Some stakeholders expressed concern over the rise in young children being engaged as home helps due to the prevailing economic challenges.
There are laws enacted to protect Nigerian children from various forms of abuse, yet many underage home helps still find themselves dehumanised.
Underage home help is a child, male or female, who works in the employer’s household, performing duties such as cleaning, cooking, babysitting, and other chores.
Many of them can be easily spotted due to their poor state of clothing, nutrition and sometimes, the presence of injuries on their bodies.
A lot of them suffer some form of physical, psychological and or sexual abuse by employers or other members of the family.
Those raped endure it because they are unable to escape, or were threatened with death if they told anyone.
Some will not be served food, until after all members of the family have eaten; some sleep on the floor in indecent spaces. They are the first to wake up to resume chores and the last to sleep.
In most cases, child abuse goes unreported, the few that were reported usually did not receive the needed investigation and prosecution of culprits.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 15 million Nigerian children under the age of 12 are engaged in domestic child labour.
ILO describes child labour as work that deprives children of their livelihood, their potentialities and their dignity as well as that which is harmful to their physical and mental development.
According to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) Act of 2015, employing, recruiting, or harbouring a child under the age of 12 as a domestic worker is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.
Findings reveal that poverty is the major reason parents give out their children to work as maids and domestic help.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) investigations also revealed that there were many incidences where child domestic workers were brutalised, assaulted, and even raped by their employers.
For instance, a nursing mother, Ifeoma Ezia, was arrested on 5 July 2020, in Enugu State, for piercing a six-inch nail into the head of her 10-year-old maid.
She was also alleged to have placed hot electric iron on her body, and inserted ground pepper into her vagina, for not taking proper care of her child.
A neighbour, who heard her wailing, alerted the police command in Enugu.
On 25 July, a civil servant, Ijeoma Ifeanyi, who works with a radio station in Imo, allegedly poured hot water on her underage maid for preparing watery pap for her.
Also on 21 May, the police in Lagos arrested a pregnant woman, Eucheria Ndigwe, for stabbing her maid with a knife in the Ojo area of the state, for not washing her bag.
Some maids suffer sexual abuse at the hands of their male employers. Such was the case of a teenager who was allegedly raped by her boss in the Epe area of Lagos State.
The victim accused her boss of always tying her hands and legs and raping her. He thereafter forced her to take contraceptives and always threatened to kill her if she told anyone about her experiences.
Also, a 15-year-old maid, who was allegedly raped by an Air Force officer in Ikeja, Lagos State on 8 February 2022, was rescued after she confided in a neighbour, who eventually reported the case.
The survivor revealed that the officer started abusing her when she was 13,
These abuses have unfortunately led some of them, who could not withstand the torture, to death or suicide.
One of them was an eight-year-old girl who was beaten to death by her madam, identified as Oby, in the Isolo area of Lagos State.
The employer was apprehended by police officers on her way to dispose of her corpse.
Similarly, Joy Adole was also allegedly tortured to death by her employers, Mr and Mrs Fortune Stephens on 20 April 2020, in the Bariga area of Lagos State, for taking a packet of instant noodles.
The couple, who beat Joy to death, hung her from the ceiling to make it seem like suicide. But during investigations, it was revealed that the victim was beaten to death as marks of violence and a lot of fresh wounds were found on her body.
Some stakeholders, who expressed concern over the rise in young children being engaged as home helps due to the prevailing economic challenges, said that the menace required urgent action to be taken against perpetrators.
The spokesperson, NAPTIP, Lagos Command, Zakaria Dauda, said that sensitisation was ongoing to let the public know the implications of child trafficking and child labour.
“Massive sensitisation is already going on in the media. Campaign is being taken to schools, from primary to university, just to create awareness that engaging in such is a crime,” he said.
According to him, almost all the states in Nigeria have adopted the Child Rights Law, which clearly states that children are entitled to education as a fundamental right.
“Ignorance of the law is not an excuse and poverty should not make anyone do what is wrong, children have rights, grant them those rights.
“In most states, primary education is basically free, so do not say that poverty made you send them to where they will be maimed.
“If parents also know the condition their children are in when they are given out, I am sure they will not want to do it,” he said.
He appealed to the public to always break the culture of silence by reporting cases of all forms of child abuse.
“If you see something bad happening to a child, say it. We have what we call informant protection. If you report a case, you are protected; your identity will not be revealed.
“Once it is reported, the culprits will be arrested and prosecuted and when people realise that such cases can be reported, they will correct themselves,” he said.
In the same vein, Juliana Francis, CEO of Youthlsens Initiative Development, a non-governmental organisation, said it was criminal to employ children as housekeepers.
“In Nigeria, children as young as eight, 10 and 13 years are trafficked into sex slavery, child labour and other crimes, many end up being killed in the process,” she said.
Ms Francis said that child labour destroyed the health, development and education of children and that parents should not fight poverty by exploiting their children.
“Children need to be shown love and properly catered for, they deserve the right to basic education, to help them fit into society and become useful adults.
“Parents must resolve to raise their children by themselves. They must be responsible and go through any challenge with their children by their side.
“Let us desist from every activity that exploits our children in whom the future of our nation lies.
“Employers should stop taking underage as house helps, leave them to develop like other children,” she said.
Mr Francis, who is also the head of Media, Advocates for Children and Vulnerable Persons Network (ACVPN), urged the government to ensure proper implementation of the laws and ensure violators are made to face the wrath of the law.
“Both the parents, who gave out their children as maids and the employers who hire such children should be prosecuted and punished to serve as deterrents to others,” she said.
She said that to eradicate child labour and trafficking, concerted efforts were required from everyone.
“We can curb child trafficking when the government, non-governmental organisations, civil society groups, the police and the public are involved in spreading the message and saving children from abuses,” she said.
Also, a legal practitioner, Isaiah Ode, described the rising cases of abuse and brutality of underage domestic servants as heartbreaking.
He said that engaging a child as a domestic worker was illegal in Nigeria and contravened the Child Rights Act 2015 as well as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (2015).
Mr Ode urged employers to stop subjecting their maids to inhuman treatment.
“Employers should treat their maids as humans, not as animals. It is not wrong if employers provide them with proper food, clothes and also help them develop by making them learn skills,” he said.
According to him, employers who abuse their housekeepers should be prosecuted.
He urged Nigerians to rise against any form of slavery or abuse.
However, a traditionalist, Omowale Adisa, asked a rhetorical question, where is the place of fostering, which is part of the African culture?
He explained that some of the big businessmen and politicians we see today were fostered by people other than their parents.
Mr Adisa said that these laws should define the place of fostering properly and guide the citizenry through the processes and things required by foster parents and their responsibilities.
“We cannot adopt the Western way of life completely, it is in our culture to foster children.
“We should enact laws that encourage fostering but discourage abuse of any form. These laws should guide parents on what to do for the child.
“Education should be top on the list of requirements for a fostered child. Anyone who violates the law should not be spared,” Mr Adisa explained.