By Akeem Ogunlade
Every June 16, the African child takes the spotlight. When the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) settled for June 16 as the Day of the African Child, the purpose was to raise awareness about issues that infringe on the rights of the African child. The day was in commemoration of the 1976 massacre of Soweto children in the then apartheid South Africa. Since 1991, every June 16, stakeholders have met to brainstorm on the challenges and opportunities facing complete actualisation of the rights of the African child. It is still a long way to the ideal.
The 2018 edition, with the theme, “Leave No Child Behind for Africa’s Development,” seeks to mainstream children’s rights in all developmental programmes, especially the inclusion of children left out of Africa’s growth and development.
Some interesting statistics, grim as it seems, underscore the imperative of ensuring that ‘No Child Is Left Behind.’ From DR Congo, Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, Libya, South Sudan, Central African Republic to Cameroun, among others, violent conflict is a ravaging scourge across Africa. Now dominated by organised terrorist groups and militias, civilians have become increasingly targeted, with the consequence particularly harsh on women and children. The United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) described the crisis in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, as staggering. The organisation stated that crisis in the country, which escalated in July 2016, has not only deepened the humanitarian crisis, but has triggered the displacement of more than 3 million people, with children constituting almost 70 percent of them. The country also has the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world. A similar situation exists in Somalia. Among other afflictions devastating Africa’s children include early and forced child marriages, rape, abduction, starvation, school dropout, and trauma. It seems that there is hardly anyone out there to protect Africa’s children, the bulk of the continent’s population.
Stricken by adversity he did not cause, the African child is faced with an uncertain future. In response, parents and governments have adopted different, and in some cases, desperate approaches to deal with the scourge. A common practice is indulgence in child labour. Child labour is described as “the use of children as a source of labour while depriving them of their fundamental rights in the process.”Among these rights include education, the chance to enjoy childhood, to have peace of mind, and to live a dignified life. Overall, the International Labour Organisation says any work that places children in a state that is socially, mentally, physically, or morally harmful and dangerous is child labour. Such practices clearly sideline the wellbeing of children. Lack of education, for instance, denies children and indeed anyone a decent shot at success. Desperation and failure often become the norm.
Another description of child labour is the practice of deliberately exploiting children for financial gain. Predominant among poor families, children used are as tools to generate income for the family. In the process, the victims are denied of their basic rights. Investigations have also revealed that some industries, especially in developing economies, intentionally engage children as a way to reduce labour costs since wages offered the children are often very low. Nonetheless, there are numerous factors for exploiting child labour. These include poverty, unemployment, high cost of education, early marriages (especially among girls), illiteracy, huge demand for untrained labour, low ambition and overpopulation.
Nigeria, according to UNICEF, is estimated to have about 15 million children under the age of 14 who are working across the country.
The ungainly situation of exploiting children for labour is treated with strong resentment across the world. But the campaign to abolish the vice has however been long drawn. A consensus though is that eliminating child labour is not the responsibility of just parents but the collective duty of everyone, including governments, companies and the society at large.
Since poverty is a major cause of child labour, experts and social commentators have recommended empowerment as a key remedial measure. By improving their standards of living and providing opportunities, people tend to be averse to child labour. Also, equipping poor people with knowledge and revenue generating skills and projects would help to reduce cases of child labour. It is also recognized that educated and enlightened parents would be disinclined to use minors as a source of labour and ensure their rights are properly protected.
The awareness of the agony which child labour inflicts is growing globally. In the corporate world abound a number of companies that have made the crusade against child labour and other vices a central part of their operations. This is borne out of the realization that leaving the children to their devices would not only ruin their future but they would also become a threat to society in general.
The British American Tobacco (BAT), for instance, has adopted the Good Corporate Conduct, a set of codes underlining how its business is managed. “Business success brings with it an obligation for high standards of behaviour and integrity in everything we do and wherever we operate. These standards should not be compromised for the sake of results”, the company stated.
For the organisation, such a code of conduct is particularly imperative as it depends on farming for a substantial part of its requirements. Specifically on child labour, the company stated, “We have always made it clear to all our suppliers of tobacco leaf and contracted farmers that exploitative child labour and other human rights abuses will not be tolerated. Our Supplier Code of Conduct complements our Group Standards of Business Conduct by defining the minimum standards we expect our suppliers to adhere to in order to supply goods or services to BAT and any BAT Group company. This builds upon our long-standing commitment to operating to the highest standards of corporate conduct for both our own business operations and our wider supply chain.”
The code includes a specific requirement for all suppliers to ensure their operations are free from the exploitation of child labour.
Last year, the organisation developed a new operational standard on child labour prevention, with important contributions from critical stakeholders and global groups. It is expected to be rolled out this year across all the company’s leaf operations and will bring increased consistency and effectiveness to the way in which its long-standing Child Labour Policy is implemented. Also Winrock International, a private, non-profit organization has through its programme, Community-based Innovations to Reduce Child Labor through Education, (CIRCLE) developed a special pilot project based in West Africa entitled Child Labor Alternatives through Sustainable Systems in Education (CLASSE) to provide training and educational alternatives for children engaged in or at risk of harmful work in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali. These projects have all addressed various forms of child labor and provided direct education and training alternatives to over 24,000 children who were either withdrawn from or prevented from entering situations of child labor.
Through the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), which was established in 2003, the Nigerian government has put in place mechanisms for tackling the menace of trafficking in persons, especially women and children. Amongst others, it criminalised all forms of exploitation of human beings which includes sexual and labour exploitation.
Ultimately, saving the African child from the harsh risks of child labour goes beyond trumpeting concerns but requires concerted efforts at all levels of society to address the causal factors. That is the essence of the International Day of the African Child.
––Ogunlade is of the Centre for the Promotion of Enterprise and Business Best Practice, Wuse 2, Abuja, Nigeria