African Journal of
Marketing Management

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Mark. Manage.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-2421
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJMM
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 159


Millenium development goals and combating agricultural child labour in Nigeria

Ben-Chendo, G.N.
  • Ben-Chendo, G.N.
  • Department of Agricultural Economics, Federal University of Technology, Owerri Imo State, Nigeria.
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J.I. Lemchi
  • J.I. Lemchi
  • Department of Agricultural Economics, Federal University of Technology, Owerri Imo State, Nigeria.
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F.O. Nwosu
  • F.O. Nwosu
  • Department of Agricultural Economics, Federal University of Technology, Owerri Imo State, Nigeria.
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N.C. Ehirim
  • N.C. Ehirim
  • Department of Agricultural Economics, Federal University of Technology, Owerri Imo State, Nigeria.
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  •  Received: 10 May 2010
  •  Accepted: 22 September 2014
  •  Published: 31 October 2014


A simmering crisis in the Nigerian agriculture today involves labour and the crisis manifests itself in the degree of labour availability, labour demand and labour productivity. One of the major products of this crisis is the increased participation of children in paid, non-familiar agricultural jobs. They are frequently employed as farm labourers, bird scarers, food crop harvesters, processors and hawkers. More than 132 million children work in agriculture. Agriculture ranks as one of the three most dangerous work activities, followed by mining and construction. Child labour is increasing in postharvest processing, transport, marketing and a range of agroindustries. Child labour is maybe one of the most striking indicators identifying vulnerable children and as such pointing to  shortcomings in several of the millennium goals as poverty eradication, education for all, gender equality, combating HIV/AIDS and creation of a global partnership for development. Most working children do so after a decision in their parental household. To understand the household labour supply decisions, relation to the labour market and to public interventions is critical in designing programmes in order to achieve the MDGs. The research on child labour represents in this respect a largely untapped resource of knowledge for policymakers in the fields of  agriculture, education programmes and poverty reduction programmes. The effect of lack of education opportunities on child labour is well documented, but existence of widespread agricultural child labour also reduces the effectiveness of investment in education. It is recommended in this paper that the legislator should enact laws that will reduce agricultural child labour through redistribution of the nation’s resources, women should be integrated in the fight to combat child labour and that alternative income sources should be provided for rural families whose children are the most vulnerable.


Key words: Child labour, agriculture,  combating, development.


Child labor is a complex issue. To begin with, not all work involving children should be a cause for concern that is, not all work is labour. Developmentally appropriate economic activity can be beneficial to the full development of a child, but at its extreme, work can place a child’s life and well being at risk. Work that is exploitative, dangerous and detrimental to the physical, social, moral or spiritual development of children, or inhibits a child’s ability to receive a quality, relevant education, is considered hazardous labour  and poses is  considered  hazardous  labour and poses a major human rights and socio-economic challenge. 

There are numerous social, human and environmental factors that influence how families and children view the premature participation of children in the labor market. Child labor and its causes vary from country to country, community to community, and even household to household. Therefore, strategies to combat child labor call for context-specific and solution-oriented interventions that take into account the nuances of local environments. 

Nearly 70 percent of child laborers are engaged in rural-based economic activities. Agricultural work is the most prevalent form of child labour, and one of the most hazardous (ILO,1999) While interventions by NGOs and other organizations and institutions have targeted the worst forms of exploitative child labour in urban areas, (ILO,2002), the vast majority of child laborers continue to toil away in the countryside. It is significant to note that children from rural areas also comprise a significant percentage of the children who eventually end up in the worst and most exploitive forms of urban child labour.

Poverty and child labor are inexorably linked; however, poverty can exist even when child labour does not. Different groups can frame poverty in different terms, focusing on, for example: income or consumption poverty, human development and underdevelopment, social exclusion, overall well being, vulnerability or an inability to meet certain basic needs. Child labour is strongly associated with income poverty and often reflects the fragility of a country’s struggle toward greater economic prosperity (Castle and Diarra, 2004). In low income countries, child labor historically declines when gross domestic product (GDP) per capita increases (EFA, 2007). However, child labor is not only a symptom of poverty, it is a contributing factor. Child labor often consists of simple, unskilled routines that offer little opportunity for progression to better paying, more interesting or safer occupations. Many child laborers engage in invisible, unacknowledged and unregulated tasks, which can include hazardous work on family farming plots under the direct supervision of parents or caregivers. Local tradition and culture, as well as family solidarity, can make it difficult to acknowledge that these children are being exploited. However, not all work that children perform on family farming plots is hazardous; a closer examination of these activities is necessary. Educating parents and caregivers on activities that are truly hazardous to children will empower them to make informed choices.

