The brutal life of Salisu, a child-labourer

SALISU, His life on a daily basis is defined by either physical or mental torture

By Otii ESSE


MON, SEPTEMBER 11 2017-theG&BJournal-A woman’s voice will echo rather muted then followed with a harsh, screaming voice of a child begging for mercy. This has gone on almost repeatedly now for quite a while, says a neighbour who lives in the same compound as 11-year old Salisu. For the next hour or so the neighbour will listen, helplessly too, as the woman will beat Salisu. The violence will only end when Salisu manages to squeeze through the door of the house one other neighbour calls his (Salisu) torture chamber.

Salisu’ story is a consequence of poverty and reflects the rising incidence of child labour, abuse and torture across the country. Hunger in the family prompted his (Salisu) dispatch to an ‘Alhaja’ by the mother. He lives in Abaronje, Ikotun, a suburb in Lagos state with the Alhaja in exchange for food and N3,000 monthly salary, an agreement for services to be rendered.

His life on a daily basis is defined by either physical or mental torture. He is the first person to be seen every morning, labouring-either carrying a bucket of water or sweeping the compound. He is at the same time, attending to Alhaja’s customers. Salisu is gaunt, malnourished, barely given anything to eat every day except what sympathisers will smuggle to him when Alhaja saunters out or into her scruffy house to retire for the day. If there is any food from Alhaja, it must be at the end of the day when she is satisfied all the hard labour must have been accomplished. And if there is no cry bellowing from Salisu, it is because Alhaja has gone to bed.

Salisu has never had any form of formal education in his life and was sent to Ikotun Egbe earlier in January this year in order to realize some money to assist his parent, not for his education. He told theG&BJournal he has two siblings who are also have been sent to different parts of the country for the same purpose.

According to him, hunger has been a major part of his life. He said “I have had to stay without food for days, I do not know who my father is and my mother has some health issues and cannot really take care of our needs. I was happy when I was asked to follow Alhaja to Ikotun to live with her and perform domestic service and my mother instructed that I do whatever she asks me to do.”

When asked how he performed his daily chores he said, “Alhaja had already told me that I should be up by 5:30 daily, sweep, wash the dishes and fetch some water, then later in the morning, I go over to the shop clean and prepare for the daily sales. More so, if there are other errands to run I do so. I am happy when I have anything to eat a day”

In a tearful moment he said “while I was with my mother there were days that we did not have any food to eat except someone brought some food for us and if we don’t we remain hungry”. One of the realities that hurt is that none of his siblings or himself has ever had any formal education which leaves them in bleak reality.

Few days ago, Salisu was involved in a bike accident. He sustained some minor injuries while running an errand. He was never given any medical treatment yet he was still shouted upon to attend to customers. He says he still has to perform his daily obligations.

Long and tiring work days; contact with toxic chemicals; carrying heavy loads; handling dangerous or fragile items these are but some realities Salisu has to face every day as he carries out his duties. These factors can only but have some irreversible physical, psychological and moral impact on the development, health and well-being of the child.

Salisu said he would love to go school; he gets inspired when he sees children with their school bags heading for school whenever he runs his errand.

In different ways, people have talked about human trafficking, but the issue of child labour is still treated lightly. In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ironically only 23 of the country’s 36 states have passed the Act. And it is not certain any of these states have ever prosecuted any persons or persons for abuses that are often in public domain.

The Child Law, incorporated the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and, for the first time, provided a comprehensive framework for preventing and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of children.

A recent report by UNICEF on Nigeria revealed that six out of 10 children experience some form of violence before they turn 18, with half of them experiencing physical violence and the abuse is rarely done once, according to Rachel Harvey, the chief of child protection for UNICEF in Nigeria. The UNICEF says Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for domestic service, prostitution and other forms of exploitative labour. As many as a quarter of Nigeria’s children aged 5-14 are involved in child labour. It also reckons that children living and working on the streets are more prone to illnesses, malnourishment, accidents, drug abuse, arrest, harassment and trafficking.

This societal hazard associated with the denial of fundamental rights of the children such as, access to education and health care, the right to rest, leisure, play and recreation, and the right to be cared for and to have regular contact with parents and peers.

Although when asked if he would like to go or run away, Salisu said, he still prefers to stay as long as there is hope of feeding at all, compared to when they had to stay without food. Little Salisu does not know what would become of him as he continue his chores with the injuries from the accident. Unless the unexpected miracle happens, Salusu’s life is on the verge.

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