• Sad tales of child maids enslaved, battered by bosses

    Sad tales of child maids enslaved battered by bosses - nigeria newspapers online
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    Mr Henry Oyibio’s death hit his family like a thunderbolt. He was a large-scale farmer based in Benue State and father to four girls who were all under nine when he passed.

    His wife, Glory, lived in Akwa Ibom State with the girls, while he worked in Benue and came home only during the holidays.

    After a few years of farming, Glory said Henry decided to go into food processing.

    He had yet to begin work in his production house when he died days after undergoing a procedure.

    That was in 2016.

    Confusion enveloped Glory. She did not know what to do or how to tell her girls that they had nothing to fall back on after their father’s passing.

    According to Glory, her husband borrowed money from a lot of banks to set up the processing plant in Benue with plans of paying them in instalments when the plant became operational.

    He died before even paying the first instalment, leaving a mountain of debts for her to pay.

    “I was mourning the death of my husband and the heap of debts on my head. It was like I was going to die. The pain was too much,” Glory said, looking forlorn.

    Two weeks into her husband’s death, she said things became so tough that she had to borrow to feed.

    The farmers, whom her husband had worked with, according to her, kept giving excuses why they could not remit cash to her.

    Days after, some tools in Henry’s unopened production house were allegedly stolen.

    She confronted the workers to explain and involved the police but, they (workers) said the theft could not have been done by them, as Henry had yet to pay them for some months before his death, which made them stop work weeks before he died.

    Since she was her husband’s next of kin, the banks came for her head, asking that she started servicing the loan.

    “I owned a small fish farm at that time. It was not yielding much profit but I didn’t feel it because my husband was alive then. But, with his passing, the farm was useless to me and the four children. The last one was not even up to three years old then.

    “I was confused. I did not know what to do. I had to make drastic decisions,” she said.

    Her girls stopped schooling, as she could no longer afford the fees.

    They were to enrol in a nearby government school in Uyo, where they lived but then there was a rent issue.

    Everything was happening too fast and Glory had yet to get a grasp of any.

    “My husband did everything for me. He paid the rent, fed the kids, paid their fees, funded my accounts, everything. I almost ran mad trying to understand how to take care of the children on my own,” Glory added, with her eyes now soaked in tears.

    After her husband’s burial, Glory said her mother, who was at Ikot Abasi, a Local Government Area in Akwa Ibom, told her to come back to the village with her kids.

    It was almost Christmas that year and she said she needed the rest, fleeing from all her creditors in Uyo.

    It was in that place she met Mrs Okorie, a middle-aged woman, who came home with her husband for Christmas and needed a maid.

    “A friend in the village told me that one Mrs Okorie was looking for a maid, and my first girl, Mmeyene, could be of help.

    “She said the pay was good and Mmeyene would live in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and school there. She would only be in the estate and do nothing other than take care of the home when Mrs Okorie was gone,” Glory said.

    After much hesitation, she said she told her daughter, who did not struggle with the decision.

    Mmeyene, Glory noted, told her mother that she would go stay with the Okories since it would ease her pain.

    “My daughter had always been an independent person who lived on her own even while she was under my roof. She did not talk much. Unlike Ufonobong, her younger sister, Mmeyene was utterly quiet, and I was scared of releasing her to anyone but what do I do?” Glory asked as she hissed, shrugging.

    Glory’s first meeting with the Okories was in a church.

    She had informed the new pastor of a local church she attended in the village and he told her that the meeting should be held in the church.

    According to her, the pastor, her child and she waited for hours before the Okories finally showed up.

    They apologised for their lateness and asked to see the young girl who would be staying with them in Port Harcourt.

    The Okories, Glory claimed, promised to foot Mmeyene’s school fees ‘to any level of education she wanted if she remained loyal to them’.

    They also promised to pay her N20,000 every month, which would be sent to Glory’s bank account.

    Glory said it seemed everything was perfect until Mr Okorie stood up and left abruptly after having a muffled argument with his wife about something.

    “It looked odd, but I didn’t see it as anything. Husband and wife quarrel a lot,” she added.

    The bargaining went on for a few more minutes and the pastor who had been a quiet observer asked that prayers be offered to God.

    They left that night and the weight of the decision Glory made began to eat her up.

    Her child, in four days, would be leaving for a strange place to work as a maid for total strangers, whom she had only met once.