In addition to family farming plots, children work on, or accompany their parents or caregivers to large agricultural plantations. This is common when school is too expensive, or too far from home, or when daycare is not an option. Since children are often seen as extensions of the family unit, they are not paid for their work on the plantations, and employers claim no responsibility for their health or safety. On cocoa plantations in West Africa, children do a variety of work that includes carrying cocoa beans to be dried, transporting foods such as plantains and cassava, and fetching water for drinking and irrigation. Their duties also include hazardous work like weeding with cutlasses, carrying and applying pesticides, and harvesting and splitting cocoa pods with a hook-shaped instrument referred to by locals as a “go to hell” (CARE, 2007). Children are usually aware of the dangers they face, such as cuts, insect and snake bites, and skin irritation from applying pesticides — dangers they can also face while working on family farming plots — but there is little they can do. Plantation work is often seasonal; families migrate with the changes in season and crop cycle. As a result, children often miss large parts of the school year, or start school late. It is not uncommon for children enrolled in school to be sent to the fields to work during school hours.

The millennium development goals

The origins of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lie in the United Nations  Millennium Declaration, which was adopted by all 189 UN Member States on 8 September 2000. By the year 2015, all 191 United Nations Member States have pledged to meet the following goals:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

2. Achieve universal primary education

3. Promote gender equality and empower women

4. Reduce child mortality

5. Improve maternal health

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7. Ensure environmental sustainability

8. Develop a global partnership for development

Child labour/street child defined

The World Bank lacks a universal definition of child labour, as the definitions of “children” and labour are highly dependent on the locality of these elements. However, in Brazil child labour refers to any work, paid or unpaid, for at least one hour per week and that any type of labour is illegal for children under 14 years of age (Gustafsson-Wright and Pyne, 2002). Child labour typically interferes with the schooling of children, obliging them to leave school early, or try to combine school and work which makes for long hours of work without rest, or making it impossible for them to attend at all. It is common that children in rural areas engage in agricultural activities in some form, whether seasonal to coincide with crop cycles and or school holidays or full time. In West Africa, as in many parts of the world, the participation of children in agricultural work alongside adults is a valued tradition. In the cocoa industry, many children work on small  family  farms of five to six hectares, the products of which are sold to local markets or consumed by the families themselves (ILO-IPEC, 2007).

Child labour, child abuse and agricultural labour

The issue of the involvement of children in agricultural labour could normally be treated under child abuse. In its original and narrowest formulation, “child abuse” refers principally to cases fitting into what clinical paediatricians describe as the “battered baby syndrome”, a phenomenon which has been documented extensively in the industrialized countries (Osotimehin et al., 2007). Over the years, however, a broader formulation has emerged and the term has to apply to all such acts of commission or omission which tend to deny children of the human treatment to which they are entitled or to deprive them of the opportunities for the total development of their human personality and potentials.

Child labour is generally characterized as any physical engagement of the child, either paid or unpaid and directed to alleviate the burden of adults outside or inside the home, so as to make a living for the child himself or to help the adult (Donli, 2004).

From the framework described above, child labour has been described as work that is inconsistent with the principles set under the conventions and recommendations, namely that the child is below the minimum age for a given occupation or type of work, or work in an otherwise non-hazardous occupation under conditions that render the work hazardous for adolescents (IITA, 2002).

Studies carried out by UNICEF show that child labourers are found all over the world. In the industrialized countries, for example, about 2.5 million children aged 5 – 14 years are found to be economically active (about 2% of the total child population). In countries with transition economies, 2.4 million children aged 5 – 14 or around 4 percent of the total population are economically active.

However, the largest numbers of working children are found in the developing countries. Here, the most disturbing cases are in sub-Saharan Africa where 29 percent of children aged 5 – 14 are working (48 million) followed by Asia and the Pacific (19% or 127.3 million), Latin America and the Caribbean (16% or 17.4 million) and the Middle East and North Africa (15% or 13.4 million), where  many children are born for agric labour.

