EXAMINING BRUTALIZATION OF HOUSE HELPS IN NIGERIA. (AN EXPOSÉ ON ANTI-CRUEL LABOUR LAWS IN NIGERIA)
A. TRUE LIFE STORIES.
Below are selected stories narrating the painful experiences of children and adults that were house helps/domestics staff, in the hands of their employers. The ordeals in some cases led to death. However, it is believed that there are more unreported cases across Nigeria. Also, it is believed that the reported cases often do not receive the needed investigation and prosecution of offenders as well as protection of victims.
1. On 20 February 2020, a Magistrate Court (O. D. Njoku) in Lagos State, ordered a female employer, Mrs. Esther Ijeoma Amechi, to provide medical attention to her female house-help, Mrs. Joy Kanu, who suffered various degrees of injuries after the employer assaulted her. The house help is 43 years old and injuries sustained in the assault include “broken limbs and the wound on the head”.
2. In February 2020, one Mrs. Folake Ogunrinu, a nursing mother, was arrested in Oyo State by police officers “for allegedly lacerating her 10-year-old maid with a razor blade in the Sanyo area of Ibadan.”
3. In Rivers State, on 23 January 2020, a female employer was arrested for inserting pepper into the private part of her 14 years old house help. The victim also alleged that her employer “used wire to flog her and sometimes poured hot water on her legs to inflict injuries on her wounds for not being able to sell all the kerosene given to her to hawk around the market.”
4. Miss Peace Goewam, aged 11 years was taken away from her parents’ home in Plateau State to work as a house help, when she was 6 years old. In Enugu State, on 25 December 2019 as captured in a viral video on social media, little Miss Peace was seen “being dragged out of a vehicle, thrown up and slammed on the bare floor” by her employer, one Mrs. Amaka Ortolehi.
5. Another 11 years old child worker (house help) was alleged to be frequently assaulted and “fed with cockroaches and faeces” by her employer. When rescued in Awka, Anambra State, in November 2019, she had “septic wounds and scars all over her body”.
6. Elizabeth Ochanya Ogbanje, a house help to her aunt (Mrs. Felicia Ogbuja, 43 years), allegedly died on 17, October 2018 sequel to “health complications arising from alleged (series) of sexual molestation she suffered at the hands of her aunt’s son and cousin (Victor Ogbuja) as well as her aunt’s husband (Andrew Ogbuja, aged, 52)”.
B. ANTI CRUEL LABOUR LEGISLATIONS
Legislators in Nigeria have not left Nigeria without laws. Although, most of the laws are old inherited British laws causing hardship to the present day realities with rather laughable punishments. However, 2015 ushered in some new proactive legislations.
Relevant laws to be discussed below are the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, Labour Act 1971, the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2015, Child’s Rights Act/Laws, Violence Against Persons Act/Law, the Criminal Code and the Penal Code.
Domestic and house helps/staff/maids are workers that are duly protected under the Labour Act. Aside being workers, they are human beings with inalienable fundamental human rights to be respected by all, including employers.
In law, a child cannot be a worker, a young person can be employed under certain circumstances. And, a house help cannot be less than 12 years old. In reality, there are children that became House helps at age 4. Both child workers and adult workers are maltreated and brutalized by their employers and agents. Hence, this examination will start from the legal protection available to child workers and then proceed to adult workers.
I. Child Workers
1. By section 277 of the Child Rights Act, a child is a person that is less than 18 years old.
2. By section 91 of the Labour Act, a child is a young person that is less than 12 years old. And, a young person is a person that is less than 18 years.
3. By section 23(1)(a) and 83 of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015, the age for house help is not less than 12 old. Punishment for having anyone less than 12years is 6 months to 7 years imprisonment.
4. Also sexual exploitation, requirement of children, forced labour, slave trading and child labour are offences in Nigeria by sections 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015.
5. By section 28 of Child Rights Act and section 59 of Labour Act, the is a prohibition of child labour and any work except light work of agriculture, horticulture and domestic nature under a member of his family or in technical schools. He can’t be employed outside his home or family environment. Punishment is maximum of #50,000 and or 5 years imprisonment. And #250,000 if a corporate entity.
6. Section 59 of Labour Act and section 29 of the Child Rights Act allow young persons under 14 years to do daily wage work, day to day basis work so long as worker returns each night to his parents, except domestic workers.
7. By section 59 of Labour Act and section 29 of Child Rights Act, no young person under 16 years can work in a place that it will be unreasonable for him to return home to his parents each day except with approval of Labour officers or written agreement between employer and young person. Unfortunately, this does not apply to domestic staff but allows new regulations to be made to have Domestic staff included. Arguably, this allows limitations placed by Violence Against Persons Act for Abuja.
8. By section 59 of Labour Act and section 29 of Child Rights Act, no young person under 16 years, can work more than 4 consecutive hours or for more than 8 working hours in a day. Unfortunately, this does not apply to domestic staff but allows new regulations to be made to have Domestic staff included. Arguably, this allows limitations placed by Violence Against Persons Act for Abuja.
9. By sections 60, 61 and 62 of Labour Act and section 29 of Child Rights Act, no young person under 16 years, can work at night or in a vessel except in certain situations and the register of all young persons must be kept by employer.
10. The Punishment in the Labour Act for offences relating to employment of child or young person is punishable with fine of #100.00(not more than One Hundred Naira).
11. By section 30 of Child Rights Act, using a child for business(begging, domestic labour, hawking or forced labour) is punishable with 10 years imprisonments without option of fine.