    Worried that she might be making a wrong decision, she spoke to her mother, Uwak, who told her that there was nothing wrong with that as long as she received her pay.

    She spoke to Mmeyene again, trying to be sure she was okay with it, but the young girl, in her usual fashion, according to Glory, said almost nothing.

    It is December 29, 2016, and Mrs Okorie came in a car, parked in front of her small compound and honked loudly.

    Mmeyene and Glory emerged from the small bungalow they managed with Uwak, and for a moment, Glory said the world stopped right before her.

    She said she almost did not want to give her child up but as she remembered that she had three more mouths to feed, including hers, she put one leg in front of the other and handed Mmeyene over to the Okories.

    Mr Okorie did not come down from the car, but she paid him no mind.

    As her daughter turned her back and walked into the car, Glory said she cried in stifling silence.

    Mrs Okorie, according to Glory, promised to bring Mmeyene every Christmas back home to see her mother, but that was the last time she saw Mmeyene ‘whole’ again.

    Glory said for weeks, she did not hear from the Okories as to whether they got to Port Harcourt safely and how her daughter was doing.

    Everyone told her to calm down and that things could not have been that bad, but she said she knew something was wrong.

    She kept trying the phone number given to her by the Okories but it was not connecting. It went straight to a voicemail after beeping for a few seconds.

    After two months, Glory said she got a call from a private number. It was Mrs Okorie, who asked her to send her account number, as she had lost the one Glory gave her.

    Before she could ask after her daughter’s welfare, the line went dead. She told her mother about it and she claimed Uwak kept making excuses for Mrs Okorie’s attitude.

    For six months, Glory said she only spoke to her daughter twice and those two times, it was Mrs Okorie calling to tell her to come and pick up her daughter, as she was too stubborn or she had broken something or spoilt an appliance.

    “It was like she had a list of offences Mmeyene committed. She would mention one, she would give me a date; I would beg; she would go on with another; and I would beg her yet again.

    “I begged her to manage my child because I thought Mmeyene was being difficult, as she was always used to luxury. I was also busy fighting my late husband’s business partners with the police but without money, you know how things go in this country? I never knew my daughter was going through hell in Port Harcourt,” Glory said with tears welling up.

    One time, when Mrs Okorie called to complain, Glory said she heard her daughter crying in the background.

    When she enquired, Mrs Okorie claimed to be ‘correcting’ her.

    Glory said as she begged Mrs Okorie to be kinder to her daughter, she (Glory) wept.

    That was the last time she heard from the Okories until December 2017, when they came home for the Christmas celebration without Mmeyene.

    Glory also said she received payment from the family for only three months, which amounted to N60,000.

    According to the mother of four, the Okories did not have the courtesy to visit her to explain why her first child was not there with them.

    “I went to their house because the woman (Mrs Okorie) is an Akwa Ibomite like me. It is her husband that is Igbo. I spoke to her in Ibibio, shouting and wailing, and she came out to meet me like nothing happened. She asked me to stand up, as I was already rolling on the floor, calling on God to intervene.

    “She said my daughter was in a boarding school and she did not see the need to make her travel far to see me since the school would vacate in January. It was not clear because I know every school closes to celebrate Christmas, but I don’t know why I believed her. I wish I didn’t,” she said.

    Glory said the Okories gave her a cash gift of N50,000 and asked if she had another child to give to them to live with them as ‘their family had become large’.

    “My other child was seven years old and I knew that it was a bad decision to make her go stay with these people who I couldn’t call except they called me, but I needed my daughter to have a better life than I was giving her.

    “I thought that a family who could just dash me N50,000 for Christmas and offered to take another of my daughter was a good one,” she added.

    Glory, however, noted that she did not see Mr Okorie this time, as he did not visit the village. Mrs Okorie also did not come with any of her children and she did not stay for long.

    According to her, the day Mrs Okorie came for Cecilia, her seven-year-old daughter, was the day she (Mrs Okorie) left the village for Port Harcourt.

    After a week, Glory said she did not hear from Mrs Okorie, but she said she did not bother since she knew it was her attitude.

    She, however, claimed that she got an alert of N80,000 in January. She told her mother, Uwak, who had become very sick, and she (Uwak) said she had a bad feeling about the girls, adding that she should go and get back her kids.

    After a few weeks, Mrs Okorie called and complained about the kids, stressing that they were too stubborn to live with.

