I have always been against children working; and by working, I don’t mean house chores. I believe that children shouldn’t have to hustle or work for the upkeep of their families. I want a world where children are allowed to have their childhood, to go through the motions of finding themselves, to have puppy love and then formulate principles for their adulthood. This is because ‘adulting’ is hard and a lifetime work. I want children to enjoy their childhood before adulthood comes a-knocking.
But in the last few weeks, I have been having some dilemma about this view.
I met two young brothers aged 14 and 12. I will call them John and Doe. Their parents are what you will tag as below-average Nigerians. They are not exactly pit-poor but life is hard for them. Their mother is a food vendor while their father works for a cross-country transportation agency as a driver.
John and Doe attend a State-owned secondary school and from their speech, I know the school isn’t doing much good for them. Their school has the Day and Afternoon style popular among state-owned schools. What this means is that John goes to school in the morning from 8am to about 1pm while Doe goes to school from 1pm to about 5pm. This schedule changes every two weeks, allowing the boys to switch sessions.
I was told that they went to an ageing man who lives alone and offered their services to him; sweeping the compound and fetching water. They did this on their own, without being forced by their parents or even asked to do so. The old man accepted their offer and from what I gathered, is paying them a reasonable sum of money. All they have to do is sweep his compound daily and fetch water once every week. When John has to be in school in the morning, Doe does the work and when Doe goes to school in the morning, John does the work.
I asked John about his family and he explained all these to me. I asked if they shared the money they made when the other is off to school and John told me that they gave whatever they made to their mother who in turn bought things for them.
Here is my dilemma.
Nigeria has adopted the International Labor Standards on Child Labor which allows the minimum age for employment or work to be at 15 (or 13 for light work). Doe is 12 so already he doesn’t fit into the law and though John is covered by the law, I am still worried. Yes, the work they are doing is light work and it isn’t much different from what any kid their age does at home. And yes, they went to seek out employment by themselves and are not in any way forced to do the job and their work in no way affects their schooling but….I am worried.
If I have my way, no kid will work until they are 15 and even at that, it would be very light work. This is the reason why I wrote the article, CHILDREN SHOULD NOT HUSTLE. In fact, I abhor child labor so much that I don’t buy anything from child hawkers. This may seem mean but I believe if we all did the same, parents would have no other option than to keep their children at home and away from the dangers of hawking. I know the situation can best be described as ‘lose-lose’ but I really don’t like children hustling.
Whichever path I choose, I always end up feeling guilty. But these kids have chosen to work to help augment what their parents are bringing in and with the current state of the Nigerian economy, every extra Naira goes a long way in helping their family.
So my question is, what do you think I should do? Should I say something to the man, which may be the right thing to do but knowing that it may mean these boys suffer in this harsh economy or should I remain quiet, knowing that they are being treated fairly by their employer and their family definitely needs the extra cash?
So over to you…if you were me, what would you do?