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Stop Slavery! Save the children!

I believe the children are the future. The future does not belong to only the financially privileged children. It belongs to all children. They must all be protected if the future is to be better than today, or if there is to be a future at all.

A May 2005 Unicef report recorded 15 million children under the age of 14 as workers in various capacities in Nigeria. Unfortunately, not much has changed today.
Many of such children work as “house helps” in homes across the country. From this point, I choose to refer to such children child slaves. Why? This is what they really are.

What is life like for these children? Snatched from their homes at tender ages, the children are deprived of their childhood. Parents are paid a paltry sum by child merchants who take the children away to major Nigerian cities where they hire them off to different households in exchange for lump sums of money. The parents have no idea where exactly their children are. The children cannot go back home even if they want to. They are alone. Alone in a strange land, cooking, cleaning and pounding from dusk to dawn. They are slaves, exiled from their homes with no way back, bound to the whims of their masters and mistresses. If they refuse to obey, willfully or because their frail shoulders are weary, too tired to carry the burden of yet another task, they are beaten, whipped, or starved. Many of them are abused physically, emotionally and sexually.

In a few households, these children are actually treated like human beings and even sent to school. They perform domestic tasks but are treated with some consideration. Such households are exceptions to the rule. No matter how nice these families are, employing children is still a crime! The 2006 amendment of the 'Act establishing the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters' stated that Nigerians who employ and keep children under the age of 18 years as domestic servants will now spend five years behind the bars if caught and prosecuted.

So far only 16 states have adopted this law out of the 36 states. Tragically, even where the law has been adopted, citizens are largely unaware that such a law exists. There are no measures in place to ensure compliance with the laws. In fact the slavery continues as though there were no laws at all.

The Yoruba say it is the eggs that become Cocks and Hens too as I must add. Yet the nature of the egg is fragile, vulnerable and can be easily broken. It is the same with children. They are the egg, the cock and hens are the future of humanity. In a hundred years all people called adults today will be dead or dying. It is the children of today that will be the future. We must protect them; we must not bask in the false security of yard full of chickens and mash eggs under our feet.

It is time for the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters must wake up and start fishing out and bringing child merchants to book. The agency needs to embark on a national awareness campaign against child slavery. The awareness should specially target parents who might be tempted to send off their children into slavery.

It is an economic law that where there is no demand there will eventually be no supply. We Nigerians must stop employing children to be slaves in our households. It is criminal and cruel to deprive these children of their childhood. You can do something too! You can write about this, put it on your blog or facebook profile. If you live in Nigeria, don’t look the other way when your brother, sister or neighbour employs a child slave. Speak out that it is wrong. And when the government does begin to prosecute offenders, we must be willing to step forward and speak for these children. Stop slavery, save the children, save the future.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.


Victoria Vorosciuc's picture

What came first?

No wonder this children that have been through labor abuse are going to pay the same. This situation is common and is a problem many try to solve by awareness. Unfortunately as with drug sellers chains and networks, child exploitation situation is a dirty business that is hard to control.

Hoe can it be possible to employ the children into households? How much they receive? What about employer's own children? And here a big doze of fault and blame must go to parents.

It is sad to know that the habit of slavery still exists. It actually does in human's nature. But in developed country is hidden deep enough or annihilated under the money reward.

Eggs and Hens? What came first? Loved your comparison!

Victoria Vorosciuc
Project Coordinator
"Empowering women to participate
in community life"
WorldPulse Media Corresspondent

olakitike's picture

Difficult but possible

Thanks for the compliment!
I agree that it is difficult to control but it is possible. If there is political will it can be done. The fake drugs cartel in Nigeria was almost impenetrable until Dora Akunyili came along. In her time as the head of the regulatory body on drugs, things improved so much that we almost couldn't believe it. So i think this is also possible, we just need another Dora.
The children don't receive money, the child merchants do. They pay the child's parents or sometimes the child a small percentage. Well, the employers children just enjoy the services of the house help, in many homes the employer's kids end up not doing anything apart from watching television. How is it possible? Its just something that has happened for so long and has continued because there a re no real provisions in place to punish offenders. I think it can be linked to a culture we have in which a young child can be sent to live with a family member for a period. However, that situation was totally different because the kids were usually treated as part of the family and not as slaves. These days children are usually in their late teens before that happens, like two of my cousins are staying with my family now, they are about to get into the university and are almost in twenty. I think the idea behind that is to integrate the families, you get to form a bond with your cousins that lasts even when parents are gone.
Thanks for reading!

jadefrank's picture

child slavery

Hi Olakitike,

It is heartbreaking to think of children as slaves. To think of children taken from their homes, deprived of a childhood and forced to spend their lives working for strangers and treated like commodities rather than what they are - innocent children. If the law can be enforced and if Nigerians can take a stand against this practice, then hopefully not only will those people who are abducting and selling children be punished, but also those who are employing children will realize that it's illegal and it's wrong. I encourage you join the Human Trafficking group on PulseWire and re-post this journal there.

Warm regards,

olakitike's picture

Thanks I will

Thanks for the suggestion Jade frank. I will join the group and repost as you suggested. Thanks

JaniceW's picture

Thank you

Thank you for reporting on this tragedy that persists today. Unfortunately, there are so many factors contributing to the situation such as manufacturers preferring the low costs associated with child labour, no alternate source of income so children are forced into labor for survival, or the economic status of a family forces them to give up their children for bonded child labor.

As you mentioned, sometimes well-dressed child merchants travel to poor villages and offer the parents small sums of money in exchange for their children. Thinking that their children will be better off, the parents hand over their children, unaware of the terrible exchange they have made.

Breaking the cycle of illiteracy and poverty in countries where this problem persists, and enforcing laws that prosecute those who employ children under the conditions that violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child would be a great start but as you said, it can also start with something as simple as eliminating the demand. I hope you will continue to report on this issue to educate us, so that we do not encourage the abuse by standing by silent.

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