Insight

How quarries exploit children for survival (3)

In this concluding part of the investigation on the plight of children working in quarries in Nigeria, child rights’ groups and organisations argue for better care and treatment of children, writes JULIANA FRANCIS

Yunana Tanko is 11 years old and he is in primary three. He is the second child of his late parents. He is from Nasarawa State, but was taken to Niger State when he was seven years old to act as house help to one of his aunties.

He said: “Unfortunately, my aunt and her husband had problems and separated. This affected me because she had to send me back after almost two years. As I was in the village, things were too difficult for me and my siblings. One day, I told my elder sister about a place where stones are broken and how we could make money there.

I told her that we would be able to take care of ourselves, even our education. I was able to convince her and that was how we moved. We came down here and pleaded with people to help us. God touched their hearts and they allowed us to stay. One of the women here assisted us with one room accommodation. All of us are living there. We sell stones here, depending on the quantity you need.

Today, I’m going to school and work here in the evening and Saturdays to assist myself in feeding, to buy clothes and meet educational needs. Yes, the work has not been easy, but there is nothing we can do about it. This is the only way we can help ourselves as orphans.”

Quarries in Ogun State

Ogun State is one of the states in Nigeria with the highest number of quarries and other mining sites. A sizable number of these quarries are owned by Chinese, leaving a reasonable number to indigenous operators. According to findings, more than 25 quarries are legally operating in the state while other illegal quarries and mining sites are scattered all over the state.

The use of minors as labourers is very common with illegal quarry operators, who operate without regulations. The illegal quarries are mostly temporarily operated by indigenes, who pay land owners to extract stones from the ground. Kehinde, 13, is one the underage children working in one of the quarries located on Igbo-Ora Road. Kehinde dropped out of school when he was in primary four because of lack of funds.

He lives in one of the villages close to the quarry site. He joined the quarry as a labourer three months ago. Before joining the quarry, Kehinde had worked as a labourer, factory worker, and carrier and done other menial jobs to survive. He said labourers like him were recruited by quarry operators through truck drivers and loaders.

His struggle for survival started after his father died, leaving him, his mother and four siblings to their fate. Kehinde, along with other labourers, both children and adults, earn between N800 and N1,500 per day working from morning till evening every day, including weekends. According to him, some of the workers sleep in camps within the quarry site while others are allowed to come from their homes. Kehinde said he was forced to work in the quarry because he had no means to support his mum.

He said: “Since my father died, things have been very difficult. My mother has five children; I’m the third born. My elder brothers and I had been doing all kinds of job to survive. We have worked in construction sites, factories, farms and as carriers in markets.

Those of us at the entry level are called work boys and we earn between N800 and N1,500 per day depending on how well you can work. I was brought to the quarry by one of my brother’s friends. He is a motor boy to a truck driver.” But, according to him, it is not a steady job. He added: “We are only invited when a new quarry has been discovered. We break rocks by setting fire underneath them.

The rock is then further broken down to block stones which are loaded into trucks and sold to gravel dealers.” The boy said that his major challenge with the job was inhaling of dusts resulting from stone crushing. “This often affects our breathing, but those who can afford to buy evaporated milk find a way around this.

If I have a choice, I will gladly take up a better job that is safer, less risky and pays better. I will also like to continue my education if I can get support from any Good Samaritan,” he added solemnly. A gravel pit dealer, Suliamon Adeyemi, said they sourced stones from quarries within and outside the state. After which they employ the services of crushers who could be either adults or children. According to him, a crusher is paid N500 per head pan of stones crushed.

He said: “A group of five children can crush 20 to 30 head pans of stones in a week depending on how fast they work.” Ahmed Sobogun, 10, has been working as a stone crusher for almost two years. He has been following his mother, also a crusher, to gravel pits for as long as he could remember. Ahmed, who said that he had never been to school, added that breaking stones was the only school he knew. He, however, said: “I will really love to go to school if there is an opportunity.”

The boy crushes six to eight block stones per day and two head pans in a week. The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the National Union of Mine Workers (NUMW), Ogun State chapter, Comrade Tunde Soneye, said children were not allowed to work in quarries. According to him, his union seriously frowns on the use of child labour.

He said: “Before the union was formed, child labour and other atrocities were committed by quarry operators, but our union fought this to a standstill. We don’t condone it at all. That is why we insisted that all mine workers working in quarries are automatically members of our union. This will enable us as a union to right the wrongs.”

Experts speaks on child labour

Mr Chidi Nkem Ekpewerechi used to work in Crush Stone Industry Limited, a quarry company, jointly hosted by Lekwesi in Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State, and Amata Ishiagu in Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. He was the admin and community relations manager for many years.

