They work 24/7 mostly under endless harassment from their masters. They earn a little above 3.4 US dollars per month (paid through their unscrupulous agents). They are not orphaned by any war. They have parents who surrendered them to the individual “sweatshops” in Kano because of abject squalor and optimistic hopelessness. They only take solace in the morsels of food they take to their hungry mouths. They are the ‘child maids’ of Kano.
In what appears to be a fad, there is a growing trend of engaging child maids in Kano, findings by 21st CENTURY CHRONICLE have revealed.
Those who engage these children to work in their homes, use and subject them to all manner of abuse, it was learnt.
Kano State domesticated the Child Rights Act on May 24, 2023 and it’s enforcement is yet to be felt.
The law spells out the framework for the protection of children, defines the rights of the child, parents, communities and government in meeting the rights of the child.
According to the Child Rights Act, all persons below the age of 18 are considered as children.
It has, however, become a norm in Kano for every family or household to have one or two underage maids carrying out household chores and other similar duties.
Their employers subject them to various forms of abuse including sexual molestation. This is in addition to the many forms of deprivation they face and to crown it all, they are also grossly underpaid.
They are not cared for and often appear scruffy, scraggy and malnourished and do not attend school even though they should be in school at their age.
21st CENTURY CHRONICLE investigation showed that most of the underage maids are brought to the city from villages around the state and paid as low as N2,500 to N3,000 per month.
More worrisome is the fact that they are recruited through agents, who their meager income is usually paid to.
The agent serves as the link between them, their employer and the parents of the child.
These agents, who are the bridge between clients and the families of the underage girls, deploy a variety of recruiting methods including visiting villages, relying on word of mouth to cajole the parents and in some instances, give out their contact numbers especially in low-income neighbourhoods, to make it look acceptable to vulnerable parents.
The agents, in a bid to make their operations look formal, use an informal referral system where satisfied clients recommend them to friends and family members who are also looking for underage domestic maids.
Ironically, many of them consider it a blessing to be in the city and be able to send stipends home to support their poor families.
Adama Ibrahim is one such child who supports her family through the proceeds her parents receive as payment for the work she does in the city. She was born and raised in Danhassan Town in Kura Local Government Area of Kano State before she was brought to Kano city to work as a maid by an agent at the age of 11.
Her parents facilitated the employment through an agent; as a way to raise money for her future wedding from the salary she is now being paid.
Adama, now 12, still works and sends money home.
In a chat with 21st CENTURY CHRONICLE, she revealed that she didn’t come to the city alone.
“My 4 sisters and I were brought to work because our parents cannot feed us or give us good clothes, and they cannot raise money to do our wedding when the time comes, but my parents have been saving money from our earnings to be able to marry us off without much stress,” she said.
She told our reporter that she and her sisters were never enrolled in any school.
“When we do not have money for food, school is automatically out of it,” she said.
Another underage maid, 13-year-old Laritu Babangida from Kaiyu village in Karaye Local Government, said she was unsure what her salary was as the agent takes a fraction out of the N3,000 she’s paid every month before sending the balance to her parents in the village.
According to her, she has not been back to the village since she left two years ago, though she receives information about her family whenever her agent comes to visit.
Laritu further revealed that her parents do not know exactly who she is with or where she stays, as they also rely on the agent for information about her.
She further disclosed that about 15 of them were brought to Kano by the agent and they were distributed to various homes where they serve as maids.
When asked how she is being treated she said, “Life is better here, I eat good food to my fill, but I work so hard every day. Nevertheless, it is better than the village where things are hard.”
The Kano State Coordinator, National Council for Child Rights Advocates of Nigeria, Hajiya Aisha Haruna Kabuga, has, however, decried the situation, saying hundreds of underage girls who were being exploited in this manner had been documented as victims.
She explained that her CSO had discovered that there was a strong syndicate of powerful agents that recruit and distribute the innocent children to various places across the country, citing an example of a girl rescued from Abuja who was originally from Kano.
“There are a lot of underage girls as I speak with you now going through a lot of abuse in the name of being maids in various houses across the country. Some that are bold enough run away to God knows where while others are there suffering in silence,” she said.
Kabuga attributed the attitude of the parents of these girls to poverty and the nation’s prevailing economic situation.
Some of the clients our correspondent spoke to, attributed their preference for maids recruited through agents to insecurity and social security, noting that they were more comfortable with maids gotten through referral.
Nafisa, a mother of two, who engaged the services of a 12-year-old maid in her house, said the maid babysits her 9-month-old child. She described the use of young girls for such jobs as the norm, adding that there was nothing wrong with what she was doing.
When asked about the girl’s schooling, Nafisa replied that her arrangement with the agent that brought the girl was to pay her, saying that she was not obligated to send the girl to school, even though she had enrolled her in an Islamiyya school.
She further revealed that she pays her a monthly salary of N3,000 to an account number provided by the agent.
A 2022 report of the World Bank, titled: “A Better Future for All Nigerians: Nigeria Poverty Assessment 2022” indicated that, as many as 4 in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line.
Furthermore, there are various issues associated with the underage girls being subjected to working as maids.
It was reported that, at the beginning of the year 2022; the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) had said that 10.5 million children were out of school in Nigeria, and that number is said to have shot up to 20 million with the girl child accounting for about 60 per cent of those out of school.
According to a legal practitioner, Barrister Hamza Muhammed, “Sections 59-64 (of the child Rights Act) regulates the employment of children and it prohibits the employment of a child but leaves certain exceptions. For example, a child can be employed by a family member to carry out light work of an agricultural or domestic nature.”
It is important to note that under the Child Labour (Prohibition) Law parents or guardians who set up their children for such employments are liable to conviction or a fine of 50,000 naira or imprisonment for a term of 5 years.