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Regional themes > Children and education Last update: 2020-11-27  

Child welfare and poverty in Nigeria

Chiedozie Benjamin Okpukpara, Paul U. Chine, Fidelis Nwele O. Uguru, Chukwuone Nnaemeka

12 - 13 October 2006

SARPN acknowledges the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) as the source of this document:
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This research is motivated as a result of increasing deterioration of child welfare in terms of drop out of children from school, high incidence of child participating in economic activities and incidence of street children in Nigeria. Though many researches have been conducted in areas of child welfare, most of these researches neglected the determining factors of these welfare indices as well as relationship between poverty and child welfare. Or, at best pocket of researches has been done using small unrepresentative sample. Most if not all of these studies in Nigeria have not used national data to make their conclusion because of unavailability of such data. This may have contributed to poor policy response to child welfare in Nigeria as the literature has shown that child welfare continue to deteriorate. This study used FOS/ILO, 2001 Child Labour Survey to examine these issues. The study noted among other things that participation in school or work is dictated by region, sector, child, parent and household characteristics. In addition, the study also noted that poverty has a very weak response to child welfare. The study also noted incidence of street children is a response to poverty, parental interest and regional differences. The study thus suggested in addition to regular survey on child labour and street children to monitor the trends, that policies aiming at improving child welfare in Nigeria should consider sector, region, child, parents, household and community characteristics in their policy.


Children are regarded as the most vulnerable in society. Therefore, their welfare in a society is an index of social and economic development of that society. The more important reason why child welfare has to be monitored is because child contribution to the society in adulthood is determined to a large extent by their treatment in their childhood (Ray, 1998). Crucial as this matter is, child welfare is included in the Millennium Development Goals (MGD) (UNESCO, 2004). Child is defined internationally as any person aged between 5 and 15 years while Nigeria define a child as any person between the age of 5 and 17 years. Child welfare indices consist of child labour, child schooling, street children and child health. The child labour and child schooling are regarded as two sides of the same coin. This is because the two activities are mutually exclusive activities. Child labourer which different from street children in terms of their activities are therefore refers to any person within these age brackets (5 – 15 years internationally or 5 and 17 years in Nigeria) engaged in work or employment on a regular basis with the aim of earning a livelihood for themselves or for their families. The exploitative child labour occurs when children, especially young ones, are exposed to long hours of work in dangerous environment or are entrusted with too much responsibility without compensating psychosocial reward, or work. In addition, such activities are carried out at the expense of schooling, thereby children are not adequately prepared for the future in a modernizing society (Grootaert and Kanbur, 1995; UNICEF, 2004; FME, 2004). The street child on the other hand is defined as any child who may have parents or guardians in the locality or elsewhere but are living and working in the street. Most often street children are not distinguished in child labour analysis.

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 ILO conventions prohibiting children’s work in various hazardous occupations and conditions were ratified (NBS, 2001). 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 of working hours and exposure to hazards was a decisive legal action, which demonstrated the stance of government towards addressing child welfare. The ratification 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 President Olusegun Obasanjo to sign into law the child right bill in June 2006. Other efforts by government and non-government organizations include:

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

  2. The Nomadic Education Programme under the National Commission for Nomadic Education promulgated 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 fisher-men made it difficult for their children (who invariably work with their parents) to be enrolled in formal education.

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

  4. The “Hawking by Children Edict Cap.58 Law of Nigeria” prohibits hawking, display of goods for sale, or roaming about in the street, market or any open public place in the state.
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 un-enforced. For instance, studies conducted by various researchers in Nigeria Oloko (1990; 1992 and 1999); UNICEF (2004); Imam (1998); Onuikwe (1998) and Okpukpara and Odurukwe (2006) shows 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).

Many factors determine the decision concerning sending child(ren) to school or to work as well as being a street child. According to Grootaert (1998) and Dustmann (2003), these factors are cost of schooling, characteristics of the child, parents, households and community. These factors exercises influence over the decision to allocate children’s time away from schooling or towards work. Other factors include the location and distance to formal education centre, which can be used as a proxy for demand factor. Specifically, poverty and illiteracy reinforced by traditional customs such as polygyny and preference for large family size were identified as root causes of child labour in Nigeria (Obikeze, 1986 and Oloko, 1992). Moreover, marital instability and family disorganization were also identified as contributory factors. Be that as it may, the first econometric study of National Child Labour Survey data also noted that these factors have an influencing behaviour on child participation in different child activity options (Okpukpara and Odurukwe, 2003). Nevertheless, there are conflicting views of what determines welfare of the child in terms of schooling or employment characteristics in developing countries. Studies like Basu (1998); Bharagwa (2003); Psacharopoulos (1997); Obikeze (1986); Ray (2000); Sasaki and Temesgen (1999) and Oloko, (1999) vary in their child welfare determinants and conclusions. For instance, studies have revealed that households (especially poor households) find it difficult to withdraw their children from labour market because of monetary contribution of those children to household living standards (Blunch and Verner, 2000; Bonnet, 1993; Obikeze, 1986). In Ghana, a study has shown also that children contributed substantially to household incomes, as such, child income cannot be treated as insignificant in household poverty reduction strategy (Psacharopoulos, 1997). Others studies have also found a contrary view to this, by attributing the deteriorating welfare standards to factors other than poverty (Ray, 2000; Sasaki and Temesgen, 1999). Such factors as child, parents and community characteristics are more important variables that influence the decisions to send the child to school or work. In addition, even on the issue of poverty, researchers’ views vary. Some argued that child labour income is a clear response to improving household living standards even if it is in a short run. Others argued that child participation in economic activities makes the household deeper below the poverty line by taking the child out of school (which is an important human capital accumulation) thereby making the child to contribute marginally to household income in long run (Psacharopoulos, 1997; Blunch and Verner, 2000; Bonnet, 1993).

Thus investigating the hypothesis that poverty deteriorates child welfare (as this has been drummatized) is essential to determining whether public money committed to reducing child welfare problems should be directed at reducing poverty or at raising the returns to education. Therefore, this paper tried to examine the child welfare as patterned by age, gender, zone, poverty and sector as well as investigate compelling factors of the child welfare indices. This result is likely to better inform the policy debate on how child welfare can be improved especially in traditional African society where there was ineffective machinery to enforce child welfare. Owing to data limitation, econometric analysis was restricted to child labourers while descriptive study included those of street children. In addition, due to the same data problem, caution should be taken to generalize the result of street children.

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  1. The authors are grateful to African Economic Research Consortium for Funding and Cornell University for technical assistance

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