Despite the global agitations against child labour and its consequences, there is a rapid growth of forced and child labour among cocoa farmers in Ogun State, SouthWest Nigeria, OgunWatch’s Gift Barry-Oba reports.
As a global challenge, forced or child labour has continued to rear its ugly head in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria. According to the United States Department of Labor’s list of goods produced by child labour or forced labour, cocoa is produced in Nigeria using both forced labour and child labour.
Besides, the UNICEF Situation Analysis of Children in Nigeria Study Report (2022) says over 14 million children, or approximately 32.8 percent of children aged 5-17 years, were involved in some type of child labour and about 218 million children according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) between the ages of 5 and 17 are employed as child labourers worldwide, with 70% of them working in agriculture.
The Federal Government, on the other hand, has demonstrated its readiness to combat the menace by creating and implementing necessary frameworks for policies and regulations like the National Policy on Child Labour (NPCL), the National Action Plan (NAP) on the Elimination of Child Labour (2022–2025), and the List of Hazardous Child Labour.
Also, in 2022, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) established the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Nigeria, which contained the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, and was approved by Nigeria’s federal government.
Despite this, findings revealed that forced labour is prevalent, systematic, and frequent in the Nigerian cocoa industry.
ABANDONED SCHOOLS, HOMES FOR COCOA FARMS
In Ogun state, instances of forced labour and child labour have been found as teenagers were found working on cocoa farms in different parts of the state. They were paid N10,000 Naira ($13.6) per month, or N120,000 Naira ($163) per year.
Some have been trafficked from Taraba State, Cross River State, and Benue State, and are under pressure to use drug substances that looks like “India hemp” to enable them work non stop, findings have shown.
The majority of out-of-school youths observed labouring on cocoa fields and plantations are between the ages of 14 and 18; cocoa farm owners employ their children to work on their farms and plantations.
In a state stakeholders’ forum on the Campaign Against Forced Labour in Cocoa Industry in Nigeria Programme held in Abeokuta, Ogun State, a book released after an intensive investigation into the menace by the African Law Foundation revealed the staggering plights of the teenagers.
Titled “The Scourge of Forced Labour and Child Labour in Cocoa Supply Chain in Nigeria: The Research and Investigation on Forced Labour and Child Labour in the Cocoa Industry of Nigeria,” the book investigated the menace in Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun and Cross River States.
The investigation focused on Ijebu North East, Ijebu East, Ijebu North, Ikenne, Odogbolu, Remo North, Yewa South, Odeda and Ipokia Local Government Areas of Ogun State.
Investigations also revealed that these owners of cocoa farms bully and threaten their employees, withhold workers wages after work, segregates and prohibited some from leaving the farmland, physical and sexual violence, holding onto identity documents, debt bondage, harsh living and working conditions, excessive overtime and many more.
One of them, a sixteen-year-old cocoa worker was trafficked from Cross River State when he was fourteen years old by means of an agent to labour on a cocoa farm.
At Eyin Osun, Togunlowo and Lapini communities in Ijebu North East, the investigators encountered some teenagers on a cocoa farm. Peter, Solomon, Monday, Jude, Matthew, Dada and Joy, a teenage girl, said they were being paid N12,000 monthly as child labourers on the farm.
“These teenagers and young men work on a farm that is isolated and hard to access, as it is across the River Osun.
“One of the young men, Monday told the investigators that in addition to working on their employer’s cocoa farm, they work on his palm oil farm and have long working hours,” they were quoted to have said in the book.
At the stakeholders in the forum, which was organized by the African Law Foundation (AFRILAW) in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), experts lamented the scourge and insisted on the abolition of forced labour as well as improved working conditions for those employed in the country’s cocoa industry.
The Executive Secretary and Chief Executive of the National Human Rights Commission, Chief Tony Ojukwu, represented by Mrs. Olayinka Odibe, Ogun state coordinator NHRC, explained that Article ’32’ of the Convention on the Rights of the Child obligates state parties to recognise the child’s right to be free from economic exploitation and to be protected from work that could endanger their health, interfere with their education, or negate their rights.
She added that the Ogun state administration has also signed the child’s rights law, which provides free and obligatory education for children who do not want to be compelled to work, who want to be safe and healthy, and who want the integrity of their morals to be preserved and respected.
‘CHILD RIGHTS ACT POORLY IMPLEMENTED IN OGUN’
The National Coordinator of Child Protection Network (CPN), Olakunle Sanni, recently expressed concern over what he called poor implementation of the Child Rights Act in Ogun State. Sanni spoke with newsmen in Abeokuta, at a session with stakeholders and students organized by the CPN in commemoration of the 2023 Girl Child Day.
