(Picture: Samuel Sasu Adonteng of the All-Africa Students Union outside the ECOWAS Parliament event on 18th May 2023)
Child labour survivor-advocates are the strongest, most compelling voice in the movement to end child labour. Those who have experienced an injustice are best-placed to know what works to end it. Decision-makers listening to, and actually hearing, the testimony and demands of survivor-advocates in the countries and communities the represent, is critical to creating effective, targeted policy interventions. Student leaders and youth activists with the 100 Million campaign, some of whom also experienced child labour in their childhoods, understand the important role of survivor-advocates and have worked tirelessly to amplify their advocacy and speak truth to power.
On the 18th of May 2023, The ECOWAS Parliament held a special programme, “Eradication of child labour: taking stock and sustaining the commitment of the ECOWAS Parliament" with over 70 Members of Parliament from across West Africa attending the session.
The All-Africa Students Union and civil society partners working against child labour in Nigeria, including Prime Goals Initiative, Boon Hands Charity Foundation, Zaf Foundation, and Almajiri Care, demonstrated the power of unity between student organisations, youth-led/serving organisations and child labour survivor-advocates. At the special session on the Eradication of Child Labour, co-hosted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the International Labour Organisation, Samuel Sasu Adonteng and Danlami Gamandi gave impassioned speeches demanding urgent action by ECOWAS member states to end child labour. Musa Aminu, a child labour survivor-advocate, spoke about his experiences.
Musa Aminu, is a former child labourer under the Almajiri system. Under the Almajiri system parents send their children, mostly boys aged 4-12 to distant locations for their education, most of these children are from rural and poor families who are unable to afford formal schooling. However, according to UNICEF, in exchange for free education, many Almajiri children are often forced to beg in the streets to fund their education. There are currently over 10 million children out of school in Nigeria and UNICEF estimates that the majority of these are Almajiri children, especially in the Northern region, stating that "they contribute substantially to the number of children who are engaged in child labour worldwide."
Musa, determined to ensure no other children experiences the injustices he has, spoke directly to Members of Parliament and other decision-makers at the ECOWAS session, these are his words:
"My name is Musa Aminu, a 21-year-old born in Bauchi state, North East Nigeria. At the age of 7 I was taken to an Almajiri school where I faced numerous challenges such as lack of proper sleeping arrangements, hygiene facilities, and medical attention. I had to beg for food in order to feed myself and my seniors. After moving to Jos, I worked in a car repairs workshop before meeting Al Amin from Prime Goals Initiative who enrolled me in school. My goal is to further my education and fight against the Almajiri menace and child labor."
(Picture: Musa Aminu, Danlami and Samuel Sasu Adonteng at the ECOWAS Parliament event on 18th May 2023)
Samuel Sasu Adonteng then delivered a strong call to action to all decision-makers. He shared the collective work he has co-lead over the past 4 years at the All-Africa Students Union, together with their peers across the world, to ensure every child is learning in school, not working to survive. As well as calling on governments in Africa to increase budgetary allocations to social interventions, such as education and social protection, he also discussed the ongoing Justice for Africa campaign which is focused on challenging a series of international injustices Africa faces. You can read his full speech below.
After Samuel, Danlami, gave his remarks detailing the injustices faced by children in Nigeria, especially those who are forced into work at the expense of their education. Danlami called out the lack of enforcement of existing child labour laws, highlighting how the Child's Right Act has been adopted by only 29 out of Nigeria's 36 states (including the capital federal territory), leaving the remaining 7 states in northern Nigeria. He raised the particular abuses faced within the Almajiri system and issued a set of collective demands for Nigerian decision-makers to end the worst forms of child labour. You can also read his full speech below.
Nobel Laureate Mr Kailash Satyarthi and Inter-Parliamentary Union Secretary General Martin Chungong also made powerful speeches demanding the elimination of child labour. The sessions were followed a lengthy discussion between the ECOWAS MPs, including commitments for further national actions.
Samuel, Danlami and Musa Aminu made, as they have time and time again before, a compelling case for urgency to end child labour. With just three years until the deadline to achieve the SDG target to end child labour in all its forms, survivor-advocates, student leaders and youth activists will continue their relentless advocacy for justice. We will be supporting them every step of the way.
