For years now the streets and cities of Nigeria has been gracefully coloured by children of various ages hawking, selling and doing menial jobs otherwise called child labour.
Child labour is the employment of children aged less than 18 in Nigeria which is also the age range set by the International Labor Organization in a manner that prevents them from having basic education and their proper development.
Child workers include street vendors, shoe shiners, apprentice mechanics, carpenters, and vulcanizers, tailors, barbers and domestic servants to mention a few.
Many working children are exposed to dangerous and unhealthy environments. Most of these children work long hours for little or no pay to support their families, provide their immediate needs, to earn extra cash or do not have a family to support them financially and take up the task at a young age.
In some rural communities, it is common for every male child to pick up menial job or farm work which is referred to as training on how to care for their own family in future.
Some employees often take advantage of the children because it is cheaper to pay child laborers.
It is a practice found all over the globe but is most practiced in the sub-Saharan Africa. The International Labor Organization estimates that about 15 percent of children in the world work and about 35percent of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The US Department of Labor in its report claims Nigeria is witnessing the worst forms of child labor, particularly in agriculture and domestic service. It is proved that about one third of child laborers do not obtain any benefit from their employer sand boys tend to earn more than girls.
Research also shows that every year, 22 thousand children die in work related accidents, child labourers suffer extremely high illness and injury rates, and children can face long hours in extreme temperatures, health risks from pesticides, inadequate food, water, and sanitation.
They can also be exposed to sexual exploitation. Some argue that when child labour does not result in slavery or maltreatment it is not so threatening to the economy since not all countries can support these children.
It is simple to ignore for those that are not directly affected but it isn't just a moral issue, it is also economically costly. Most of these children engaged in child labour do not go to school or show a poor educational achievement which in turn leads to poverty and high rate of school drop outs. It can as well lead to inter-generational poverty through succession of work without school.
With the high rate of crime in our society it is obvious that school drop outs who are unemployed and do not contribute to the growth of the economy in any way are those that are vulnerable to be lured into these devious behaviour that is slowly destroying the market economy of affected states.
These children working in industries can also be easily and greatly affected by the biohazard than adults. When children are educated, they can become better people in the society with great ability to invent, produce and reproduce which is what the developed countries equipped their society with to make it stronger, more productive and richer. That is why their economy grows while ours is retarded.
According to ILO banning child labour and educating children will raise the world economy by 22percent in 20 years. 23percent in North Africa/ Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa will have 64 per cent of the annual gross international income. It is assumed that the countries that ban child labour will pay the parents their lost wages.
Dealing with child labour can be a huge step in guaranteeing the future of this great country. It can also be a stepping stone for the elimination of poverty, unemployment and crises which is the major cause of the country's stagnant economy. It may as well result to elimination of corruption by raising a young educated generation that are aware of their rights and privileges.
This can be achieved through building new schools closer to rural communities, upgrading quality of education by training qualified teachers, supplying sufficient materials to the schools and reducing cost of fees.
Programs and policies should also be established to stop the worst forms of child labour and also existing ones should be renewed and properly funded to maintain a healthy operation. There is no evidence to support economic growth as a result of increased child labour.
Campaign against child labour can make an important contribution to global tolerance, world peace and security which are what we really need in Nigeria today.
John is a 300 level student of Mass Communication Department, University of Maiduguri.