Some lawyers and activists have condemned the practice of child labour in the country following the electrocution of 14-year-old Joseph Ekwenobe (Jnr) by a faulty machine at the factory of a Lagos-based Chinese footwear company, Cheng-Fa Nigeria Limited.
Recall report that the teenager was electrocuted while pouring materials into a faulty machine in the firm’s factory.
His colleagues had protested his death in front of the company at the Obasa area of Ikeja, Lagos.
Speaking with our correspondent, a labour lawyer and activist, Femi Aborisade, said the Nigeria Labour Congress had failed in its duty of monitoring factories and companies, adding that measures needed to be taken to forestall any future occurrence of underage falling victims.
He said, “This is a criminal matter because due to the company’s negligence, the boy died in its custody. It is a crime to employ a child under the Child Rights Act, which stipulates that anyone under 18 is a child, and the company has violated the Act, which is a crime and punishable if convicted by five years imprisonment or N50,000 fine for an individual, and N150,000 fine for a company and five years imprisonment for officials of the company.
“The government ought to be monitoring these companies. The Ministry of Labour and union officers ought to be visiting the factories, but there is nobody visiting anywhere and because of the hard economic realities, children, who ought to be in school, are engaged in work places, which is wrong under the Act.
“The responsibility of the labour officers is to enforce the law but they are not doing so. The officers ought to be visiting factories, examining the positions of machines, hygiene and conditions under which workers work, but not much of that is being done.
“A lot can be done to stop child labour but it depends on the trade unions to ensure that children are not employed. The attention of non-governmental organisations that specialise in this area needs to be drawn to it and they need to create awareness about it.”
Another labour lawyer, Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, who noted that the government was not doing enough in terms of underage children being used as domestic workers, urged the parents of the victim, Joseph, to sue the company.
He stated, “Section 28 (2) of the Child Rights Act and Section 25(2) of the Child Rights Law of Lagos State prohibit exploitative labour and specifically prohibit a child from being employed in an industrial undertaking.
“The parents of the deceased can sue the company for negligence and seek appropriate damages considering the fact that there were reports that the machine had been faulty for days and despite being aware of that, the company allegedly did nothing about it.
“The parents can also approach the police for investigation and prosecution of the company’s management in line with the Factories’ Act. They can also approach the National Human Rights Commission or the Office of the Public Defender in Lagos for redress.
“The government is not doing enough in terms of curbing underage from being used as workers. For instance, many homes engage underage children as domestic workers in contravention of extant laws. What is the government doing about this? Companies engaging in child labour should be given heavy fines and the management of such firms should be tried and convicted accordingly.”
The Executive Director, Project Alert against Violence on Women and Children, Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, urged the government to monitor the enforcement of the Child Rights Act.
She said, “It is not proper for a 14-year-old to be employed by the Chinese company. It is illegal. The point is did his parents know about it? If they knew, then they are also liable, because the question is, were they the ones who sent him out to work?
“A boy of that age should be in school. If they didn’t send him to the factory but knew that he was working there, they are also liable for not stopping him. That is child labour. If at all a child must engage in any work, it should be in the vicinity where his parents/guardians can watch him/her.”
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