Child labour remains a global health concern and an issue that significantly burdens developing countries, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa. Considering its effect on children’s education, development, health and wellbeing, international organisations have called for the early elimination of the practice for the betterment of society. In the poorest countries in the world around one in four children is engaged in child labour. There are many aspects to child labour which are important, for example, child prostitution, child trafficking and use of children in armed conflict among others. It is not feasible to take on board every aspect of child labour at the same time without the tendency of failure to produce meaningful analysis. In order to make analysis essential and vital in addressing the child labour practice, this study chose hazardous child labour relating to ‘street working children'- more specifically children on the street. This is the most predominant and visible form of child labour in Nigeria. Due to the lack of a well-defined child labour criteria and up-to-date national statistics, child labour practice in the country remains unclear as international statistics of the phenomenon in the region continues to peak despite the recorded decrease in other regions of the world. This study thus aimed to explore the experiences of Nigerian children and their parents/guardians who work on the streets of Benin City in order to provide an in-depth understanding of the reasons why they work and how working subsequently affects them.


Qualitative grounded theory approach was adopted for this study. This approach involved systematic and simultaneous data collection and data analysis process. It also eased and underpinned the use of more than one method of data collection. Data were collected from children on the street and their respective parent/guardian- to provide a holistic family insight on child street work. Eight semi-structured interviews were conducted with adults and nine children were involved in this study through storytelling.


Children on the street and their families do not consider themselves child labourers. Street working children are a highly heterogeneous group- and among them is a category of children called children on the street. Rather than poverty, family and other regional and global dynamics are significant factors for why children work on the street, as well as the subsequent impact on the children. Identifying the role of distinctive features of child labour is not only crucial in understanding the reasons, but also the impact of working on the child, and the incidence of child labour is greatly influenced by families, the government and the general representation of the practice. It is problematic when researchers continuously present child labour arguments to either support or oppose the notion that children work for money. Each side of the argument does not sufficiently recognise the different narratives of these working families, and lives of children in different contexts, especially of those that work on the street. With recognition and understanding, each side of the argument could be valid and right depending on the family's situation. Furthermore, it helps reconcile the differences in opinions which over time have generated several arguments in child labour discourse. There may not be a wrong on right answer to the justification of certain aspects of child labour, rather an understanding of child work within different contexts - this approach provides consideration for work principles, desires of working children and highlights heterogeneity of child labour debate and analyses.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Children who work on the street are a distinct subset of child labourers that, like other children, attend school and receive support from their parents/guardians. This study's findings on child labour challenge the popular abolitionist approach, which supports the ban of all work children conduct. The abolitionist approach does not only ignore the circumstance/context of street work and appreciate family's effort to support the child, a ban on their activities may also further marginalise them or deny them the opportunity for better futures. In extreme cases, it may force them into unconditional worst forms of child labour. In viewing child labour as a coping strategy, interventions aimed at child labour should not only focus on eradicating the practice rather see the need to refine it in terms of redefining the meaning of child labour, promoting and protecting the child's overall health and wellbeing. Also, involving children in research on issues affecting them is a contemporary way of thinking in research, and is likely to be the future of social research. Therefore, there is a need for a contextual definition of child labour beyond ILO Conventions 182 and 138; and in this case, one that recognises children's opinions and context- specific nature of work.




This chapter offers an introduction to this research - a description of the problem under study, the rationale for conducting this research, the research question, aim and the objectives of this work. Also, this chapter provides an overview of the structure of the entire thesis.

Child labour is negatively portrayed in several works of literature and rightfully so. The aspect of street work as a form of child labour is one of particular interest not only because of documented impact on the wellbeing and education of children and the need for the phenomenon to be addressed in several contexts, rather the topic was also selected because the researcher was a street working child and was eager to positively contribute to the lives of street working children in Nigeria. The lived experience of the researcher should not only be considered a potential for bias, but a legitimate base for making certain arguments regarding the context and the topic of interest.

