There has been uproar on social media since the Nigerian President described the Nigerian youths as “lazy”.  The claim has of course been refuted by all and sundry. You only need to look around and see so many Nigerian youth and children doing all sorts of odd and menial jobs just to survive.

This brings us to the question, is it legal for children to be put to work?

It is legal for children to work, but the work must be within the confines of the law.

Both the Labour Act of 1971 (s.59) and the Child’s Rights Act of 2003 (s.29) state that “no child shall be employed to work in any capacity except by a member of his family on light work of an agricultural, horticultural or domestic character or required in any case to lift, carry or move anything so heavy as to likely injure his physical development”.

According to both laws, “no young person under the age of fifteen years shall be employed or work in any industrial undertaking” Work done by young persons in technical schools approved and supervised by the State Ministry of Education or corresponding agency is however exempted.

Are you wondering about the little children hawking or begging on the street? This is illegal (thankfully). The Child’s Rights Act specifically states that children shall not be used for:

  1. for begging of alms, guiding beggars, prostitution, domestic or sexual labour or for any unlawful or immoral purpose
  • for hawking of goods or services on main city streets, brothels or highways 

How can a child who really and truly needs to work to assist the family? The Labour Act makes provisions for children in this category and gives specific guidelines for their employment.

A young person under the age of fourteen years may be employed on a daily basis, earning a daily wage and must return each night to residence of his parents or guardian.  This does not apply to a young person employed in domestic service.

No young person under the age of sixteen shall be employed to work underground, on machines or on a public holiday.

A young person under the age of sixteen shall not be employed in any employment that is dangerous to health, dangerous or immoral.

The consent of the parents or guardian of a young person under the age of sixteen should be obtained before the person is employed. Where the parents or guardian give notice to the employer orally or in writing that the young person is working against their wishes, the employer must immediately disengage the young person.

No young person under the age of sixteen shall be required to work for a period longer than four consecutive hours or permitted to work for more than eight working hours in one day. This rule does not apply to a young person employed in domestic service.

No person under the age of sixteen shall be employed to work at night. Night has been defined in Labour Act as a period of at least 12 consecutive hours including ten o’clock in the evening and six o’clock in the morning (for young people under 16) and seven o’clock in the morning (for young people over 16).

A young person over the age of sixteen can be employed to work in industrial undertakings where the nature of the process is required to be carried on continuously day and night

A young person over the age of sixteen may be employed to work at night in emergency situations which could not have been controlled or foreseen; are not of a periodic character and interfere with the normal working of an industrial undertaking.

With regards to the shipping industry, no young person under the age of fifteen years shall be employed in any vessel except where the vessel is a school or training vessel or a vessel where only the young person’s family are employed.

In conclusion, it is lawful for a child to work with the restrictions of the law and with the consent of his parents in the case of a child under 16.