    She added that she would send both of them back, which Glory accepted.

    On the said day when the kids were to return, Glory said she did not see them; neither did she get any phone call from them.

    She said she could not leave her dying mother and two kids in the village in search of her daughters in Port Harcourt, so she involved a pastor, Theophilus Assam, who promised to use his sources in Port Harcourt to trace the children’s whereabouts.

    It was Theophilus who found out that Cecilia, the seven-year-old, stayed with another family in Rumuorji, Port Harcourt, while Mmeyene stayed in an extension of the main building where the Okories lived, where she took care of Mrs Okorie’s aged mother.

    It was also clear that the two girls did not go to school and they were kept in solitary confinement without access to communication to the outside world.

    “It was when Mmeyene went to get medication in a nearby pharmacy that my pastor friend in Port Harcourt saw her and introduced himself. She refused to talk at first, saying her madam would kill her.

    “She eventually opened up when the man said he was a pastor and mentioned her mother’s name. She did not say much but we knew she was in danger,” she added.

    Glory said as she was preparing to go to Port Harcourt to see how she could retrieve the girls from the hands of their ‘captors’, her mother, Uwak, passed on.

    “It was a tough period for my family. Within two years, I had lost two important people to me, and I was on the verge of giving up,” she said.

    Pastor Theophilus, according to Glory, offered to take two of her children in while she went in search of the others.

    The church raised some money for her and she set out for Port Harcourt.

    She said when she got to the address given to her by Theophilus and she saw the large black gate with high fences, she knew she had to take her children back with her.

    Glory said the gatekeeper told her she needed an appointment to see ‘madam’.

    When she said she was the mother of the girls who stayed with her, mentioning their names, the security said nobody with the names lived in the apartment.

    It took the police to uncover that Mrs Okorie changed Mmeyene’s name to Calista. She also sent off Cecilia to live with one of her friends in Orazi, Port Harcourt, as a maid, where she (Mrs Okorie) received N50,000 per month on her behalf.

    “When I saw my children, they were halfway gone. My fair daughters had turned to something else. They looked malnourished and pale.

    “One of them had this terrible cough. She kept coughing for the next four months or more after I took her back home to Ikot Abasi for Mama Uwak’s funeral,” she said.

    She said the police dragged the matter and involved a lawyer, who told her to collect a settlement for her daughters. She also alleged that she started receiving death threats.

    Much later, she said she learnt that Mr Okorie had long relocated abroad and divorced his wife. She was eventually compensated with N150,000 and asked not to bring the matter up again.

    Her daughters, despite many attempts, refused to give any account of what went on in their ‘places of assignments’, although Glory said they told her when they came back that they were subjected to inhumane treatments and did hard chores without resting.

    According to her, Cecilia claimed to be hawking pineapples and watermelons for the lady she stayed with.

    “You know I did not go to school. My National Certificate of Education, I have not even finished it since 2005. I am a nobody; I don’t want any problem with big people,” she said.

    Requesting a contact number with which could reach out to the Okories to get a response from Glory was abortive.

    However, Pastor Theophilus gave this reporter a mobile number believed to be that of Mrs Okorie.

    When our correspondent called and introduced himself, the voice from the other end said, “Go on; I am listening to you.”

    As our correspondent narrated the incident, she said, “I don’t have anything to say. We have settled the matter” and hung up the call immediately.

    Further calls and text messages were not responded to as of press time.

    The then Investigating Police Officer, identified only as Inspector Ken, said he had retired from the force and could not speak about the matter.

    He, however, stressed that the police had resolved the issue with the family.

    Glory said she was relocating to Abuja, where a Good Samaritan had offered her a job as a school administrator.

    She stated that Mmeyene was taking this year’s West African Senior School Certificate Examination, adding that she got a scholarship from a foundation in 2022 for her academic performance.

    While the Oyibios were able to retrieve two of their daughters, the family of James Korshima-Achirkpi lost their nine-year-old daughter after her life was cut short by her madam.

    According to him, the child was beaten to death for sleeping while her boss, identified only as Ujunwa, was ‘busy feeding her child’.

    The Benue man said he met Ujunwa through a family friend, Mrs Mary Okoroafor, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in March 2022.

    Because of how close he got with Okoroafor, he said he didn’t hesitate to give her one of his nieces as a maid.