The Problem understudy

Child labour is a global concern, and many works of literature are calling for an end to the practice in all its forms. Over 218 million children aged between 5 and 17 years are in employment worldwide (International Labour Organisation, ILO, 2017a). Due to the potential and actual negative impact on the children’s education, health and wellbeing, the topic remains a global health issue, especially among developing countries. The ILO (2017b) 2012-2016 Global Estimate report on the trend of child labour concluded that there had been a global reduction in child labour between years 2012 to 2016, this recorded decrease is consistent with the decreasing global trend for over a decade since the inception and first publication of ILO Global Estimates on child labour in the year 2000. This document is the most current and comprehensive global report on child labour because it utilised data from 105 national household surveys, covered over 70% of the global children population aged 5-17years as well as covered all world regions. As such, its findings significantly underpin several arguments presented in this study.

Africa and the Asia and Pacific regions rank highest in child labour prevalence, and collectively both continents harbour nine out of every ten children involved in child labour around the world; with the ILO (2017b) also identifying Sub-Saharan Africa as the region with the highest incidence of child labour. In line with the above stated global reductions recorded in the ILO (2017) Global Estimate trend report, one would expect a significant reduction in child labour statistics in Africa and the region. This study holds such expectations not only because the region accounts for the highest population of child labourers, but also because the region has produced and implemented specific policies and interventions aimed to reduce these levels of child labour, over the last 16 years.

Furthermore, in 2016, the United Nations International Children’s Fund, UNICEF, (2016) and International Labour Organisation, ILO, global database showed an increase in child labour practice in Sub-Saharan Africa from 21% to 28% among children aged 5-14 years. According to the ILO (2017a) report, despite the number of targeted policies which was carried out by the African governments to address child labour, Sub-Saharan Africa witnessed a rise in child labour during 2012-2016, while every other region recorded a decline. The ILO (2017a) executive summary called for a breakthrough in Africa because it has the highest incidence and prevalence rates of child labour, stating a reduction in the region would be critical and significant in ending child labour globally and achieving the Sustainable developmental goal of ending child labour in all forms by 2025. Besides, the summary attributed the retrogression in the region to broader demographic and economic factors which contradict government efforts; yet, stated the need for more research on why child labour statistics fail to decrease in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Child labour continues to be a topic of academic concern and policy-making in Africa (Kazeem, 2013). The practice has been argued to be beneficial to children (Young Lives, 2016; Okyere, 2013, 2012; Katz, 2004; Robson, 2004), as well as detrimental to their wellbeing (Abubakar-Abdullateef, Adedokun and Omigbodun, 2017; Kazeem, 2013). There is still no consensus in child labour discourse in the region- as there is a divide in arguments on the phenomenon relating to its impact on children, likewise its causes.

Nigeria is a Sub-Saharan nation where child labour remains a significant concern, despite legislative measures (ILO, 2014). The documented national child labour survey in Nigeria was in 2000-2001; and up until now, no subsequent report/survey has been conducted or documented. The Nigerian government may have failed to conduct national surveys because they do not possess the necessary funds or they have no desire or incentives to do so. The report further stated the lack of state, zonal and national statistics on various aspects and trends of child labour in the region was a drawback in implementing effective policies to address the phenomena (International Programme on the Elimination of Child labour, IPEC, and Federal Office of Statistics of Nigeria, 2001). Due to the enormous and complex nature of child labour phenomenon, it is challenging to address the issue without identifying and especially choosing the aspect of it. This study solely focuses on the hazardous form of child labour (children on the street) in Benin City, Nigeria. Hazardous work is a form of child labour, and an example of such is street working children.

Research Rationale

Child labour phenomenon occurrence is very significant in Sub-Saharan Africa. Children are the future of any society, and their wellbeing is necessary for them to thrive and become productive individuals within respective households and the community (Nakray, 2015). Certain types of labour have been reported by several NGO’s (ILO, 2018; World Health Organisation, WHO, 2018; United Nations International Children’s Fund, 2017) and independent researchers to jeopardise children’s future. Calculations from the most recent ILO Global Estimates on the trends of child labour indicate that statistics from Sub-Saharan Africa contradicts recorded child labour reductions from other parts of the world, despite the targeted policy against child labour implementation by the African governments. As a result, the ILO, (2017b) called for more research into why such is the case. The proportion in which African children are involved in child labour is more than twice as high as in any other region of the world; and the practice involves one-fifth of all African children (ILO, 2018). According to the ILO, progress against child labour seems to have stalled in Africa. Consequently, this study sets out to investigate child labour practice (specifically- children on the street) in Benin City, to contextualise and elucidate the practice in the region.