In Africa, children have traditionally been regarded as members of the production unit of the family. They serve their parents in various capacities, depending on the occupation and social status of their families (Osotimehin et. al., 2007). Generally, the use of children as members of the family labour force is regarded as an integral part of the children’s socialization process. Child rearing customs expect them to be assigned some domestic work commensurate with age, sex and physique. It is believed that by so doing, these children will pick up useful  skills,  learn  more  about  their  own  communities and, hence prepare themselves for responsibilities of adult life.

Child labour is maybe one of the most striking indicators identifying vulnerable children and as such pointing to shortcomings in several of the millennium goals as poverty eradication (1), education for all (2), gender equality (3), discrimination of girls towards education and traditional burdens put on girls in their own households as reasons for child labour, combating HIV/AIDS (6) AIDS orphanages as another reason for child labour, and developing a global partnership for development (8), including developing descent and productive work for youths since child labour in its worst forms often has cross border links and that decent and productive work for youths are undermined by the existence of child labour.

Child labour can be found everywhere. The use of child labour in the early phases of industrialisation in many countries has attracted special attention. Some early research on child labour came to the conclusion that it is a special “need” to eradicate child labour in this phase of development. The question now should be, does child labour hamper economic growth? It does so by not only reducing the individual’s educational achievements but reduces the effect and quality of the education system. Child labour is also associated with households where poverty is inherent from one generation to the next. Hence, as the fight against child labour has gained inter-national momentum during the last decade and as a lot of research work has been undertaken to better understand the causes and consequences of child labour, it is natural to utilise this information to help underpin the work towards the millennium  development goals. Reduction of child labour will help improve children’s educational achievements including the efficiency and capacity of the education system and help reduce poverty.

Nigeria and child labour policies

Nigeria has ratified convention No. 138, the Minimum Age Convention No. 182, the worst forms of child labour convention, both in 2002 (ICFTU, 2005). The constitution states that primary education should be provided free and compulsory “when practical”. However, in practice access to education is very limited due to lack of facilities. Girls have less access to education than boys. Net primary school enrolment for girls was over 33 percent over the period of 1998 - 2002. For boys, this percentage was 38 percent over the same period. The minimum age for employment is 15 years in most sectors; however, child labour is widespread in Nigeria. Children younger than 15 years can only be employed in home-based agricultural or domestic work, but not in commerce and industrial work, and they are not allowed to work more than 8 h per day (ICFTU, 2005). In 2000, the ILO estimated that 23.5 percent  of  children  between  10  and  14  were working. Children are mainly employed in agriculture (on family farms), in fishing and herding, but also on commercial farms. Furthermore, they are employed in the informal economy as domestic workers, street vendors, car washers, beggars and vendors in markets.

Some children work in small industries as mechanics, metal workers, carpenters, weavers and barbers. Child begging is widespread in Nigeria and child prostitution is a serious problem in main cities in Nigeria.

A 2003 study by the ILO and the Government (Federal Office of Statistics) estimated the number of working children at 15 million, of which up to 40% is at risk to be trafficked for forced labour. Of these working children, 6 million do not attend school and 2 million work more than 15 h per day (ICFTU, 2005). Child labour inspection is limited to the formal economy where the level of child labour is relatively low. There is also a lack of inspectors.

It is important to observe that the government in the pre-independence era was not indifferent to child welfare. For instance, the Children and Young Persons Law (CYPL) in several states in Nigeria contained laws regulating street trading and the fact that in the 1960s, at least four (4) ILO conventions prohibiting children’s work in various hazardous occupations and conditions were ratified. However, the enactment of the Labour Code in 1974 with several provisions to limit the age of admission into employment in various occupations as well as limits the working hours and exposure to hazards was a decisive legal action, which demonstrated the stance of government towards achieving child welfare. The ratifycation and signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1991 represented the climax in government’s positive stance to combat child labour in view of the fact that one of its articles targets the elimination of the phenomenon (Oloko, 1999). Article 32 enjoins state parties to recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development (UNICEF, 2001). In addition, the effort of government on child welfare precipitated former President Olusegun Obasanjo to sign into law the child right bill in June 2006. Other efforts by government and non-government organisations include:-

1. Section 31 of Cap 32 of the laws of the Federation of Nigeria, which prohibits children under 14 years and girls less than 16 years from trading in the streets.