He explained that the quarry job was very tough for adults, let alone children. He said: “It needs a lot of strength and precautionary measures, mostly in the areas of saving lives. Right from the point of drilling holes, to the time of charging the holes with explosives and finally blasting off the stones into crushable sizes.

It remains a serious hazardous job. That is why the Nigeria Mining Act clearly exempted women and children from some aspects of the job, mostly, production.” Ekpewerechi said: “When I worked in the quarries, I worked in mechanised ones. But there were villagers who used to stand at the gate of this company, demanding for what we call, ‘waste.’ Among those wastes were lumps of stones. When the company drops these wastes at the gate, the villagers pick the lumps of stones to break and that’s where you find the children.

These children do not wish to be breaking stones, but they are there because of poverty. Many of them use money realised from these quarries to pay school fees and some used money realised there to assist their mothers and siblings to feed.”

Ekpewerechi suggested that social welfare departments in states should do their jobs by monitoring activities of parents, who involved their children in quarry jobs. He also stressed that the government should carry out enlightenment programmes in rural villages by addressing parents and guardians on the dangers of children working in quarries.

He added: “It is the inability of the government to live up to its constitutional mandate to the people that has primarily advanced the child right violations across the country. For instance, every Child has the right to free and quality education.

But in many states today, school fees are paid, even in primary. On many occasions, when you ask those under aged children why they are involved in such jobs, one of the reasons they give is poverty.

“The future of the children should be paramount more than monetary gains. The Nigerian and international laws frown on child labour and even the Mining Act of 2002, which I was privileged to go through when I was working in the quarry, stipulates that an under aged child should not be seen at quarry sites, let alone to be working. Children continue to work in quarries because poverty has become entrenched in our society, which is partly due to leadership failure. Ordinarily, most of these children should be in school or in skill acquisition programmes, but sadly there’s no money to pay for school fees or skill acquisitions. In different states, school fees are being paid and many families do not have money.

Thus, these children continue to suffer and some will make the money, but their fathers will collect it. Children shouldn’t be allowed to continue in such jobs. I have seen situations where children were breaking stones and it would cut them and they start bleeding. Government should encourage children to go to school by implementing free education at all levels.

Welfare officers should go to quarry sites to monitor the activities going on there because that’s where you had found those children and their parents engaged them in those difficult jobs.” According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Digital Library, child labour is a serious problem in Africa. It sees it as a major contributor to out of school children.

It states: “Recent studies have shown that child labour depresses school enrolment rate, negatively affects school achievements and deceases graduate rates.” UNICEF states that nearly one in 10 children across the world, which is around 152 million, are subjected to child labour, almost half of them involve in hazardous works. “Child labour can result in extreme bodily and mental harm, and even death.

It can lead to slavery and sexual or economic exploitation. And in nearly every case, it cuts children off from schooling and health care, restricting their fundamental rights and threatening their futures,” UNICEF further notes.

A lawyer, Mr. Akpologun, said: “Child Labour is prohibited in Nigeria; as such the use of a child for labour in quarries is prohibited. Section 28 of the Child’s Right Act (CRA) attests to that.” According to him, CRA and the Labour Act prohibit child labour under any guise. He added: “However, while the CRA defines a child as a person that is below the age of 18 years, the Labour Act defines a child as a person that is below 12 years.

Unfortunately, it would seem that by the provision of Section 29 of the CRA, the Labour Act’s definition of a child when it comes to labour matters, takes pre-eminence and as such, must be put into consideration for the purposes of answering the question of child labour. Section 59(2) of the Labour Act prohibits the employment of a young person that is below the age of 15 years into industrial undertakings.

The Labour Act defines industrial undertaking to include quarrying. Pursuant to the above provisions, persons below 18 years of age but above 15 years of age can legitimately be employed to work in industries like quarries. Also, a young person under the age of 14 years may be employed to work in quarries provided he is not employed on a daily wage and on a day-to-day basis.

In fact, persons who are below 15, but above 12 years old, may be used to work in quarries in as much as they are not formally employed or required, in any case, to lift, carry or move anything so heavy as to be likely to adversely affect his physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

As we know, this is a matter of evidence and is very subjective. The liability of a person that uses a person who is less than 18 years old for quarry business would be subject to the prosecution’s ability to prove that the child was made to carry anything that would affect his development.” Reacting to parents using their children to work in quarries, Akpologun noted: “The CRA, however, is silent as to the situation where parents or guardians permit the employment of a child in a quarry or any such industrial employment. Recourse would therefore need to be made to the provision of the Labour Act in that regard.

Section 64 of the Labour Act provides that; ‘Any person who employs a young person in contravention of Sections 59 to 62 of this Act or any regulations made under Section 63 of this Act, the proprietor, owner and manager of any undertaking in which a young person is so employed and any parent or guardian of a young person who permits the young person to be so employed shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction shall be liable to a fine not exceeding N100.’

