June 12 is World Day Against Child Labour. Since 2002 when the International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the World Day Against Child Labour, governments, employers and workers organizations, civil society, as well as millions of people from around the world organize to bring awareness on the global extent of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it.
For Nigeria and Nigerians, the theme for 2017 which focused on the impact of conflicts and disasters on child labour holds a well-timed message beyond the annual ritualism. At this moment when the voices that divide us come with decibels that suppress those voices that bind us together and where unhindered and enhanced circulation of hate seem to have placed us on the fast lane to precipice, anything that bears the possibility of helping us put our foot on the brakes should be valued.
The thematic focus of this year’s Day Against Child Labour obliges us to protect children from child labour during conflicts and disaster. Whether as relativists or globalists, the subject of prevalence and persistence of child labour in Nigeria wins a consensus. Data from UNICEF shows that 15 million children under the age of 14 in Nigeria are exposed to long hours of work as domestic servants, street vendors, shoe shiners, beggars, car washers, scavengers, feet washers, vulcanizers, bus conductors, iron/metal workers, carpenters, tailors, tailors, weavers, hairdressers/barbers, farm and quarry workers with little food, small pay, no education and no medical care. The signal to protect in conflict, those we have not been able to protect in peace time, should point to us the danger inherent in the romance with the growing invitation to anarchy across Nigeria, especially since after the 2015 general elections.
In times of conflict, structures which hold and regulate society collapse or become severely weakened. Hence, irrespective of rules of engagement, war crimes and human rights abuses still remains rife even in today’s world, whether it’s with highly trained troupes or hurriedly assembled militia. So, if we cannot protect the over 15 million child labourers from exploitation, abuse and deprivation from basic education and development in peace time Nigeria we can only imagine what would be their fate if our country were to degenerate to anarchy.
If we can take out time to look meditatively at the message which the World Day Against Child Labour sends to us at this time of growing secession threats and quit notice to ethnic groups, we may find the antidote for the violent emotions benumbing our memories of the grim images of the sufferings of children and women in the 1967-1970 war-violent conflicts come more with unpleasant consequences like starvation, rape, displacement s, child labour and death than the initial promise it comes with.
This sinister thread of 15 million unprotected child workers runs through the entire fabric of our nation. Peaceful coexistence provides us with better to opportunity reverse this and other foul statistic that affects us all.
Akeodi Ali, Port Harcourt.