*Trigger warning: Gruesome photos below*
Hello everyone! After my last post, I decided that our group name will be Ndi nkem “my people.” Do you like it? Anyways, I’ve spent a lot of this week on social media trying to update my platforms and increase my visibility. While scrolling through these internet streets, I came across a trending story. A lady in Enugu state had violently abused her help. They put pepper in her vagina and drilled a nail into the help’s head. They also used an iron to burn this girl’s skin in multiple places. As awful as the whole thing is, it is more disgusting that the girl’s story is all too common in Nigeria, especially amongst my Igbo people.
Look, I’m not here to chastize anyone, I just want us to call a spade a spade. Many of us had and currently have underage helps. We go to the village or are approached by their parents to take them in. Some of these children are as young as SIX YEARS OLD!!!! Yes you read that right. We are using six year olds to do the work that full grown adults have difficulty completing. How does this make sense? Today I want to break down this issue from different angles and challenge us to do better.
The Parent’s Angle
Nigeria has often been referred to as the poverty capital of the world, with almost 50% of it’s population living in poverty. The average Nigerian woman gives birth to five children. Combine this high fertility rate with the high poverty rate and the whole thing is a mess. Many families cannot afford to feed their children. They cannot afford to provide their children with a good quality of life, but they keep having more children. During my internship last year, I worked in family planning education. I would meet women whose families were living on less than #30,000 (about $75) a month. They had like 4 children, and had no interest in family planning at all. When asked, they would say, ‘Na God dey give pikin.'(God provides for children) Really???!!
This mentality has allowed parents to absolve themselves of the responsibility of their children. Even when educated on ways to space and plan their pregnancy, they refuse. A lot of times, parents end up leaning on extended family members to care for their kids, and in extreme cases (like all the time) they send their kids to live with these relatives. Other times they send their kids to live with non-relatives as well to become house helps. The catch is that these kids do domestic chores in exchange for education, feeding, and a sembelance of a good life. For many, this is far from their reality.
The Oga/Madam Angle
The people who end up taking these children in are seen as saviors. Almost every middle class family in Nigeria has some kind of domestic staff. Some of them have paid helps, but many have underage house helps. What happens for many of these underage helps is that their oga/madam promise to train them through school or apprenticeship in exchange for doing domestic chores. Some of these bosses have good intentions and truly treat their helps like family, but the overwhelming majority maltreat their helps.
Maltreatment can be anything from reneging on promises to send the helps to school, physical and verbal abuse, making their helps sleep in inhabitable spaces like the kitchen, hawking, and much more. There have even been cases of bosses encouraging their kids to maltreat their helps as well. In addition, many of these helps are subject to sexual abuse at the hands of their ogas and are too afraid to do anything.
To the ogas /madams, they are doing the child a favor, after all the child would be living in abject poverty without them. They also believe that having these minors as helps would make them easier to control: adults know their rights and are more likely to rebel when maltreated. Lastly, many women prefer these underage maids so as to prevent competing for their husband’s attention with an older maid. They forget that a community penis will always be a community penis.
This issue is so deep rooted in us that my think piece is hardly going to move the needle. However, I just want us to take some things into consideration. These are children for God’s sake. If not for poverty, they would not be in your house today. If you really want to help their families, why not sponsor them? Pay for their education, feeding, etc without making them your domestic servants. If you aren’t capable of doing that then just get an adult help.
My biggest issue with the whole thing is that these kids have their childhood and innocence taken away from them. They go to bed after the whole family is asleep and wake up before everyone else. Their brains and bodies are not developed enough for the challenges that they go through. Many Nigerians will tell you, ‘you can never treat a child you didn’t give birth to the same as one you gave birth to.’ This is why there is so much anti-adoption sentiment in the country. I don’t believe this, but if you are someone who believes this, why take in another person’s child? You know you won’t treat them right but you take them anyways. Are you ok????
When you give a child of 10 the responsibility of caring for an infant, you have already set them up for failure. They will mess up and it will annoy you, so why are you doing it? Many of you just want someone who you will be Lord and Master over and that person is a child. I know I can’t change much, but my message today is directed especially to the very wicked madams: Your day of reckoning is coming. You are unfortunate to be in a social media age where everyone has a camera. Someone will video your wicked acts and report you one day. All your wickedness will come to light and you will rot in jail. If you cannot treat that child in your care right, send them back to their parents.
To everyone else, please reflect on why you think child labor is ok. Is it because that is how you grew up?, or because of some other warped sense of altruism. Whatever it is, think: would I want my child to go through this? If not, why are you comfortable doing it to someone else’s child? My plea in particular goes to my Igbo women. We are the ones who have the highest cases of child maltreatment. We need to talk about this and we need to stop this barbaric act today!!!!