With 160 million children still working at the expense of their childhood and Africa now home to more child labourers than the rest of the world combined, it is up to all of us to ensure our leaders fulfil their responsibility to deliver every child's right to freedom, safety and education.
Read Samuel Sasu Adongtengs speech to the ECOWAS Parliament here:
I am honored to speak to you today about the eradication of child labor, an issue that continues to affect millions of children around the world, particularly in developing countries, including those in West Africa. As the Programs Officer for Education and Students Rights at the All-Africa Students Union, the continent's largest youth-led organization, we are deeply committed to this cause, and I am proud of the work that our organizations have done in collaboration with other partners to end this practice.
Over the past few years. I have had the privilege of personally co-leading campaigns to ensure that young people have access to quality education and are protected from the injustice of child labour. These have included collaborative programmes such as the Africa Education Enrolment Programme, Africa Girls Back to School Campaign in partnership with UNESCO and the 100 Million Campaign, and global youth-led movements such as the Justice for Africa Campaign, and the Justice for Every Child Campaign. I am passionately drawn to these engagements because I am a living testament of the power of education and how it can turn around the fortunes for many children, especially for those living in poorer communities.
The All-Africa Students Union has been working with partners such as the 100 Million campaign, Global March, the Kailash Satyarthi Foundation, and the Global Student Forum to demand an end to child labor everywhere. We believe that delivering every child’s right to free, quality education is the key to ending this injustice. Education not only provides children with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life but schools and teachers create a protective environment that helps to prevent child labor.
Despite knowing the invaluable importance of education, one of the challenges we face in West Africa is the lack of access to quality education. According to UNESCO 29 million children of primary school age are still out of school in the region, with girls being disproportionately affected. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this issue, with school closures affecting millions of children across the region leading thousands being unable to return to school even when schools have been reopened
In addition, poverty and lack of social protection measures are fuelling this education crisis, with many families forced to send their children to work to supplement their income, particularly in rural areas where access to education and other social services is limited. In West Africa, poverty rates remain high, with over 50% of the population living below the poverty line in some countries.
To address these challenges, students and young people of this continent, with our peers across the world, have been tirelessly advocating for African governments to increase budgetary allocations to social interventions, such as education and social protection, as well as child labor prevention policies. We have also been campaigning for universal child benefits for every child, and having this transformative measure prioritized in national budgets.
We strongly believe that by investing in these key areas, governments can create a protective and proactive environment that helps to prevent child labor. We also advocate for stronger laws and policies that prohibit child labor and protect the rights of children. We must also ensure that these funds, legal interventions and programs are accessible to all children, regardless of their socio-economic status, gender, or ethnicity
However, it is not enough for just our domestic budgets in Africa to prioritize children, the international community must also meet its aid responsibilities through child-focused funding. This means providing adequate funding to programs that focus on ending child labor, promoting education, and providing social protection. We need a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of child labor, such as poverty, lack of education, and social inequality.
We must also work to achieve the just representation of African countries in global decision making spaces. This includes reforming the International Monetary Fund to give greater voice to African countries and end discrimination in Special Drawing Rights. We must also establish fair tax and trade rules among African countries and with the international community as equal partners.
It is crucial to recognize that centuries of peonage have left many African countries in a position of financial vulnerability, making them susceptible to debt and economic exploitation. Making up for this historical injustice requires bold and courageous steps. Ultimately, there won't be a way around canceling all debt for low and lower-middle-income countries in Africa. Simultaneously, corrupt leadership and businesses must be held accountable.
Our current campaign, demanding Justice for Africa, addresses these critical issues and calls out the devastating injustices Africa faces at the hands of the international community. From mobilisations in our countries, meetings with our representatives and over 70 youth- and student-led organizations from 30 countries around the world writing to the International Monetary Fund, we have already attracted responses from the Swiss and German governments and the office of the UN Secretary General. We remain committed to creating a better Africa for all.