He lamented that sexual abuses and other challenges confronting girls are on the increase in the state despite the existence of the law protecting them. Sanni asked the government to redouble its efforts in implementing the law in order to guarantee full protection for the girl child.
“There are cases of abuse around the girls and people believe that ‘it’s a girl, she does not have a voice.’ So, the level of implementation for the child rights law in Ogun State is very low at this time.
“The government needs to come hard and make sure that this law is not just a law but it becomes a tool that guides every action towards protecting every girl in Ogun State,” Sanni said.
EXPERT SEEKS INVESTIGATION, PROSECUTION BY GOVT
Barrister Okereke Chinwike, founder and CEO of the African Law Foundation, urged the state government and other agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of forced and child labor within the industry as well as provide solutions to the problem among cocoa workers and farmers.
“They need to investigate and prosecute cases of forced and child labor within the industry, create awareness of the problem of forced and child labor among cocoa workers and farmers, they should also end all conduct and practices that constitute or result in forced and child labor by all cocoa farmers in Nigeria.
“They should also be ready to assist victims of child and forced labor.
“A collaboration with the business sector on the development and implementation of supply chain management systems that prevent and detect forced and child labor is also needed.
CHILD LABOUR IN COCOA FARMING IS PERCULIAR – DIRECTOR
Nnamdi Enuah, Director and State Controller of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in the state, while speaking to OgunWatch, explained that “The farmers that engage in child labour in that sub sector is a peculiar one because it is linked to historical antecedent linked to family, father, mother and children work.
“So, while talking about them we are very careful to distinguish what causes this because children can help their parents in doing farm work or other domestic work, non harmful work that does not stop them from going to school or hamper their pursuit of education and does not affect them negatively, mentally, physically, and emotionally other wise.
“When talking about child labour one has to be careful in going there to enforce because if you go and remove them by fore they may end up being violent and at the same time you may affect the family livelihood.”
He assured that the ministry is already actively addressing the threat through regular factory and labour inspections. He added that the ministry regulates and takes decisive action when they receive such reports or discover child or forced labour occurring in any workplace.
“The ministry is already working hard on the issues of forced labor and child labor, they are not new development they have been ongoing in fact they are global issues and aren’t limited only to Nigeria
“Already we are on top of the situation through our routine labor and factory inspections we regulate and also take serious actions wherever and when ever we are confronted or get reports of forced labor and child labour in any work place,” he said.
Adeleke Abosede, the state deputy coordinator of Child Protection Network in Ogun state, emphasised that child labor is one of the menaces that affects the children and the network is doing all it can to save the children.
“As a child the law that covers them says that anything that does not give them good or wellbeing is against them. The right that protects children is against forced labour, it does not help a child develop his or her potential rather lowers their self-esteem.
“Because when they are supposed to be in school they are on the farm and this affects their self esteem and makes them feel less in the mist of their peers.
WE’LL EDUCATE OUR MEMBERS – COCOA FARMERS’ CHAIRMAN
The Ogun state chairman of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria, Apostle S. T. Williams, said child labour practice is not common among members of his association, but assured that the body would educate the farmers in the various villages.
“We shall go back to our various villages and do the campaign,I assure you that it is not common in our association because we have been telling our farmers that they should not use their children but instead spend their resources on educating them.”
He also blamed the government for some of the challenges in the industry.
“What is happening is majorly caused by the state government because they are not helping the cocoa farmers in terms of funds and all necessary equipment to work. At the end of the day after processing the production they are left with little or no funds left for them, as a result instead of engaging labourers they prefer to use their children to minimize cost.
“But like I said it’s not common in our association, I want to call on the government to come to the assistance of cocoa farmers in terms of finance and other necessary things,” he added.
WE WILL GO AFTER PERPETRATORS – OGUN GOVT
Speaking with Ogunwatch, the state commissioner for women affairs and social development, Adijat Adeleye has assured that the government would find the offenders and prosecute them.
“The government is doing everything possible to eradicate child labour, of late we sensitized people at the site both at the farm and where we could find these children.
“ Sometimes once our team gets to the site they hide all these children but at September this year we still went round the farms to talk to them.
“ We would continue to intensify our efforts, you know that we cannot be everywhere at the same time, we work with information like what you are giving us now. But with this information we need people to work with us since we cannot be everywhere.
“ We would swing into action to see how to track them down and I can assure you that if we do get them they will surely face the law because we have the child rights law in Ogun state.