Nigeria Coronavirus School Closures Push Children Into Labour Force

An increased number of Nigerian children are in the labour force right now because schools have closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Experts monitoring child labour in the country say since the pandemic shutdown, more children are working as hawkers, cleaners or on city streets begging to earn money to help their families.

Abubakar Mohammed is resuming work at an Abuja workshop where he has been learning carpentry and making furniture since he was 9 years old.

Now 15, and with his school closed because of the coronavirus, he is working full time to support his family, although he says he hopes to return to school soon.

"I'm missing school," he said. "I just stay here for this coronavirus to go. I'm just staying here to make some money so that when school resumes, I'll go back to school."

Abubakar is from a polygamous home and has five younger siblings.

His mother welcomes the support, saying she decided to give him a head start on learning a craft.

"I told him to learn handwork because there's no money at home," said Aisha Mohammed, Abubakar’s Mother. "And when his father is no more, he'll be able to take care of his younger ones."

Child labour in Nigeria has been outlawed since 2003, but the practice remains widespread especially among the country's poor.

Valentine Ndzi owns the workshop where Mohammed and six other boys are trying to make ends meet.

"If their parents want to bring them to work under us, we don't collect money,” Ndzi said. "We look at their skills. We don't collect their money because maybe at the end, the boys might not stay. If they're serious, that's when we now bargain on … see what we want."

The International Labor Organization estimates 15 million Nigerian children are in the labour force — the highest total in West Africa.

The ILO says Nigeria’s relaxation of lockdown measures while keeping schools closed has triggered a rapid rise in the child labour rate.

Agatha Kolawole is country program head of ILO's Accelerating Action for the Elimination of Child Labor (ACCEL Africa).

"Now that the lockdown has been lessened, at least we have some level of movement. These children are out there working to make ends meet for their families, to care for their homes and to be able to at least provide food for their families. Right now, we have more children definitely out there working as labourers,” Kolawole said.

Child labour advocates say poverty and cultural perceptions are major obstacles to eliminating child labour in Nigeria.

Even though Nigerian authorities are introducing online education modules to keep children busy during this period, many like Mohammed have no access to online schooling.

So, they will continue to work as they wait for schools to reopen.