rates, and lack of enforcement of legal instruments meant to protect children. Traditionally, children have worked with their families, but today children are forced to work for their own and their family’s survival. The money earned by child family members has become a significant part of poor families’ income.

The children who work suffer from fatigue, irregular attendance at school, lack of comprehension and motivation, improper socialisation, exposure to risk of sexual abuse, high likelihood of being involved in crime.” However, child labour seems to be encouraged by almost all in Nigeria, Lagos particularly where they are most sought after. In fact, underage children are in high demands. Reason is that, these categories of children are harmless and are believed to be less threatening to the peace of their homes.

However, the true intention behind the veil is that they exploit the children (money and bodily wise) who are mostly vulnerable and naive. Ellen Kodjo, 15, was only 10 years old when her parents handed her over to her aunt who stays somewhere in Ilaro, area of Ogun state in exchange for money.

The aunt had raised Kodjo’s parents hopes of finding their daughter a good job in Lagos, a hustling city where there is high demand for domestic helps. Before leaving Ajah Dogbo in Benin Republic, Kodjo’s aunt- Sarah had given her parents N20,000 in Cotonue’s currency-Cefa, upfront for the little girl’s one year salary. Back to Nigeria, Kodjo’s aunt, Sarah truly got the little girl a domestic job at a big local canteen in Oke-Ira, Ogba in Lagos. Her duty along with two others her age, was to wash plates and serve food to guests at the canteen for a paltry salary of N6000 monthly. This she did for six days a week, consecutively for two years.

At the end of the year, the Canteen owner paid a total sum of N80,000 as agreed between her and Kodjo’s aunt, N72,000 as one year salary and N8,000 transportation from her village down to Nigeria. Unfortunately, Kodjo’s parents only got N5,000 from her salary according to Kodjo whose Nigeria’s name has turned to Bukola but mostly called Bukky. Kodjo described her experience to New Telegraph at the canteen as ‘horrible’. She said, her employer serves them( workers) leftover food eaten by the guests who came to eat at the canteen.

“So, we always pray to God that the guest shouldn’t drop chewed bones inside the soup or pray that they leave large quantity enough to fill our stomachs, we also pray that they eat neatly so that we will be able to eat the remains of their food,” she narrated.

The third year, kodjo was taken elsewhere but she wasn’t as happy as she was at the canteen, no freedom of association for her. According to her, her new employers were too strict and their eldest children always beat her. Ayomide Pelajie was 9-years old when she departed from her father and siblings in Prakwe area of Cotonue, Benin Republic. In her case, her mother left with her when she divorced her father. Settling down with another man in Ijebu Ode, Ogun state, the stepfather quickly fixes Ayomide a sales girl job in Oshodi.

There, Ayomide learnt how to court customers to her madam’s shop, divide and cut materials for customers for N5,000 monthly. On days that there are no sales in the shop, Ayomide would hawk seasonal fruits like groundnuts, garden eggs, apple among others. She grew up becoming wild in Oshodi, at 13, Ayomide had two abortions, not only that, she was perfect in telling lies and stealing. Any street fight inside the market or on the street where she lived in Oshodi and it involved Ayomide, she was quick to break bottles to threaten her challengers away.

At the end of four years, Ayomide left the street of Oshodi for a proper domestic job where she was to look after three children for N10,000 monthly in Ikeja. She got a bit reformed but didn’t last beyond seven months in the house because of her vulgar languages and wild character.

From Ikeja, Ayomide got another job in Ogba where her duty was to take care of two kids and a grandmother. At evening, Ayomide would either assist her madam at a T-junction not too far from their house in frying bean cake and yam or hawk corn meal locally called koko, also for N10,000 monthly. Josephine Cheviee but known as Kemi in Nigeria was a cute and loving 7-year old girl brought to replace Ayomide in Ogba. Kemi was a very tiny and wiry girl in stature but mighty with native intelligence and domestic work. She knew how to count money and very at alert about her environment. She was not an easy girl to fall for tricks or pranks, some adults played on her. She not only perceived but also knew how to survive it.

Somehow Kemi left the place because her parents wanted same pay for her as Ayomide but the employer wouldn’t pay beyond N4,000 because she was small, as such, there was limitations to the extent she could go on household chores, according to Kemi. Eventually, Kemi got into the hand of another employer who readily agreed to pay N7,000 monthly. Unfortunately, the poor girl didn’t bargain for what she met in the job. Aside the domestic work, Kemi also worked on the vegetable farm of her new employer in Ikorodu!

The most seemingly exploited was Matthew Assogba, 12 who was also brought into Nigeria at age 9. His main job was to hawk plantain and smoked fish along with other children inside Ogba retail market. By age 12, his employer sent him for a vocational training on generator and motorbike repairs. Less than a year, Assogba displayed some level of mastering of his training. He told New Telegraph that he wasn’t the one who charge customers but both his domestic and trade employers. Moreover, he wasn’t given out of the money charged customers on his behalf.

“But they do give me N200 for feeding daily. My madam told me that my money would be plenty when I would be returning to Cotonue but I have not gone to see my parents since I came to Nigeria. What I know is that my elder brother who brought me to Nigeria was always coming to my madam’s place to fight for my money but my madam kept saying no money yet. Sometimes, she would give my brother between N2,000 and N5,000,” he revealed.

The above children stories are representative of an omnipresent trend facing their home country of Benin republic and West Africa perhaps. Child labour walks hand-in-hand with trafficking both within Benin, typically from rural to urban areas, and across country borders. According to the International Labour Organization, the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15 million. “The high level of diverse and tedious jobs that children execute in dangerous circumstances is particularly worrying.




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