2. Centre for Non-Formal Education and Training (CENFET) provides basic education for out-of-school and working children especially scavengers.

3. The “Hawking by children Edict Cap 58 Law of Nigeria”.

4. The Nomadic Education Programme under the National Commission for Nomadic Education promulgates by Decree 41 of 1989 was the major programme that has been established for children  who  have  never  attended school. It was established in recognition of the fact that the migratory nature of pastoral nomads and migrant fishermen made it difficult for their children (who invariably work with their parents) to be enrolled in formal education.

It is sad to note that these efforts have made marginal impact on improving child welfare or specifically reducing incidence of child labour and street children (UNICEF, 2001). This is largely because these measures have been uncoordinated, not well implemented and largely unenforced. For instance, studies conducted by various researchers in Nigeria (Oloko, 1999; UNICEF, 2004; Imam, 1998; Onuike, 1998; Okpukpara and Odurukwe, 2003) show that the child labour and street children are increasing in both practices and characteristics. It was also reported that gender restrictions in the involvement of children in work in certain crafts were found to have been eroded such that increasingly boys and girls were engaged in most occupations. In other countries, studies attest the same story. UNICEF reported that in the year 2000, there were 233 million children between the ages of 5 – 18 years in urban areas in developing countries doing one kind of paid work or the other (UNICEF, 2004).

This development has grave economic and development consequences. Many studies have condemned child participation in economic activities and worst form of it (street children) because of it resultant effect on health, schooling, physical, moral and psychological development of the child (UNICEF, 2004; ILO-IPEC, 2002).

Child-workers in agricultural commodity markets

An evaluation of youths’ participation in porterage ser-vices in Ogbomosho, Oyo State, Nigeria by Oshotimehin et al. (2007). The issue of the active involvement of children in the Nigerian agricultural markets in Ogbomoso revealed that most of the participants were hired into the business due to such factors as poverty, family psycho-social problems. The child-workers used head porterage, wheel barrow and two-wheeled carts to transport cassava tubers from the markets to the various processing points of their employers. Minority (32%) of them are in the business on full time while the remaining 67.5 percent do it on part-time basis usually after returning from school, during holidays and weekends. They showed that one the average income these youngsters earned is about N265.00 per day. Though the employment seems to be lucrative with respect to the present day structure in the public services, this study is of the opinion that Nigerian youths should be discouraged from further participation in such activities, since it affects their schooling and personal development. Most importantly, no special skills are being acquired in the work. This is impacting on their future survival and contributing to economy of the nation. A research work carried out by Lawal and Akintayo (2007) in  Oyo   State,   Nigeria   shows  that  children  producing vegetables fell between the ages of 14 and 17 and more male children were involved than females. Major reasons for venturing into vegetable production include income generation, family sustenance and supplementation of school fees. Hazards children were exposed to include physical, environmental and educa-tional hazards. ILO (2007) opined the existence of child labour in cocoa farms in Ondo State of Nigeria and over 1,500 children were withdrawn from child labour, mainly throuh education/training options or health services, or prevented from starting such work. Over 500 parents/ guardians were trained in various income generating activities. In Nigeria, WACAP’s awareness-raising efforts centered on getting articles in national dailies and news and features ontelevision. The Ministers of Information and Labour were reported as praising WACAP for championing the campaign to eradicate child labour in agriculture (ILO, 2007).

Measures to reduce child labour

According to Udry (2004), the most effective way to draw children out of damaging work is to encourage school attendance. One way of doing so would be to improve school quality, and therefore increase the gain to attending school. Handa (2002), for example, argues that school enrollment in Mozambique is quite sensitive to the number of trained teachers. This is an important tool that is available to reduce child labor.

The most promising tool yet developed for reducing child labor is a targeted subsidy to families sending their children to school. In such a program, a grant is provided to the family of any child who is enrolled in school. The particular value of this intervention is that it addresses the root causes of child labor. It overcomes the problems associated with imperfect or nonexistent financial markets by balancing the current cost of moving a child out of the labor force and into school with a current grant. It addresses the main agency problem by providing current resources, thus, reducing the importance of inter-generational transfers. Subsidies for school enrollment is a useful tool in the effort to reduce child labor.

