The ordeals of child domestic workers in Nigeria.

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In the past couple of years, we’ve read hideous news feeds of abuses on young domestic workers in Nigeria, thanks to social media. In 2020, a woman chopped off her domestic worker’s finger in Onitsha, Anambra (, Sep 24, 2020). Similar incident had happened in 2014 (read here). In 2021, a 10-year-old domestic worker was bathed with hot water by two women in Anambra (PR Nigeria, Jan. 15 2021). A 10-year-old domestic worker was forced to drink hot peppery water by her madam in Abia (Vanguard News, Oct 9, 2021). A 12-year-old domestic worker was brutalized by a widow, for stealing meat (Vanguard, February 13, 2022). A 15-year-old domestic worker was raped by her Airforce boss (Vanguard, Feb 8, 2022). 

The above cases are but droplets in an ocean of maltreatments many children face in Nigeria as domestic workers. I dare say that 1 in 4 Nigerians have either witnessed, heard, or personally experienced the ordeals of child domestic workers. There is always a story of a child being starved, scourged with hot metals, locked in dog cages, overworked, made to sleep outside a house through the night, and in the worst-case scenario, killed because their employer was unhappy with them. But such stories are told informally, passively. Most abused children never get justice. Their ordeals are underreported. Many of them accept the abuse they face as fate either out of fear or lack of opportunity to seek justice. 

Early this year, I heard about an unfortunate incident of a domestic helper in Enugu who died while trying to pluck mangoes. The boy’s body was found on a tree days after he went missing. He was said to have been electrocuted by a pole’s wire while trying to pluck mangoes. Meanwhile, neighbors knew that the boy was often maltreated by the family, beaten to a pulp, locked outside, or starved for days, but they could not help him. This boy lived his life at the mercy of his abusers. Perhaps, this boy died trying to fend for himself. We would never know why he climbed that mango tree since he isn’t alive to tell his story. Will he get justice for being mistreated while alive? Highly unlikely. 

It begs the question, what is the government of Nigeria and Nigerians doing to fight the use of child labor in Nigeria? An estimated 15 million Nigerian children under 14 are engaged in child labor International Labor Organization (ILO) in Nigeria. This number increases if we include children above the age of 14 but below 18. If the stipulated percentage of Nigerian children engaged in child labor is 43%, it means that Nigeria has the highest number of child laborers in Africa and probably around the world. After all, Africa has the highest number of child laborers globally ( Reports like these are shameful for us as a nation, given that many children engaged in child labor are exposed to some of the worst working environments.  

Source: Statista. Although 2008 had the highest number of recorded child laborers in Africa, the numbers for 2016 and 2020 aren’t too convincing of the efforts of African governments to reduce the number of child laborers in their country.

Source: Sub-Saharan Africa has more children engaged in child labor compared to other least developed countries. 

What is the Nigerian Government doing about child labor in Nigeria?

In theory, one could argue that the Nigerian government is trying to fight child labor in Nigeria. Last year, the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor (“IYECL”) was launched in Nigeria, in collaboration with the ILO. IYECL is somewhat a move by the Nigerian government to expedite the actualization of target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) adopted in 2015 by world leaders. Perhaps we can argue that it’s too early to judge whether this move will yield anything tangible. We hope it does.

Meanwhile, in collaboration with other ECOWAS countries, Nigeria adopted a regional action plan on child labor in 2012 to end the worst form of child labor in West Africa by 2015. Judging by various statistics on child labor in Africa, I can’t honestly say that the 2012 plan was actualized. 

Nigeria has one of the most comprehensive Child Right Acts in Africa. Section 28(1)(c) states that, “Subject to this Act, no child shall be… (c) required, in any case, to lift, carry, or move anything so heavy as to be likely to adversely affect his… mental, spiritual, moral, or social development; …” But is this provision of the law being implemented in Nigeria? Reality is far from our paperwork.

Truthfully, the government of Nigeria is not doing much in the area of child labor. Internal trafficking of children is still rampant in Nigeria. The recruitment and transportation of children from their rural homes and to cities for menial jobs are still done with ease. An article by notes that Nigeria does not have any implemented policies that regulate the issue of child labor in the informal sector that is responsible for 75% of child labor. By implication, there is no system that identifies or monitors children used as laborers. There is no system that stifles or penalizes private individuals for employing or maltreating child laborers. Therefore, more children from poorer backgrounds will remain vulnerable to harsh labor.

While the Government of Nigeria is still struggling to eradicate child labor, which includes the recruitment of children as domestic helpers in Nigeria, they should enforce strict laws against corporal punishment on children in Nigeria. It’s time to end the use of sticks, wires, metals, hot water, and many other tools as instruments of punishment. All harsh punishments, including starvation or locking up of children in strange places, should be illegal. The mistreatment of child domestic workers is detrimental to the country. Broken children are not far from being broken adults. The pattern needs to die. 

The government should also enforce the need for compulsory basic education for every child in Nigeria. This way, employers will be in contempt of the law if they refuse to send any child in their care to school. A move like this one will empower people to report people that refuse their domestic helpers from attending school.

What can other stakeholders do to help out young domestic workers in Nigeria?

  1. Non Governmental Organizations. 

Thankfully, many NGOs that act as a quick response team to abused women and children are scattered across Nigeria. Although some of these organizations need funding and are raddled with many internal problems, they are still effective, especially in South-Eastern Nigeria. More NGOs need to pull weight in services like therapy, temporary shelters, school placement, family placement, and child monitoring. 

NGOs that work with abused victims should take their messages to schools, community meetings, and streets. The more people are aware of domestic child abuse and how to help victims, the greater the nation’s chances of reducing cases of abuse against domestic helpers. 

More NGOs should work hand in hand with various State Governments and other international educational bodies to form a functional counseling unit in schools. Counseling units are lacking in many schools in Nigeria. Counseling units should act as a haven for traumatized children or children experiencing other domestic problems in their families. 

  1. Citizens

No government or organization can effectively fight child abuse in any country without the help of its citizens. When citizens keep silent, they empower people to continue to maltreat child laborers. 

As a citizen, you might say, “I don’t want to get into other people’s family matters because I don’t have any means of helping any child after being saved from their abusers.” Your concerns are valid in a country like Nigeria, where the Government is slacking in the welfare of its citizens. However, start by unburdening yourself with what would happen after the child has been rescued and focus on saving that child’s life first. After the child has been saved, Other people or organizations will continue where you stop. 

As citizens, we should no longer be comfortable living around neighbors who abuse other people’s children. If they cannot allow their child to go through such ordeals, why should another child in their care be subjected to such life? It is time to start exposing such neighbors without shame or guilt. Why should you feel guilty for doing the right thing?  However, it is possible to conceal your identity in such matters. NGOs dealing with abused women and children will comfortably do that if you find the courage to report to them. 

Let’s play our parts to end violence against young domestic workers in Nigeria. Hey, you might be interested in “the child house helpers in Nigeria” by Aljazeera.

Written by God’sgrace Chichi. God’sgrace is an educator, freelance writer, entrepreneur and the Founder of 4G Jewelries, a brand of bespoke handcrafted chic jewelry pieces. You can contact her at

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