Child Labour and Promoting Education in Nigeria
By Sehba Imtiaz

July 18, 2006
Just like any other third-world country, Nigeria is a source, objective, and country of transit for trafficking of children. Children are trafficked to many West African countries, such as Gabon and Togo, to work in agricultural enterprises, as domestic servants or prostitutes. In 1998, the International Labor Organization (ILO) predicted that about 24.6% of children between the ages of 10-14 are working, while in 1994, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that about 24% (12 million) of all children under 16 worked.

Schooling problems are one of the issues that contribute to child labor. Children seek a job simply because there is no access to school, (either the distance is too far or there is no school at all). But if there is access, the low quality of education makes it a waste of time for students. As a result, parents may find no use in sending their kids to school, when they could stay at home and learn a skill, such as agriculture, and supplement the family income. Primary school attendance rates are unavailable for Nigeria. Although the enrollment rates show a level of commitment to learning, they do not reflect a child’s participation in school. A large part of the primary school enrollment has declined from about 86.2% in 1993 to about 70.3% in 1996. Dropout rates for primary schools are high, for both male and female, approximately 10-15% between 1990 and 1994 for each level of schooling. In Nigeria, only 64% of students complete the 5th grade, while hardly 43.5% of students continue on to junior secondary school. While the school quality is worsening, and recent school reforms are slow to take effect, schools in developing areas endure problems such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, and apathetic teachers. The teachers are not well trained and are poorly paid, making them less motivated and contributing to poor and irregular school attendance. But it is not just teachers who contribute to a child’s attendance at school; parental education and the family income play a large role in determining a child’s school and employment.

Parents have a lot of control over their children, so their view of the value of schooling is the main purpose of a child’s attendance. Educated parents understand the importance of schooling from their own personal experience. But then again, if a child drops out of school, it may not be because of irresponsible parenting, it may be due to their financial situation, so they may become potential workers. If a poor family is able to recognize good quality schooling, they are frequently prepared to sacrifice child labor to invest in a good education for their kids. In the 1970’s, most parents did not believe that their children should stay in school longer than 3 or 4 years if they were boys, less if they were girls. They are homegrown people who do not know the value of schooling and are discriminating against girls. Mostly in the rural and northern parts of Nigeria, a bias exists against girls’ education. Approximately 42% of rural girls are enrolled compared to 72% of urban girls. In northern Nigeria, girls are usually withdrawn from school and placed into early marriages, domestic and agricultural labor, or commercial activities, such as trading or street vending. In certain countries, it is established that women will not fit into traditional roles if they become educated. The common idea is that educated females will not get married and will not be able to conceive children. While all of us in the western world know that that is not true, that educated females can get married and can have children, it is these cultural practices that restrict the education of females and promote child employment. As well as the acceptance of social class separation that supports child labor. In fact, many families will raise their daughters to take over household duties to release the mother for paid labor.

In the 1990’s, parents slowly started to change their minds about schooling and child education. They decided that their children should stay in school longer, whether it is a boy or a girl. But why the change? Parents were responding to the changes that were occurring in schooling positively. The quality of schooling got better, which in turn made the number of children returning to school increase. This was followed by the repetition and drop out rate decreasing and the academic achievement increasing. In 1999, the president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, launched a new program called the Universal Basic Education plan. It required that the first nine years of schooling be free and mandatory. The plan aimed to improve importance, efficiency, and quality of schools; and to create programs to address basic education needs of nomadic and out-of-school kids, youth, and adults. The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare, along with UNICEF and Centre for Non-Formal Education and Training (CENFET), worked on a non-formal education program for girls, school dropouts, children without access to schools, and kids mainly from Koranic schools, where girls make up for 60% of all dropouts. Girls have shown considerable performance improvements over time and these efforts have contributed to an increase in enrollment, especially among girls, and better opportunities for non-formal and nomadic education.

We can stop child labor from happening if we give what we can to help the funds in these countries for schooling. We can help a child learn so they can get a better job than their parents and help them and others. So they can eventually help stop this cycle of labor. It may be cheap and inexpensive for employers to have a child work more than 8 hours a day, but those children will lose all their innocence. They won’t have a childhood, and they cannot get back all the years they miss out in working. These are the years they are suppose to be out learning and having fun with their friends, not working 12 or more hours a day, trying to earn a living. If kids lose those years now, they can never get them back, and this cycle will never stop. Even if we help one child at a time, one day, we can stop this together.

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