There have been some positive developments in recent years, particularly with regards to policy and legal frameworks. In 2015, ECOWAS adopted the Child Policy and Strategic Plan of Action on Ending Child Marriage and Other Harmful Traditional Practices, which includes a commitment to end child labor. In addition, many countries in the region have passed laws prohibiting child labor and ratified international conventions such as the ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age for Employment and the ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.
However, there is still a long way to go, and we must remain resolute in our efforts to end child labor and ensure these laws and legislation are not just promised on paper, but delivered in reality. If we don’t act with urgency, we risk losing a generation of African children and young people.
We face an uphill battle, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which has had a significant impact on the lives of children in West Africa, with school closures, economic disruptions, and increased poverty rates increasing the risk of child labor. This is why we need a multi-faceted alliance to end child labor, and why the voices of students and young people are so important in this effort. Students and young people are among the most affected by the issue of child labor, and they have a unique perspective on the challenges that need to be addressed. They can also play an active role in advocating for change, both at the national and international levels.
The youth of this continent believe that education is a fundamental right that should be accessible to all children, regardless of their background. We also believe that education is a powerful tool for social change, and that it can help to create a more just and equitable society. By investing in education, we can help to create a future where child labor is a thing of the past, and where all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate our commitment to ending child labor in West Africa and around the world. We urge you as political leaders to work with us, amplify our existing efforts to end child labour and recognise the expertise, networks and energy we bring to the table. Only by working together, can we create a world where all children’s rights to freedom, safety and education are protected, where every child can pursue their dreams and reach their full potential.
Read Danlami's speech to the ECOWAS Parliament here:
Child labor is a significant problem in Nigeria, where poverty affects approximately 70% of the population. Due to the absence of a proper welfare system, families in dire financial straits often rely on their children to supplement their income. Meanwhile, some orphans are solely responsible for providing for their younger siblings.
In Nigeria, children dropping out of school is a common occurrence due to the demands of a long workday. Education is not mandatory, which further decreases the priority of schooling. Unfortunately, this lack of education leads to a future of unskilled labor and poverty.
The Almajiri system, prevalent in the Northern region, subjects children to the worst forms of child labor. This includes menial jobs and forced begging, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and hindering their chances of a better future.
Nigeria made moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The government validated the National Policy on Child Labor and the National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labor (2021–2025). The Ministry of Labor and Employment also created a new program to provide vulnerable households with seed capital to fund new businesses in areas with high rates of child labor. However, The Child's Right Act has been adopted by only 29 out of Nigeria's 36 states (including the capital federal territory), leaving the remaining 7 states in northern Nigeria. Although free and compulsory education is federally mandated by the Education Act, little enforcement of compulsory education laws occurs at the state level. School fees are often charged in practice, and the cost of materials can be prohibitive for families. In addition to the lack of funds, parents also need the children’s assistance in household chores and with caring for younger siblings. (8) When families experience economic hardship, the enrollment of boys is typically prioritized over the enrollment of girls. Despite notable military advances and proclamations of Boko Haram’s defeat by government forces, The widespread increase in kidnappings, killings, village raids, and cattle-rustling throughout the North West and North Central regions led by organized criminal groups has also contributed to the intermittent closure of schools throughout the region with these challenges being more acute in rural areas.
The following are some of our collective demands to end the Almajiri menace in Northern Nigeria.
1. Revival of Almajiri Model Schools and the need to reintegrate the Almajiri education system into the modern educational system.
2. Increased education opportunities and free access to basic education for all children at risk of or victims of child labour (Almajiri).
3. Implementation and enforcement of laws prohibiting child labor in all sectors, including agriculture, mining, and domestic labor.
4. Prosecution and accountability for businesses and individuals who engage in child labor practices.
5. Increased support and resources for families and communities (rural areas especially) affected by poverty, and including social services, basic amenities, counseling, and financial assistance.
6. Increased development of relevant empowerments and training programs, opportunities for parents and caregivers to reduce reliance on child labor.
Proper implementation of these laws is crucial to ending all worst forms of child labor in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. While enacting laws is a necessary first step, it is not enough to ensure that children are protected from exploitation. It is important to have effective enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure that these laws are being followed. This will require the cooperation of parliament, government agencies, civil society organizations, and the private sector. By working together, we can end the worst forms of child labor and ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential.