It could be a bitter pill to swallow but the truth is that almost everyone is involved in child labour and trafficking in one way or the other. Those who employ these children as domestic help, those who pay for their transportation down to Nigeria, not minding the circumstances these children got to the country and those knowingly employing the underage as domestic help with a false sense that they are safer with them. Everyone is guilty! Oluwatosin Omoniyi writes
Child labour seems to be encouraged by almost all in Nigeria, Lagos particularly where they are most sought after. In fact, underage children are in high demands. Reason is that, these categories of children are harmless and are believed to be less threatening to the peace of their homes. However, the true intention behind the veil is that they exploit the children (money and bodily wise) who are mostly vulnerable and naive.
Ellen Kodjo, 15, was only 10 years old when her parents handed her over to her aunt who stays somewhere in Ilaro, area of Ogun state in exchange for money. The aunt had raised Kodjo’s parents hopes of finding their daughter a good job in Lagos, a hustling city where there is high demand for domestic helps.
Before leaving Ajah Dogbo in Benin Republic, Kodjo’s aunt- Sarah had given her parents N20,000 in Cotonue’s currency-Cefa, upfront for the little girl’s one year salary.
Back to Nigeria, Kodjo’s aunt, Sarah truly got the little girl a domestic job at a big local canteen in Oke-Ira, Ogba in Lagos.
Her duty along with two others her age, was to wash plates and serve food to guests at the canteen for a paltry salary of N6000 monthly. This she did for six days a week, consecutively for two years. At the end of the year, the Canteen owner paid a total sum of N80,000 as agreed between her and Kodjo’s aunt, N72,000 as one year salary and N8,000 transportation from her village down to Nigeria. Unfortunately, Kodjo’s parents only got N5,000 from her salary according to Kodjo whose Nigeria’s name has turned to Bukola but mostly called Bukky.
Kodjo described her experience to New Telegraph at the canteen as ‘horrible’. She said, her employer serves them( workers) leftover food eaten by the guests who came to eat at the canteen. “So, we always pray to God that the guest shouldn’t drop chewed bones inside the soup or pray that they leave large quantity enough to fill our stomachs, we also pray that they eat neatly so that we will be able to eat the remains of their food,” she narrated.
The third year, kodjo was taken elsewhere but she wasn’t as happy as she was at the canteen, no freedom of association for her. According to her, her new employers were too strict and their eldest children always beat her.
Ayomide Pelajie was 9-years old when she departed from her father and siblings in Prakwe area of Cotonue, Benin Republic. In her case, her mother left with her when she divorced her father. Settling down with another man in Ijebu Ode, Ogun state, the stepfather quickly fixes Ayomide a sales girl job in Oshodi.
There, Ayomide learnt how to court customers to her madam’s shop, divide and cut materials for customers for N5,000 monthly. On days that there are no sales in the shop, Ayomide would hawk seasonal fruits like groundnuts, garden eggs, apple among others. She grew up becoming wild in Oshodi, at 13, Ayomide had two abortions, not only that, she was perfect in telling lies and stealing.
Any street fight inside the market or on the street where she lived in Oshodi and it involved Ayomide, she was quick to break bottles to threaten her challengers away. At the end of four years, Ayomide left the street of Oshodi for a proper domestic job where she was to look after three children for N10,000 monthly in Ikeja. She got a bit reformed but didn’t last beyond seven months in the house because of her vulgar languages and wild character. From Ikeja, Ayomide got another job in Ogba where her duty was to take care of two kids and a grandmother.
At evening, Ayomide would either assist her madam at a T-junction not too far from their house in frying bean cake and yam or hawk corn meal locally called koko, also for N10,000 monthly.
Josephine Cheviee but known as Kemi in Nigeria was a cute and loving 7-year old girl brought to replace Ayomide in Ogba. Kemi was a very tiny and wiry girl in stature but mighty with native intelligence and domestic work. She knew how to count money and very at alert about her environment. She was not an easy girl to fall for tricks or pranks, some adults played on her. She not only perceived but also knew how to survive it.