    He recalled that after a few months of the teenager living with Okoroafor, the latter returned to say one of her friends, who lived on New Haven Estate, Enugu, needed a young girl who would ‘stay with her and play with her newborn’.

    Further enquires by the Benue indigene revealed that the said woman’s husband lived in the United States.

    “I decided to give my biological daughter, Precious, to Ujunwa. Mary connected Ujunwa to me and we discussed it over the phone.

    “Ujunwa, who said she was from Ebonyi State, told me that she lived in Enugu State and that her husband lived abroad. She said she just wanted a young girl who would live with her and play with her newborn baby, who was four months old at that time.

    “Ujunwa promised to see her through school and help her out with other things. So, I decided to send my nine-year-old daughter to her. This was around March 2022.

    “I didn’t meet Ujunwa physically for one day. After we spoke and I was convinced, I put her on a bus from Port Harcourt and sent her to Ujunwa in Enugu State.

    “Ujunwa discussed with the driver and they finalised how they were going to pick her up and take her home,” he told amid tears.

    He noted that he never suspected any maltreatment from Ujunwa for the five months Precious lived with her before the unfortunate incident that led to her death, as she always called her on video to ask if anything was wrong.

    James said Ujunwa lied to the police that she was kidnapped alongside the child, who was killed by kidnappers, only for them to find out that she beat the child to death, and travelled with the corpse to a nearby village where she buried the remains.

    The National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 placed a child to be below 12 years.

    However, Nigeria signed and domesticated the UN Convention 1989 on the Rights of a Child. Article 1 of this convention defined a child to be, ‘… every human being below the age of 18 years…’

    This age has been adopted and included in statutes like the Criminal and Penal Code, Children and Young Persons Act, among others.

    The Bureau of International Labour Affairs in its Child Labour and Forced Labour Report noted that in 2021, Nigeria made moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

    That was the year the government validated the National Policy on Child Labour and the National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour (2021–2025).

    The Ministry of Labour and Employment also created a new programme to provide vulnerable households with seed capital to fund new businesses in areas with high rates of child labour.

    However, children in Nigeria are subjected to the worst forms of child labour, including commercial sex exploitation and armed conflict as well as quarrying granite and artisanal mining.

    Many are sent off by their parents as maids at a very tender age and they go through debilitating working conditions.

    This has led to the death of many in the hands of ruthless employees, who are mostly women who need assistance with house chores and childcare.

    Some of these children are shipped off as sex slaves, while many are trafficked to become child porn providers.

    The Child’s Right Act (2003) is against the use of children as cheap labour but it has been adopted by only 29 of Nigeria’s 36 states (including the Federal Capital Territory), leaving the remaining seven states in northern Nigeria with legal statutes that do not meet international standards for the prohibition of children in illicit activities.

    In addition, the minimum age for work in the Labour Act does not apply to children who are self-employed or working in the informal economy.

    The United Nations International Children’s Education Fund reported that as of January 2022, at least 10.5 million children or one-third of all Nigerian children are out of school, making it the highest out-of-school rate in the world.

    Northeastern and northwestern states have female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 per cent and 47.3 per cent.

    Although free and compulsory education is federally mandated by the Education Act, little enforcement of compulsory education laws occurs at the state level.

    US Labour advised Nigeria to raise the minimum age for work to when education is compulsory.

    “Ensure that the types of work determined to be hazardous for children are prohibited by law or regulation for all children under age 18.

    “Significantly increase the number of labour inspectors to meet the ILO’s technical advice. Ensure that a mechanism exists for enforcing existing protections for children working in the informal sector. Ensure that there are penalties imposed for the worst forms of child labour. Adopt a policy that addresses all relevant worst forms of child labour, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced child labour in granite, gravel, and cocoa production,” part of the document read.

    The Anambra State Police Command in alliance with officials of the state Ministry of Women and Social Welfare arrested a 25-year-old mother of three, Mrs Chinyere Ifesinachi, for abusing her eight-year-old house help.

    The incident happened at Nkpor in the Idemili North LGA of the state.

    In a video circulated on social media, the girl, Idimmachukwu, was beaten by Ifesinachi because she mistakenly dropped the baby she (Idimmachukwu) was carrying.

    The video showed bruises of varying kinds, open sores and marks of healed injuries. The battered child, who wore outfits better fitting as rags, narrated how Ifesinachi starved her for days and still asked her to do all the house chores.

