No child was born to be a destitute, a prostitute, a criminal or a drug addict. It is the society that makes them what they become- and that same society, in turn, gets what it deserves.
You see them everywhere; children aged about five sometimes even younger, trying to beg for what to eat from people they see. These children face many dangers: hunger, cold, filth, assault, rape- and the peril of being picked by those looking for just vulnerable, homeless youngsters to exploit, whether sexually or economically.
WHY IT HAPPENS
The scourge of child labour and trafficking is prevalent in Nigeria, as it is all over the world- and despite many noble attempts to solve it by organizations like United Nations (UN), governments and parastatal bodies, it continues- simply because it is enormously profitable. Afterall it is so easy to intimidate or deceive a child who has neither gotten the knowledge to seek legal protection. Children trafficked range from as young as five years to those in their late teens. Two factors- age and sex- usually determine where these children end up. Girls as young as nine are lured to prostitution, while young boys are forced to work as houseboys, drug peddlers and more recently in Nigeria, to become what is known as ”AREA BOYS” (petty criminals who work for a gang boss who pockets their takings)
The main cause of child trafficking is poverty combined with a high level of illiteracy, ignorance, unemployment and poor living standards in some localities. Indeed, many rural parents actively encourage their children to be taken away to the cities in the hope that they will send them money back home in the village. They also welcome the fact that this means one less mouth to feed and cater for at home.
The use of children in an industry has a related, even more, perilous offshoot: the induction of children into military bodies, particularly in Africa, where youngsters are being abducted and recruited into the gun-toting ranks of rebel armies. Horror stories abound of children up in villages by militias, brainwashed or forced to carrying machetes and firearms, and sent to do the bloody work of whichever faction abducted them.
HOUSE HELP OR SLAVE LABOUR?
In Nigeria, child exploitation has recently mutated into yet another form ”house boys and girls”, who are brought to the cities from far-flung villages by relations who literally sell them to affluent homes to use as domestic servants. In a country characterized by widespread poverty and an enormous disparity between economic classes, children are sometimes seen as little more than commodities with the potential to garner income for desperate families.
Due to international pressure, Nigeria has ratified some of the laws established by the UN, such as the Children’s Right Act, the Anti- Trafficking, Child Labour Act and the African Union Charter on the rights and welfare of children. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in persons has provided a much needed legal framework for rescuing victims and apprehending offenders.
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In addition, Nigerian police are working in concert with non- governmental organizations and neighboring countries to try to crack down on the exploitation of children. Fines have been introduced for parents, and contracts stipulating the conditions to pay of hired domestic help have been introduced. But it is a Herculean task that will require intensive efforts on many levels.
Meanwhile, for the children who have been robbed of their childhood, it is just another working day…