7 January 2011

Nigeria: House-Helps - What to Know About Employing Under-Aged Children


Popularly called boi-boi, omo odo inYoruba, dan aiki in Hausa, odibo in Ibo and a wide range of appellations in other languages in the country and worldwide, some of them highly demeaning and condescending, the fact remains that in many cases they are not only children or minors but also live in slavery and servitude.

Traditionally, as in much of Africa, the practice of employing domestic servants otherwise called house boy or house girl dates back a long time and these days with parents becoming so busy, domestic help is more necessary than ever especially for educated couples, as often both parents work outside the home in professional jobs .

According to the Child Welfare League of Nigeria, Nigeria may have the largest number of child domestic workers in the world, since nearly every household has a child domestic servant - at least the households of every government employee. Most of these children end up being physically, emotionally, and if they are girls, sexually abused.

These children who are often treated as child slaves face untold hardship. They cook, clean, iron, take care of kids and go on errands and sometimes are made to do very heavy jobs beyond their age and they fall sick or die. Sexual abuse and personal violence against child domestics marked out this occupation as highly vulnerable. As Naija Pundit wrote last year in mynigeria.com "Sex was just one form of exploitation. Many domestics - some as young as seven or eight - were on duty around the clock, never left the house, slept on the kitchen floor, ate leftovers, had virtually no holidays or rest breaks, and were paid little or nothing. This was not just 'child labour'. This was servitude by any definition."

Recruiting children for house-helps has also become a very lucrative business for some people who now go to the rural areas to recruit children from their parents and transport them to the cities. They then share them to different families who are not related to the children and many of these families treat them anyhow. Some of the employers of the house-helps are so heartless that they don't even feed these children properly; sending them to school is completely out of the question, they are not given proper medicare, some are infected with all kinds of infections, some children are left to die for ailments the employers can easily buy drugs for and pay as low as N1,000 per month to the madam in charge who helps herself to a substantial amount and sends paltry sums to their parents.

Executive Secretary of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related matters (NAPTIP), Barrister Simon Chuzi Egede has said; "Those who engage children in this form of activities stand the risk of going to jail for 5 years while if you employ a child to do work that is so tedious that it will adversely affect his physical , mental , spiritual , moral or social development , you risk going to jail for another years."

He said the phenomenon of child domestic labour popularly called house-help syndrome in the country is presently a horrendous trend in trafficking in persons and has said the Act establishing the agency has criminalized the procurement of under-aged persons as child domestics outside their family circle.

He said the negative impact of this ugly menace led to it being highlighted in the amendment of the NAPTIP Act of December 15, 2005, which specifically provides that no child (persons under the age of 18 years) should be employed as 'child Domestic' outside his or her family environment. The same provision is also captured in the Child Right Act and in the Labour Act, cap 198 law of the federation, 1990.

Barrister Egede said that the NAPTIP law (as amended 2005) is very emphatic that no child under the age of 18 should be employed as domestic servant outside his or her family environment .

According to him, "the essence of this section of the Anti-trafficking law is to fortify the rights of the child and to ensure full mental and physical development of the child. It is not meant to destroy our cherished African Traditional Fostering System but to supplement the African value for the weak and vulnerable in the society. The basic assumption of the law is that the child within the family environment would be faithfully catered for while the ones outside the family environment may be exposed to abuse, deprivation and above all exploitation," he said.

Barrister Egede said that children less than 18 years must be protected with their education and future guaranteed without being subjected to harsh conditions of servitude.

He said the agency is concerned that trafficking of children for child labour has become a common feature in all states of the federation with only the degree varying from state to state.

He said there are several cases of intercepted lorry loads of children on their way to servitude . For instance in 2007 a containerized vehicle with 67 children from Edati Local Government of Niger State was intercepted and brought to NAPTIP followed by cases of lorry loads of 57 and 68 children from Yala Local Government of Cross River State in 2008 and another truck load of 69 children from Kaduna State. All were intercepted and NAPTIP finally re-united them back to their communities and various families. Investigations have revealed that similar scenario take place frequently across Nigeria.

President Goodluck Jonathan at an international conference on trafficking also said the incidence of transporting children from rural areas to the cities to be used for house helps and domestic work must be checked.

Barrister Simon Chuzi Egede had said that the two days event will also educate the public through the participants and the media on the stipulations of the law so as to avoid offenders claiming ignorance of the provisions.

Minister of Labour and Productivity Chief Chukwuemeka Wogu who was represented by the Director Inspectorate of the ministry, Dr Paul Okwulehie said in all his work in the last ten years in the area of labour, the worst of the various forms is that of child domestic labour. He noted that parents are said to be guilty of child molestation through the inappropriate treatment of domestic helps. The minister called on parents and guardians to provide a secured environment as well as a secured future for their children.

Narrating the ordeals of a house-help, Chinwuba Iyizoba, an electrical engineer on mercatorNet.com said, "Even some of our most affluent and educated 'leaders' see nothing wrong with getting some small boy or small girl from the village and using them for nothing but menial labour, sure it can be argued that living in Lagos, Abuja or Port-Harcourt beats living in some hamlet in the middle of Ogun State, but do economics trump a person's inherent right to dignity?"

Back at home, the busy mothers often act as if their homes were too good for their help. I remember while living in Lagos that one of the slave children used to take her bath hurriedly in the public taps hoping that no one was looking. The neighbourhood boys enjoyed peeping at her. "My master would not allow me to take my bath in the bathrooms. I am too dirty to wash myself in the same place where his children bathe," she told me between sobs.

This is where most people are guilty. We are fond of giving and taking under-aged children as house-helps without caring for their future. Some of them end up in hotels as prostitutes and many of them get into street hawking to increase the economic power of those that have taken them away in the bid to sell all their wares in order not to incur the wrath of their exploiters/employers many of them run into vehicles and meet an untimely death.

These children suffer the inevitable results of trafficking which includes isolation from family and community, depression brought about by imprisonment and slavery and the likelihood of abuse and torture, fear and psychological trauma as a result of physical and emotional harm, and loss of education. These unfortunate child victims (especially females) are at the risk of early pregnancy, motherhood and reproductive illnesses, (for instance VVF).

Barrister Egede said this is not the type of life we want for our children, the future generation of our country and we must desist from the act.

In his words, "an existing available alternative that the public can resort to is employing the services of commercial house help operators who give out adults for this job for commensurate remuneration."

The rights of the child needs to be respected and from all the implications and penalties of violating this law, it is best to employ grown-up adults for domestic labour and not minors.

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