    On how she got the latest injuries, she said the 25-year-old woman pounded her with a pestle and broke her left arm.

    After the beating of that day, she said her eyes could no longer open, but her madam was not having it. She beat her some more that morning and ordered her to take out the trash. It was in that process that the neighbours noticed and began to question her.

    The police later rescued the girl who was taken into custody to ensure her safety where she was receiving treatment in a hospital.

    The state Police Public Relations Officer, Tochukwu Ikenga, said the woman was arrested, alongside her husband.

    Ikenga said, “The CP frowned at such inhuman treatment subjected to some housemaids by their guardians and assured that the command would continue to do everything within its power to protect the vulnerable from such treatment.”

    – NAPTIP

    The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons in 2018 revealed that there were 15 million children engaged in domestic child labour in Nigeria.

    The NAPTIP Act of 2015 warns that “any person who employs, requires, recruits, transports, harbours, receives or hires out a child under the age of 12 years as a domestic worker commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment”.

    gathered that the government had shelters to cater to children found in such situations.

    “NAPTIP currently operates eight such shelters across the country with a stay time limited to six weeks.

    “It also provides counselling and rehabilitation for rescued children. Victims requiring longer periods of care are transferred to other non-governmental organisations.

    “When a case of any underaged child employed in domestic labour is reported, it is channelled through units that monitor and investigate it,” a NAPTIP official who spoke to Aljazeera noted.

    Street Lawyer Naija, an online resource, in 2020, in an article titled, ‘Penalty for employing a child as housemaid/house help in Nigeria,’ noted that Section 28 of the Child Rights Act talks about prohibiting the use of children in a way which exploits them for labour.

    It stated, “ Subject to this Act, no child shall be subjected to any forced or exploitative labour or employed to work in any capacity except where he is employed 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 be likely to adversely affect his physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development; or employed as a domestic help outside his own home or family environment.

    “No child shall be employed or work in an industrial undertaking and nothing in this subsection shall apply to work done by children in technical schools or similar approved institutions if the work is supervised by the appropriate authority.”

    Also, it is an offence under Section 23 (1) of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act to “[…] employ, require, recruit, transport, harbour, receive or hire out a child under the age of 12 years as a domestic worker…”

    Section 28 (3) and (4) of the Child Rights Act mentions the penalty attached to the contravention of the laws listed in subsections (1) and (2) above.

    “Any person who contravenes any provision of subsection (1) or (2) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N50,000 or imprisonment for a term of five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

    “Where an offence under this section is committed by a body corporate, any person who at the time of the commission of the offence was a proprietor, director, general manager or other similar officers, servant or agent of the body corporate shall be deemed to have jointly and severally committed the offence and may be liable on conviction to a fine of N250,000,” part of the law read.

    Under Section 23 (1)(a) of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, the penalty for contravening the law is a minimum conviction term of six months and not exceeding seven years.

    Subsection 2(a) and (b) of the same statute also added that “notwithstanding the punishment prescribed in subsection 1 of this section, a convicted person under this section shall, in addition to the prescribed punishment, be liable to a term of not less than two years imprisonment where the child is denied payment or reasonable compensation for services rendered or; a term of not less than three years where the child is defiled or inflicted with grievous bodily harm.”

    Another lawyer, Mrs Selena Onuoha, stated that inasmuch as child labour and ‘underage housekeeping’ had become a norm in Nigeria, it was still unlawful for a child to be employed as a home help.

    “The rights of the child are paramount and it is morally and legally wrong to exploit or deny a child of his/her basic rights and needs,” she added.

    Another lawyer, Onyekachi Umah, said it was a criminal offence in all parts of Nigeria to employ, recruit, transport, harbour, receive or hire any human being in Nigeria that is less than 12 years old as a domestic worker.

    “It doesn’t matter if such is done to assist such child with school, care, or any survival needs.

    This offence is punishable with imprisonment for not less than six months but not more than seven years. Apart from Nigerian Police, NAPTIP can entertain such cases,” she said.

    Another lawyer and human rights activist, Ugochukwu Amasike, blamed the lack of implementation of such laws on a shortage of trusted systems to protect children.

    “These policies cannot work without a system that can provide the child’s basic needs. Are there decent public schools providing free education to enrol them in? Can they get decent healthcare? When are the children taken from these homes are they taken back to the same environment that drove them into the industry in the first place?” he added.

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