Employing Children as house helps doesn’t come as a shock to many because of how commonplace it is in Nigeria. Most of us grew up in households where children our age (at the time) or secondary school age (16 and below) worked as either a house girl or houseboy in an attempt to lessen the workload of our parents.
This ‘tradition’ has gone on for so long that most people don’t realise that employing a child as a house help is in fact, against the law and is punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.
To better appreciate this topic, it is important to understand who a Child is under the Nigerian Law.
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Who is a Child?
The National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 placed a child to be below 12 years. However, Nigeria signed and domesticated the UN Convention 1989 on The Rights of A Child. Article 1 of this Convention defined a Child to be, ‘… every human being below the age of 18 years…’
Under this law, A child is seen to be a person below the age of 18 years. This age has been adopted and included in statutes like; The Criminal and Penal Code, Children and Young Persons Act etc.
It is safe to say that a Child is any person who is below the age of 18 years.
Employing a Child as a Househelp
Having understood who a child is, we will now see the laws which prohibit the employment of children as house helps.
Section 28 of the Child Rights Act talks about Prohibiting the use of Children in a way which exploits them for labour;
(1) Subject to this Act, no child shall be‐
(a) subjected to any forced or exploitative labour; or
(b) employed to work in any capacity except where he is employed by a member of his family on light work of an agricultural, horticultural or domestic character; or
(c) required, in any case, to lift, carry or move anything so heavy as to be likely to adversely affect his physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development; or
(d) employed as a domestic help outside his own home or family environment.
(2) No child shall be employed or work in an industrial undertaking and nothing in this subsection shall apply to work done by children in technical schools or similar approved institutions if the work is supervised by the appropriate authority.
The above section and subsections lists the various situations or circumstances a child shall not be subjected to. Section 28 (1)(d) of the Child Rights Act above prohibits a child from being employed as a domestic help outside his own home or family environment.
It is clear that the intention of the legal draftsman is to prevent the exploitation of children.
Also, it is an offence under Section 23 (1) of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act to;
‘…employ, require, recruit, transport, harbour, receive or hire out a child under the age of 12 years as a domestic worker…’
Section 28 (3) and (4) of the Child Rights Act mentions the penalty attached to the contravention of the laws listed in Subsection (1) and (2) above;
(3) Any person who contravenes any provision of subsection (1) or (2) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand naira or imprisonment for a term of five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
(4) Where an offence under this section is committed by a body corporate, any person who at the time of the commission of the offence was a proprietor, director, general manager or other similar officer, servant or agent of the body corporate shall be deemed to have jointly and severally committed the offence and may be liable on conviction to a fine of two hundred and fifty thousand naira.
Under Section 23 (1)(a) of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, the penalty for contravening the law is; A minimum conviction term of 6 months and not exceeding 7 years.
Subsection 2(a) and (b) of the same statute also adds;
Notwithstanding the punishment prescribed in subsection 1 of this section, a convicted person under this section shall, in addition to the prescribed punishment, be liable to-
- A term of not less than 2 year’s imprisonment where the child is denied payment or reasonable compensation for services rendered or;
- A term of not less than 3 years where the child is defiled or inflicted with grievous bodily harm.
What the above subsection mean is that in addition to the offence of hiring a child as a house help and the penalty attached for committing such act, an added penalty will be given if the child who was unlawfully employed as a house help was also denied pay or reasonable compensation or was defiled or inflicted with grievous bodily harm.
In as much as it has become a norm in Nigerian society today, it is still unlawful for a child to be employed as a house help in Nigeria. The rights of the child is paramount and it is morally and legally wrong to exploit or deny a child of his/her basic rights and needs.
If confused about any issue, please contact your lawyer or email us at Streetlawyernaija@gmail.com
Thank you for reading.