Somehow Kemi left the place because her parents wanted same pay for her as Ayomide but the employer wouldn’t pay beyond N4,000 because she was small, as such, there was limitations to the extent she could go on household chores, according to Kemi. Eventually, Kemi got into the hand of another employer who readily agreed to pay N7,000 monthly. Unfortunately, the poor girl didn’t bargain for what she met in the job. Aside the domestic work, Kemi also worked on the vegetable farm of her new employer in Ikorodu!
The most seemingly exploited was Matthew Assogba, 12 who was also brought into Nigeria at age 9. His main job was to hawk plantain and smoked fish along with other children inside Ogba retail market. By age 12, his employer sent him for a vocational training on generator and motorbike repairs. Less than a year, Assogba displayed some level of mastering of his training. He told New Telegraph that he wasn’t the one who charge customers but both his domestic and trade employers. Moreover, he wasn’t given out of the money charged customers on his behalf. “But they do give me N200 for feeding daily. My madam told me that my money would be plenty when I would be returning to Cotonue but I have not gone to see my parents since I came to Nigeria. What I know is that my elder brother who brought me to Nigeria was always coming to my madam’s place to fight for my money but my madam kept saying no money yet. Sometimes, she would give my brother between N2,000 and N5,000,” he revealed.
The above children stories are representative of an omnipresent trend facing their home country of Benin republic and West Africa perhaps. Child labour walks hand-in-hand with trafficking both within Benin, typically from rural to urban areas, and across country borders.
Both trafficking and labour are abuse perpetuate by both their relatives who bring them to Nigerians, immigration officers who allow them pass through the borders and Nigerians who employ them.
For instance, Kemi said the immigration officers allowed them to pass through the border after two days of delay at the border and that was when there was exchange of money between her aunt and the officers.
Kodjo narrated to New Telegraph that the journey down to Nigeria was not an easy process as they were subjected to thorough immigration scrutiny. “Despite their thoroughness, we still beat the security check requirement once our crossers (traffickers) pay the required bribe,” she said.
Kodjo narrated further that some of the officers allowed financial bribe for little children while they prefer sex in exchange for the older ones among them.
Andrew Sovie, Assogba’s trafficker told New Telegraph that most Lagosians prefer younger children to older ones, as such there is high demand for them. On exploitation, Sovie explained that the children have been well prepared for the job and challenges ahead.
“For the younger ones, we collect a large chunk of their salary ahead in case their employers tend to cheat them. On exploitation, we believe that every challenge they may have come across would serve as experience for them. As the saying goes, no knowledge is lost. That is why, we don’t allow the children stay more than two years, maximum in a place,” he said.
Sovie also denied the allegation that the immigration officers on the way to Nigeria exploit the children body wise. “Those who sleep with the officers did so, of their own volition but truly we do offer bribe in cash,” he revealed.
Explaining to New Telegraph why Benin Republic engages in modern day slavery in form of child labour and traffic; he simply said that, “although, our government must not catch us in the act but it is a norm that has become permanent due to high level of poverty dealing us heavy blow in our country. Almost every home in Cotonue send their children out for domestic work in Nigeria and we do take money back home at the end of the year. Of course, we believe in education but we need to survive first to go to school,” he narrated.
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, (UNICEF) defined child labour as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development. It explained that Child labour remains a major source of concern in Nigeria, in spite of legislative measures.
It added that, “major causes of child labour are widespread poverty, rapid urbanisation, breakdown in extended family affiliations, high school dropout rates, and lack of enforcement of legal instruments meant to protect children. Traditionally, children have worked with their families, but today children are forced to work for their own and their family’s survival. The money earned by child family members has become a significant part of poor families’ income. The children who work suffer from fatigue, irregular attendance at school, lack of comprehension and motivation, improper socialisation, exposure to risk of sexual abuse, high likelihood of being involved in crime.”
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