Amidst the economic challenges faced by both the poor and the rich in Nigeria, the recent removal of fuel subsidies has exacerbated the situation. Families across the country are struggling to afford even a single proper meal, with the most vulnerable group being children.
Due to the dire financial circumstances, many parents are forced to send their underage children to engage in menial jobs such as hawking, begging, and washing cars in traffic. These children, aged between six and 12 years, are exposed to the uncertainties and risks of street life.
Tuminu Zacheaus, a nine-year-old boy, narrated his experience of washing cars in traffic jams for survival. He used to attend a government primary school until his mother, the breadwinner of the family, could no longer afford his education. Lukman Kamoru, a 12-year-old boy, has been deprived of schooling for several years and resorts to begging to avoid starvation. His father, a money collector, is rarely present at home due to increased transport fares.
The plight of these children is worsened when they are handed over to wealthy households, only to be exploited as slaves. While some compassionate vehicle owners provide them with small sums of money, others remain indifferent.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 31% of children aged 5-17 years are engaged in child labour, and 27% are involved in economic activities beyond their age-specific threshold. The NBS also reported that 29% of these children work under hazardous conditions. Furthermore, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that Nigeria has the highest rate of child labour in West Africa, with approximately 15 million children affected.
Prince Ichie, a human rights activist, highlights the alarming increase in child labour and the desperation of well-to-do individuals resorting to begging. He mentions cases of child abuse and exploitation, emphasizing the need for stricter enforcement against such practices. He also criticizes the worsening economic conditions in Nigeria, resulting from unfriendly economic policies and rising commodity prices.
The persisting economic hardships have left many Nigerians confused and struggling to meet their basic needs. Calls for improvement and a more inclusive economic approach continue to mount as the population grapples with the deteriorating living standards.