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.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future Assignment: Op-eds.