Underage Labour in Nigeria: An Enduring Challenge


Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is a nation rich in natural resources and cultural heritage. However, it faces numerous socio-economic challenges, one of the most persistent and distressing being the issue of underage labour. This practice not only deprives children of their childhood but also impedes their ability to acquire education and skills necessary for their future.

Underage labour in Nigeria is a multifaceted problem deeply embedded in the socio-economic fabric of the country. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), millions of Nigerian children are engaged in child labour, many of whom are involved in hazardous work that poses significant risks to their health, safety, and development. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicates that about 43% of children aged between 5 and 17 years are engaged in some form of labour.

The prevalence of underage labour in Nigeria can be attributed to several interrelated factors:


Nigeria’s high poverty rate forces many families to rely on the additional income generated by their children. For these families, child labour is often seen as a necessary means of survival.

  1. Education System

Despite efforts to improve access to education, many children, particularly in rural areas, do not attend school regularly. The lack of adequate schools, infrastructure, and qualified teachers exacerbates this issue.

  1. Cultural Norms

In some Nigerian communities, it is culturally accepted for children to work from a young age, particularly in family businesses or agriculture. These cultural practices often prioritize work over formal education.

  1. Weak Legal Framework

Although Nigeria has laws prohibiting child labour, enforcement remains weak. Corruption and lack of resources hinder the effective implementation of these laws.

Types of Underage Labour

Children in Nigeria are involved in various forms of labour, including:

  1. Agriculture

Many children work on family farms or plantations, engaging in tasks such as planting, weeding, and harvesting crops. This work is often physically demanding and performed under harsh conditions.

  1. Street Trading

A common sight in Nigerian cities are children selling goods such as snacks, water, and other items on the streets. This exposes them to numerous dangers, including traffic accidents and exploitation.

  1. Domestic Work

Children, particularly girls, are often employed as domestic workers in households. They are responsible for cooking, cleaning, and taking care of other children, frequently for long hours and with little to no pay.

  1. Mining and Quarrying In some regions, children work in mines and quarries, extracting minerals and stones. This work is hazardous and exposes them to toxic substances and dangerous machinery. Impact on Children

The consequences of underage labour are profound and far-reaching.

Children engaged in labour are often exposed to physical and psychological harm. They suffer from fatigue, injuries, and illnesses due to the demanding nature of their work and poor working conditions.

Child labour interferes with children’s education, limiting their ability to attend school regularly and perform well academically. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and illiteracy.

Also, the burden of work at a young age can lead to emotional and psychological distress. Children may experience feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, and depression.

Efforts and Recommendations

Addressing underage labour in Nigeria requires a multifaceted approach involving various stakeholders, including the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the international community. Some recommendations include:

  1. Strengthening Laws and Enforcement The Nigerian government must reinforce existing child labour laws and ensure their strict enforcement. This includes providing adequate resources and training for law enforcement agencies.
  2. Poverty Alleviation Programs Implementing and expanding social safety nets and poverty reduction programs can reduce the economic pressures that drive families to engage their children in labour.
  3. Improving Education Enhancing the accessibility and quality of education is crucial. This includes building more schools, improving infrastructure, and training teachers, particularly in rural areas.
  4. Raising Awareness

Public awareness campaigns can help change cultural attitudes towards child labour and highlight the importance of education for children’s future.

  1. Supporting NGOs and Community Initiatives Encouraging and supporting the work of NGOs and community-based organizations that provide education, vocational training, and support services to children and their families.

Underage labour in Nigeria is a deeply rooted issue that requires comprehensive and sustained efforts to address. By tackling the underlying causes and implementing effective strategies, Nigeria can make significant progress towards eradicating child labour and securing a brighter future for its children. The collective effort of the government, communities, and international partners is essential to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation, ensuring that every Nigerian child has the opportunity to grow, learn, and thrive.

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