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By Evangelist Abraham N. Osondu(snr)

Child Labour has been packaged as a sanctification project for the developing and under-developed countries. Those promoting and attempting to enforce it justify their actions around the premise that it is anti-development, child abuse and other unrighteous indices chosen to describe it. I ask today, what is the truth about “child labour”?

Child labour is defined as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development”(International Labour Organisation). It might be helpful to examine some of its components.

Childhood has no universally accepted definition. It could be defined using the age of puberty(Biological definition) or voting age(legal definition). In each of these two cases, there is no standardised age across the world. Puberty occurs in children at different ages, and voting age is different in different counties. Jewish custom recognises age 13 as “the age of responsibility”. How is it then possible to regulate this moral imperative from one standpoint?

It also does not make sense to me how getting a child of under 15 years to work diminishes his/her potential and dignity. Parents are the primary custodians of children’s development – from house chores, farm work to community activities and development. The Christian Scripture also teaches that there is dignity in work – all jobs are equal before God, and we are required to work in order to eat and develop (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Genesis 3:19 and Ephesians 4:28). There is no age limit to work!

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The South East of Nigeria was the fastest growing economy in the world in the 1960s. This was a period of low literacy rate, and high labour-intensive activities in agriculture(with child labour a dominant feature). Life expectancy was better than what we have today. The Igbo Apprenticeship System is well-documented, and praised internationally. Harvard Business Review describes it as a “ Model for Stakeholder Capitalism”. It is built around “child labour”. I once piloted an apprenticeship programme in Accountancy for 14-16 years age group in the United Kingdom. It had work and learning components, and was validated by the Association of Accounting Technicians in the United Kingdom.

USA and United Kingdom have other forms of child labour, including young inventors that are celebrated today: Hannah Herbst invented a “water energy capturing device” at the age of 13(and received President Obama’s endorsement); Emma Yang invented a smartphone app “Timeless” to help Alzheimer or dementia patients at the age of 12. There are other examples. I am a product of child labour: trading, cutting down palm fruits from palm trees and tapping raffia palm tree for palm wine as a child. How has such a status diminished my potential and dignity in life?

The G7 countries driving to end child labour have a social security system that supports a child to adulthood. It took them time to develop. Such a system is lacking in developing countries. They should not impose their questionable values on others. The National Bureau of Statistics in Nigeria should spend its scarce time in collecting accurate data on inflation that is ravaging our country, and not in publishing a report that shows the South East of Nigeria performing poorly on the child labour abuse list.

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By Evangelist Abraham N. Osondu(snr)

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