“This provision is evidently otiose and can no longer be of any effect if child labour is intended to be stopped by the use of the law. It is therefore recommended that the CRA should be reviewed to contain instances where the child labour is permitted by the parents or the guardians of the child and that the punishment for such crime should be revised to meet present day reality.”

The Director, Research and Programmes Development of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Mr. Godwin Morka, said his organisation was not a regulatory agency and as such wouldn’t have an idea of the number of quarries or children workers in such sites in the country.

He said: “NAPTIP is faced with numerous challenges when it comes to forced and exploitative labour in endemic states due to the harsh economic condition that results in parents introducing their children to work in these quarries for income generation and high cost of paying workers. (One of such is) lack of social safety network, which includes, but not limited to, economic hardship, illiteracy and lack of education.

Helping vulnerable underage children acquire legal rights, secure essential services such as schools, training and empowerment as well as skill acquisition to ensure they do not return to exploitative labour.” Morka also said NAPTIP was aware of the involvement of parents in the violation of their children’s rights. According to him, NAPTIP, Lagos Command, has once made an arrest during a project with Terre de hommes in Abeokuta.

He added: “NAPTIP was established in 2003, but in 2005 there was a migration issue between Benin Republic and Nigeria of which a lot of Beninese migrated to Abeokuta to work in quarries which led to the signing of an MOU between Benin Republic and Nigeria. The outcome of the MOU brought about partnership between NAPTIP and Terre de Hommes (TDH) in 2006. Children working in a hostile environment are often exposed to injury, which includes but not limited to amputation, burns, scalds, fractures, eye loss and electrocution.

Working children are open to toxins, lack of education, trauma.” For weeks, our reporter tried to speak with the Imo State Commissioner for Gender and Vulnerable Groups, Mrs. Nkechinyere Ugwu, to ask questions about children workers at Ihube Quarry, but she didn’t pick her calls and didn’t respond to text messages.

The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Imo State governor on Media, Mr. Modestus Nwankpa, decided to attend to the question. He, however, didn’t have an idea that such a thing was happening in Ihube quarry.

“If confirmed, what you observed is more like a new development in Imo State. The government had dutifully addressed issues of child labour and seriously frowns at the use of children of school age for menial jobs and labour, when they should be in school.

This is why they took their misdeed to the fringe communities where they supposed the government would not notice, but I’m also aware that the government is mulling over the idea of setting up a task force to flush out offenders of the CRA. I can assure you, the Imo State government takes pride in protecting and promoting the rights and welfare of children in the state,” Nwankpa said.

A child rights activist, Mr. Ebenezer Omejailile, who is also co-founder, Advocates for Children and Vulnerable Persons Network (ACVPN), said it was unacceptable, according to ILO, to subject children to working in quarries. He described it as an amputation of their God given potentials. “Subjecting children to work in quarries comes with a lot of harmful consequences.

These quarries may collapse and there’s the health hazard, among which are complications to respiratory and skin diseases. “Children, who are subjected to such dangerous journeys of no return, are placed in harm’s way.

They may mix up with all manners of characters in the course of working in the quarries. They could be incorporated into banditry and taken to become child soldiers,” Omejailile said. He said that, according to CRA, irresponsible parents, who subject their children or wards to such work, would be punished.

“The law states clearly that parents should protect and provide for their children. But sadly, these things happen because the CRA has not been utilised by the prosecutorial agencies. Most of these types of adults and parents are often let off the hook and this is why people are not seeing the efficacy of the law, contrary to what the International Labour Organisation stipulates,” the activist said.

A Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Grace Balogun, said that the psychological and overall effect of such work on children were physical injuries like cuts, burns, fractures and lacerations. According to her, these children tend to suffer anxiety disorders, experience excessive fears and are plagued by nightmares.

Balogun explained that girls, who work at such early ages and places, might be subjected to sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, prostitution, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) and HIV/AIDS. She added: “Some children there can even take to substances abuse, including taking alcohol. There is also the issue of physical abuse, punishments, maltreatments and physical beatings by adults in such working conditions.

“Let us also not forget emotional abuses, being blamed, and feelings of rejection, humiliation and verbal abuses. Some of these children begin to suffer depression, feeling neglected, lack personal hygiene, food deprivation, deprivation of clothing, shelter, medical treatment and family love and affection.

They feel lonely and have low self-esteem. Worst, they lack basic access to formal education, which strengthens their cord of poverty.” Child rights stakeholders maintained that as long as the Nigerian government continues to show marked disinterest in the enforcement of laws enacted to protect children, many of these children will continue to be robbed of their childhood, be out of school, hurt, maimed or killed.

•This investigation is supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism

CONCLUDED

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