The effects of child labor are large for older children (10 - 13 year olds); younger children were unlikely to work even before the program. The program’s impact was to reduce the proportion of children working by almost 9 percentage points (from a base of 27%). The Food-For-Education program in rural Bangladesh is similar in spirit to the other two programs. The monthly payment is smaller; 15 to 25 percent of average monthly earnings for working children. Nevetheless, Ravallion and Wodon (1999) estimated that the FFE program moved primary school enrollment from approximately 75% to over 90%. Child labor force participation dropped as well (by about 30% for boys and by about 20% for girls).

Child labor can effectively be reduced by  subsidies  for school enrollment. This tool dominates alternatives because it addresses directly the tragic circumstances that impel families to send their children to work instead of school. An effective subsidy program is not un-reasonably expensive because the costs are tied to the low wages earned by child workers.

Women  at crossroads as agents of change

Women are to be on the frontlines of the fight against child labor. An empowered woman that understands the dangers associated with hazardous and exploitative child labor, and the power an education can have on changing the future for her children, can help reduce the number of child laborers and those at risk of becoming child laborers. An investment in women is an investment in  combating and ultimately eliminating child labor (CARE, 2007).

Women possess the skills and knowledge necessary for galvanizing community action to reduce and eliminate child labor, and improve the quality of community-level education.

Women stand at the crossroads when it comes to their impact on child labour. Empowered women are keenly aware of the dangers associated with child labour, and have proven vital to the success and sustainability of child labour efforts. On the other hand, women that are unaware of the hazards and exploitative conditions children face, and the power of education to mitigate these dangers, can fuel the premature entry of children into the workforce, contributing to lower academic performance and higher dropout rates. A comprehensive analysis of how women can mitigate or exacerbate rates of child labour is urgently needed.

Economic alternatives for families

When families have resources, knowledge and oppor-tunities to develop alternative forms of income, parents and caregivers  are more likely to withdraw their children from hazardous and exploitative child labor and encourage them to attend  and complete school.

Adult family members gain knowledge, skills and other capabilities that allow them to  find  alternative employment opportunities, increasing their incomes and elimina-ting the need for their children to work. According to CARE (2007), some action plans needs to be in place for success and these plans are,

1. Skills-training programs for parents and caregivers that will help increase their incomes and further their personal development.

2. Long-term commitments from families, donors, imple-menting agencies and local partner NGOs are secured at the   outset  of  a  project,  and  continue   even  after  the project ends.

3. Projects that  have a market-oriented focus.

4. Vocational training programs provide former child laborers and those at risk  with valuable life skills. The programs  should take into account the needs of the   local labor market as well as the opinions and beliefs of youths, parents and  caregivers - including mechanisms for holding trainers accountable.

5. Alliances with employers and technical institutions enable education programs to offer training in job-related skills.


To understand the household reactions to public inter-ventions is critical in designing programmes in order to achieve the MDGs. The research on child labour repre-sents in this respect a largely untapped resource of knowledge for policymakers in the fields of education  and poverty reduction programmes. In particular the research on child labour brings about vital information on the role of the labour market in fighting poverty, but these links are not  made in the intervention programmes. This paper has shown how child labour not only derives from poverty but adds to it through its effects on the labour market and education system. Eliminating child labour requires determined action across a broad front – economic, social and cultural norms. It cannot be eliminated solely by government action. A broad and committed coalition is needed – including educational institutions, teachers’ organizations, NGOs, mass media and community-based organizations, along with support from trade unions and employers’ organizations. The first task is to ensure effective legislation. This is important  but not sufficient. Most countries already prohibit child labour, and a small but growing number are establishing systems to monitor the situation and enforce the laws.


CARE, Cooperative for assistance and relief everywhere; CENFET, centre for non-formal education and training; CYPL, children and young persons law; EFA, education for all; FAO, food and agricultural organisation; FFE, food for education; ICFTU, international confederation of free trade unions; ILO, international labour organisation; IPEC, international program on the elimination of child labour; NGO, non-governmental organisation; SARD, sustainable agriculture and rural development; UN, united nations; UNCRC, united nations convention on rights of the child; UNICEF, united nations children’s fund; WACAP, programme to combat hazardous and exploitative child labour in cocoa/commercial agriculture in West Africa.


The authors have not declared any conflict of interests.


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