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Over 14.3 million Nigerian youngsters are stuck in harmful child labour

With tears in his eyes, Emenike Ugboaja, a five-year-old boy was forced to abandon his education and join Thomas Okorie, his uncle in his blocklaying profession in the Gwagwalada area of Abuja, because his parent could not afford his school fees.

As early as 7:00 am every work day, Emenike will be forced to hop into the pick-up van his uncle used to convey his labourers to sites.

At the site, the youngster joins other adults in carrying blocks nearer to the mason-men and/or mixing cement and sand for mortar.

With a block on his, and tears in his eyes as he climbs the staircase, Emenike remembered how fate had forced him to work for more than 10 hours every day, besides, forfeiting his education ambition; he is most pained to recall that Ogbonnaya, his friend is in school.

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The plight of Emenike depicts the fate of many Nigerian youngsters exposed to precarious child labour.

Not less than 14.3 million Nigerian youngsters are trapped in hazardous child labour as the plight of children continues to worsen in the face of surging economic hardship and soaring unemployment rate.

Many families are sacrificing education while deploying their children to do petty trading and menial jobs as a mechanism to survive.

As the cost of acquiring quality education continues to rise, many households find school out of reach as they struggle to barely survive with their meagre income.

In Nigeria, over 10.5 million children are out of school for various reasons, and this is divergent from the goal of the 2024 Children’s Day tagged “Enhancing the total well-being of the Nigerian child through quality education and skills development.”

According to a survey by Nigeria Child Labour, more than 62.9 million children 5 to 17 years old live in Nigeria, representing 30.3 per cent of the population.

And not less than 62.4 per cent of the children reside in rural areas compared to 37.6 per cent in urban areas.

The survey also shows that 39.2 percent of children 5 to 17 years are in child labour; and of this number, 60.8 percent are 5 to 11 age group, 20.8 percent are in the age bracket 12 to 14, while 18.4 percent are in the 15 to 17 age group.

With 34 out of 36 States signing the Child Rights Act 2003 as amended, and 39.2 per cent of Nigeria’s children involved in child labour, the current state of Nigeria’s economy no doubt has exacerbated poverty, and economic inequalities, with an unintended upswing in child labour, according to reports by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Cross River with 67.4 per cent, Yobe 62.6 per cent, and Abia State with 60.1 per cent have the highest record of child labour record in Nigeria.

Plateau has 58.9 per cent, Taraba 58.6 per cent, and Ebonyi and Imo States 56.2 per cent respectively. Others are Kogi 54.4 per cent, Bauchi 53.3 per cent and Akwa Ibom State 52.5 per cent child labour records.

Friday Erhabor, the director of media and strategies at Marklenez Limited said that what Nigerians call child labour is a product of poverty. But it becomes disturbing when this is not allowing the children to be in schools.

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“A lot of families depend on the input and hustle of everybody in the family including the children to survive. However, I kick against it when children are allowed to be involved in this labour when they are supposed to be in school.

“But if they do it after school hours, I don’t have any issue with that because we all did a form of labour as children to assist our parents,” he said.

According to a World Bank report in 2023, “Rising inflation and low economic growth in Nigeria will push a further 2.8 million people into poverty.

“The share of Nigerians living below the international poverty line is expected to peak in 2024 at 38.8 percent before beginning a gradual decline, as inflation cools down and economic growth picks up.”

Child labour affects both the ability to attend school and the prospects of benefiting from schooling; experts believe that children who spend many hours in child labour may not be able to attend school or take full advantage of the time they are in class.

The relationship between child labour and children’s education cannot be overemphasised.

A total of 81.4 per cent of children 6 to 14 years old not engaged in child labour attend school, while school attendance falls to 75.1 per cent for children in that age group in child labour.