12. By section 31 and 32 of child rights act, sexual abuse, rape/defilement of a child is an offence. Varying punishments are provided by the Criminal Code, the Penal Code, the Child Rights Act and Violnece Against Persons Act 2015. Under the Child Rights Act the punishment is 14 years.
13. By section 33 of Child Rights Act, any other form of exploitation of a child contrary to the welfare of the child is punishable with fine #500,000.00 and or 5 years imprisonments
14. By Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 and it’s state equivalents, the minimum punishment for rape is minimum of 12 years imprisonment without fine and maximum of life imprisonment. However, where an offender is less than 14 years old his maximum punishment is 14 years imprisonments and where there is group/gang rape, the offenders are jointly liable to a minimum of 20 years imprisonment.
15. By the Penal Code (the criminal law operation in Northern Nigeria), sexual intercourse with a girl that is less than 14 years of age or of unsound mind is a crime, punishable with life imprisonment or lesser period with or without fine. It is a crime for any person to induce a girl that is less than 18 years old to go from any place with him/her or to do anything that leads to sexual intercourse with another person. It is a crime punishable with imprisonments for maximum period of 10 years and with fine.
16. The criminal law in operation in the southern part of Nigeria is the Criminal Code. Going by the Criminal Code, having sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 13 years by any person (including so called husbands) is a criminal offence and the maximum punishment for it is life imprisonment with or without caning. Merely attempting to commit the crime is also an offence but punishable with imprisonment for maximum period of 14 years with or without caning.
17. Furthermore, still in the southern Nigeria, it is a crime for any person to have or attempt to have sexual intercourse with an idiot, imbecile or a girl that is 13 years old or above but under 16 years. The maximum punishment for this crime is 2 years imprisonment with or without caning. Also, owing, occupying or managing of any property where a girl is defied is a crime punishable with a maximum of 2 years imprisonments with or without caning where the girl is above 13 years but below 16 years old. Where the girl is less than 13 years old, the maximum punishment is life imprisonment, without caning.
18. Aside the protections raised here, which covers abuses and cruelty of child workers, every other protection for Adult workers also applies to child workers.
II. Adult Workers
1. By section 46 of Labour Act, neglect and ill treatment of any worker is an offence punishable with fine of not more than N500.00 and or not more than 1 year imprisonment. And, where the concerned employer is convicted, government will take over the care and maintenance of the worker and his family.
2. Going by section 48 of the Labour Act, the above applies to workers employed in Nigeria by employers having not more than 25 workers or within a radius of 40km or not through a professional recruiter.
3. Under the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2015, the abuse of power or position of vulnerability, abduction, deception or fraud for the exploitation of a person is a crime punishable with imprisonments for not less than 2 years and fine of not less than N250,000.00. Also, procurement of persons for sexual exploitation including a person that is less than 18 years old is a crime, punishable with 5 years imprisonments and fine of N500,000.00. Where the sexual exploitation includes prostitution, the punishment is 7 years imprisonments and fine of not less than N1 Million Naira.
4. Violence Against Persons(Prohibition) Act 2015 prohibits deprivation of liberty and is punishable with maximum of 2 years imprisonments or fine of #300,000.00. Destruction of property is punishable with maximum imprisonment for 2 years or #300,000.00 fine. Emotional, Verbal and psychological abuse is punishable with maximum of 1 year imprisonment or #200,000.00. Intimidation is punishable with maximum of 1 year imprisonment or #200,000.00. Attack with harmful substance is punishable with life imprisonment without option of fine. Poisoning for sexual abuse is punishable with maximum of 10 year imprisonment or #500,000.00 under sections 10, 11, 14, 18, 21, 22, 47 and 48 of Violence Against Persons(Prohibition) Act 2015.
5. By sections 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40 and 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 are some inalienable rights of persons (including children) in Nigeria. The relevant fundamental human rights that are enshrined (contained) in the constitution, are Right to Dignity of Human Person, Right to Personal Liberty, Right to freedom of thought, conscience and Religion, Right to peaceful assembly and association and Right to freedom from discrimination.
6. By the Criminal Code and the Penal Code for South and Northern Nigeria respectively, unlawful assault is an offence. Also are murder and defamation. Unlawful assault is striking, touching, moving or application of force of any kind or threat to do such, directly or indirectly, without consent or invalid/fraudulently obtained consent. Section 252 of Criminal Code frowns at criminal assault (ie, assault and battery).
7. Under common law and the Laws of Torts in states in Nigeria, there are civil remedies for victims of assault or battery, defamation and the family/dependents of a murdered house help. Victims can receive monetary damages.
The existence of legislations and law enforcement agencies is not all that it takes to reduce brutalization of house helps. Below are ideas and steps that will assist in reducing abuse of House helps and improve access to justice in Nigeria.
1. Awareness on relevant laws and their report/enforcement protocols.
2. Training of law enforcement agencies on victim management.
3. Provision of easy to access and free of charge remote case reporting platforms and options.
4. Standardization of investigation protocols for law enforcement agencies.
5. Penalizing of law enforcement agents for failure to properly investigate or prosecute suspected offenders.
6. Protection of victims and whistle blowers
7. Compilation and publication of information of offenders, that have abused house helps.
8. Sensitization to condemn and avoid settlements of crimes and cases of abuse as mere family issues.
9. Sensitization to discourage sale or loan of children into child labour as House helps.
10. Provision of infrastructure, schools and quality educational resources in rural areas to avoid early forced migration from rural areas in quest for basic education as reward for house help/domestic services