By Fatima Lawal Abdullahi
The term ‘house help’ as the name implies refers to a consenting adult employed for the sake of helping with house chores. However, the term now has taken a whole new meaning and includes under aged people enslaved by adults who make them to shoulder difficult responsibilities for a meagre amount offered to their parents or guardians. Most of these children come from impoverished societies especially villages where poor living conditions force them to go in search of greener pastures in the cities. They are not only deprived of parental love but end up in modern day slavery compromising their freedom and right to good upbringing and education. Most of them are young girls between the ages of nine and fifteen years of age separated from their parents at a very critical stage in life. A recent estimate by the International Labour Organisation puts the number of working children under the age of 15 in Nigeria at 15 million, mostly from Northern Nigeria.
These children are distributed to homes in the cities by agents who are usually elderly illiterate women who engage in such business for financial gains with or without the knowledge of the parents. While some parents give out their children willingly, others are deceived by false promises of high expectations for their children’s future. Most parents do not care to know where their children are taken to; they only care about the material benefits leaving their children at the mercy of their unknown employers. They are subjected to difficult house chores and hawking in some cases, harmful and alien cultures and even molestation. Only a few lucky ones get employed by good families who cater for them and in most cases act as parents.
Despite calls by international and local organisations like NAPTIP (National Agency Prohibiting Trafficking in Person and other related matters) to control the menace of human trafficking, this practice seems to have no end in sight especially in the northern part of the country where the demand for these girls is increasing and cuts across all classes of the society. This could be attributed to high level of illiteracy and abuse of the rights of the girl child in villages where preference is shown for male children. The mothers send them out to work to gather enough for their marriage; their education is not considered important. The boys are to a lesser extent exposed to the ‘almajiri’ system. Most work in city homes or hawk on streets to earn a living as most of their teachers do not cater for them.
The negative impact of this trend is also felt by most employers especially working mothers. Some male family members end up having illicit relationships with these girls often with terrible outcomes of broken homes for the employers and prostitution for the girls. Children entrusted to these girls also end up being maltreated or corrupted by these girls who are mostly ill-mannered.
The solution to this serious societal ill is the adoption of legal ways of employing adult house helps through registered agencies. We should teach our own children to perform house chores as soon as they come of age to reduce our reliability on house helps. Married women should do away with laziness and take their marriages and family responsibilities seriously.
Fatima Lawal Abdullahi is a student of Bayero University, Kano.