There is still no clear and unanimous conceptualisation of the practice in the region. This work argues that the lack of clear and consistent argument on the subject matter makes it difficult to address; as the main reasons for child labour analysis and discussion is to inform policymaking (Basu and Van, 1998a). Thus, if researchers' analyses and arguments on child labour contrast too much, the usefulness of their analyses may become redundant to policymakers, as there is no clear direction on how to adequately address the practice.

Aside the lack of consensus in child labour debates, the issue of child labour in Sub-Saharan Africa has received much more attention from International Organisations (such as the WHO, UNICEF and ILO) and the Western world. Likely presenting Eurocentric views and constructs as the universal knowledge and idea about child labour. In these African countries, the views on child labour have been argued to be constructed by the Western world, likewise Eurocentric (Omorogiuwa, 2017), rather than by the indigenous people who practice it and who are directly affected by it. Said (1987), Spivak (1988) and Bhabha (1994) have identified problems with the representation of colonised societies by the West. Further, they stress the importance of ensuring and facilitating a medium for marginalised majority world citizens to speak and be heard.

It is also important to acknowledge that children who work on the street are exposed to manufactured risk (especially of harm and abuse), a distinctive attribute synonymous with modern society (Beck, 1992). The levels of risk has been the foundation for several argument on child labour, likewise the reason for divide in opinions. The nature and attitude towards ‘risk’ on the street needs to be expounded- highlighting the role of the government and parents/guardians. Nevertheless, in all this, the stories of the children have been prioritised and given special precedence for two reasons. First, it is children’s right for their views and opinions to be respected at all times and not undermined or disregarded. Second, the street is their world within which they have grown, navigated, experienced and directly or indirectly learnt from, regardless of the idea of the modern world and changes in the nature of risk within it. As such, similarly to adults, they should be allowed to participate in discourses on child labour. Children’s voices in this study were therefore considered relevant and highly legitimate because failing to do so would not only be unethical (Graham et al., 2013) but also socially unjust (Fraser, 2007).

Furthermore, from the search of the literature, there is limited current and robust research on the phenomenon in Nigeria, and child labour studies in the region are mostly quantitative, with very few qualitative studies that included children’s perspectives in the research methodology. Studies conducted on the subject matter have been mostly surveys, and this is not an effective means to highlight people's opinions and beliefs about the practice. Therefore, there is the need for more insight into the ‘why's, just as there is on the ‘how many'. As a result, using qualitative paradigm, this research seeks to elucidate and explore the experiences of Nigerian children and their parents/guardians on the street to give an in-depth understanding of the reasons for child street work practices in Benin City. Though the literature suggests child labour can be detrimental as well as beneficial; this study attempts to investigate and identify the impact of such form of child labour on children from the experiences of children themselves and the perspectives of their respective parents/guardians. As earlier stated in section 1.1 this study defines child labour within the scope of child street work because it is the most predominant form of child labour in major cities in Nigeria (Edewor, 2014). This study further discussed other forms of child labour in detail in chapter two of this work.

Research Question

What are the reasons for child street work in Nigeria, and how does it impact on children and their education?

Aim of Study

This work aims to elicit the reasons children work on the streets in Benin City and identify how working impacts on the children’s wellbeing and education.

Objectives of the Study

● To identify the types of children that work on the street

● To tell children’s stories and experiences of working on the street.

● To elucidate the meaning of street child work in Benin City.

● To elicit the reasons for street child work, likewise its impact on children and their families.

● To contribute to the understanding of the role of poverty and child education in street

working activities.

● To facilitate knowledge and understanding of street working activities in Benin City.

● To provide recommendations on effective ways to foster the wellbeing of street children in Benin City, as well as strategies to eliminate harmful child street work.

Structure of the Thesis

This work is arranged in six different chapters- each telling a story and addressing different aspects of this work.

Chapter One

This chapter offers a general overview of this research- the research statement, research question, aims and objectives.

Chapter Two

Chapter two provides a detailed background review of the existing body of literature on the subject area. Literature review chapter would be divided into two sections: the first section presents carefully selected studies that offer insight on the child labour phenomenon globally, while the second offers discussions within the context of Nigeria- mainly focusing on children who only work on the streets of Benin City. In giving an overview of child labour practice, the chapter highlights the complexity of the issue by discussing child labour definition, global statistics, documented causes, impacts and forms.

