By Favour Nnabugwu
The Federal Government has spent $100 million to feeding 10 million Nigerian children under the National School Feeding Programme, as part of efforts to eliminate the scourge of child labour in the country.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, stated in Abuja Friday when he received the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leornard and officials of the Department of State who paid him a courtesy visit.
Ngige, explained that the Nigerian government introduced the school feeding programme under its social security programme, to lure children engaged in child labour, back to school.
He said the Federal government also introduced social protection programmes to fight poverty, which is the major contributory factor to the prevalence of child labour in Nigeria.
A statement by Olajide Oshundun, Head of Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment quoted Ngige as saying, “We have introduced the National school feeding programme under our social security, to lure children back to school. As of today, we are feeding 10 million children across the country. We have spent nearly $10 million on this.
“We have also taken more schools into the areas prone to child labour and made education free in the whole country through the Universal Basic Education Act and the Child Rights Act.
“For the people with disability, we introduced Disability Peoples Commission to give them full and comprehensive aid so that they will not fell that they have any disability. If you don’t support someone with disability, it is outright poverty.”
The minister expressed the gratitude of his ministry to the US government for the recent technical assistance of the United States Department of Labour to West Africa, in the area of fighting violence and harassment at work under Convention 190 of International Labour Organisation (ILO).
“Nigeria and Liberia iare listed there and the fund is $5 million, estimated to be spent on the project. We think that it is a step in the right direction.
“Just last week we got information of another $4 million for anti-child labour activities in Nigeria. Ondo State is chosen as the pilot state for the fight against child labour in the area of cocoa farming. We think this is a good step in the right direction because over the years, from the time we visited for African Growth and Opportunities (AGOA) conference under the Department of Labour and Trade in Washington in 2017, we had made it clear that the United States Government has to take practical steps for us to follow. We cant be mouthing child labour and we leave it unattended to when we know that most of those engaged in it are those trying to make up for family needs.”
According to him, vulnerable families send their underage children to work in cocoa farms, mining sites or to engage in street hawking and petty trading, because family income is not enough, owing to underemployment or unemployment.
He explained that advocacy alone cannot reduce the scourge, as it would be difficult to retain the audience of a hungry person.
Ngige reiterated his proposal at the AGOA conference that the United States must assist Nigeria in fighting child labour, adding that his ministry needed assistance in the area of capacity building and logistics, such as vehicles, to enable officials of the Department of Occupational Safety and Inspectorate Division move into areas with high incidence of child labour and tackle the scourge from the source.
He added that the government needed assistance to train people in skill acquisition, to make the uneducated gainfully employed in plumbing, refrigeration repairs, tiling, among others.
Earlier Leornard said the United States Government was worried to see that Nigerian children were subjected to the worst forms of child labour in quarries and grannites and mining sites.
She assured that her country would continue to work with the Nigerian Government in addressing the scourge and appealed to the remaining seven states yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act to do so without further delay.
She said the US government was pleased to see a new programme in Nigeria that provides seed capital to vulnerable people to pursue programmes in areas with high prevalence of child labour.