Chapter Three

Chapter three tells the reader how the researcher conducted this study. It provides insight into how and why this study included children and further elucidates on the framework of this study’s adopted inquiry- strategy for inquiry, ethical considerations, methodological considerations, and philosophical assumptions. It further states the theoretical underpinnings and conceptual framework for the study. Poverty and child education are two major themes in the child labour discussion; this chapter utilises UNCRC, ILO Conventions on child labour, some Marxist ideas and globalisation theories to re-conceptualise child street work in Nigeria concerning these themes and the general practice in Nigeria. This approach offers a theoretical insight as to why some households send children to work on the street. Also, selected theories were chosen to underpin this study’s overall research question and significance to study.

Chapter Four

This chapter is divided into three parts, each providing details of the context, stories told and interpretation respectively. It provides the rich narrative of the stories of street working children and reports findings. Chapter four contextualises this study- as it discusses the socio-cultural context within which this study was carried out, describing the history of Benin City, the language of the people, the meaning of ‘street’ and the lifestyle of street vendors. The chapter also offers operational definition to the terms frequently used within this study.

Chapter Five and Six

These chapters discuss findings with the existing literature on the subject matter, as well as offer a conclusion based on findings. Further providing recommendations on child labour practice in Nigeria.

Contribution to Knowledge

● This work is the first qualitative study on child labour in Nigeria that included children on the street and their respective parents/guardian in data collection. As a result, this study offers insight on the practice not only from adults but also from children; consequently providing valuable insight into children’s experiences as street workers within the household and on the street. Further providing a degree of understanding of how the practice truly impacts on families. Considering conducted studies in Nigeria have limited child contribution, this research gave children a voice- by offering a platform for children to tell their stories as the main actors in the subject matter.

● The method of data collection applied by this research is unique within the context of this work. The sampled children are a heterogeneous group (different educational level, street activity and living situation); therefore, a comic leaflet was explicitly designed for child participants' in-place of a participant information sheet, and it facilitated understanding among the different groups of children. The use of comic leaflet by this study is a novel approach to child labour research in Nigeria. This approach further ensured ethical principles of respect and justice, ensuring no child was categorically left out due to their educational level or age.

● Also, Nigerian research methods are yet to explore the combination of comic leaflet and storytelling. The belief that children are different from adults, with varying opinions, significantly underpins this study to facilitate the understanding of their life as street workers in Benin City; it is crucial to employ an effective method that is apt for their knowledge, competence, opinions with study’s context. Aside from facilitating understanding, this study's adopted approach to data collection with children empowered children as it enabled them to take control of the process and also minimise power imbalance that potentially occurs during interviews with children. The use of child- friendly methods and techniques minimises power differential (Einarsdóttir, 2007). Including them in this study upholds their right as stipulated by the UNCRC, Article 12- which states that children have the right to give their opinions, be heard and be taken seriously by adults.

● Lastly, another contribution of this research is the development and design of the ‘contextual supply of child labour model’. This model/theory is a ‘findings driven’ representation of child labour activities that put across a range of family, regional and global factors in the discussion of child labour. This model can potentially be transferred to similar settings with the same degree of ecological validity. The use and development of this model are original to this study; as it emerged as the core category from the data analysis.

Chapter Summary

Child labour practice remains a global and academic concern and a potential threat to the wellbeing of children who are involved in it. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of child labour, and Nigeria is one of the largest Sub-Saharan economies, and one highly overwhelmed with the phenomenon. Interventions aimed at addressing the issue in the region have been ineffective as International, and national reports indicate the practice is still widespread in the region, despite the falling statistics in other parts of the world.

This study aimed to contextualise and frame the practice of child street work to inform effective policy making in the region, considering the limited number of available robust studies (several surveys and only a few qualitative studies) and lack of consensus on arguments on the subject matter. Also, this work attempts to offer an indigenous representation of child work which contributes to the overall discourse on child labour in the region by providing an in-depth understanding of the reasons for and impact of street work practice on children in Benin City. Though the first of its kind in child labour research in the region, the method developed and utilised in collecting data from children has the potential to facilitate the inclusion of children in researches; especially about issues that directly impact upon their lives, and in societies where the child's voice(s) are not readily acknowledged.



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