The Olusosun landfill covers 100 acres (40 ha) in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. Originally located on the outskirts of the city, it is now in the center of the city due to urban encroachment. Olusosun is often described as; it receives more than one million tons per year. These are mainly electronic waste (such as lamps, televisions and laptops), municipal solid waste and construction waste.
Access to the landfill is not restricted. Collectors can come in and look for recyclable materials that can be resold. In most Nigerian cities, waste collection represents a vital survival strategy for the .
It’s not just adults who operate as waste pickers. As we explain in our recent , children also work at Olusosun.
We interviewed 150 of these child scavengers; most were boys between the ages of 13 and 17. More than half (58.7%) of the children did not go to school. They worked daily at the dump for social and economic reasons and their work was physically demanding. They said they were bitten by insects and snakes. They slipped and fell sometimes. Many suffered from chronic headaches. For this, they earned between N500 (US$1.20) and N1,600 (US$3.85) per day.
The use of a child for coercive purposes or under section 28(1)(a) of the Rights of the Child Act is an offense punishable by fine or imprisonment. But in the informal sector in urban areas, the Nigerian government has not made serious efforts to enforce this law to protect children.
A concerted effort is needed from government, civil society and international organizations to eradicate child picking. Financial assistance could be offered to the children’s families so that they feel they have no choice but to let the children work. And free and compulsory primary and secondary education is essential to keep children in class rather than working.
Huge health and safety risks
Access to the Olusosun landfill is unregulated, but there are informal systems in place to manage who can and cannot participate in waste collection. We have confirmed that before a person can pick up litter on this site, they must register with an association. Unregistered people were not allowed to work on the site and if they did so without permission there would be a quarrel.
An informal association formed by the operators oversees the registration process. It is funded by membership fees and only registers adults. But once registered, these adults can hire children to do the work for them. They do this, we were told, to keep their costs low, as they might pay children less than they would pay adults.
The information we obtained showed that the minimum daily income for child reclaimers was N500 (US$1.20); the maximum was N1,600 (US$3.85). The average daily income was 1,180 Naira (US$2.84) – more than 30,000 Naira (about US$72.20) per month. Although this amount is higher than (N30,000) in the public sector, the work and environment are hazardous and detrimental to children’s health.
Children usually sorted the waste manually, without protective gear like gloves and face masks. They operated in an unsheltered environment regardless of the conditions such as rain, scorching sun and cold. These conditions had led to gastrointestinal illnesses, skin diseases, stings and insect bites. Many have spoken of regular headaches.
Child pickers were also at risk of being bitten by sharp objects such as syringes, needles, surgical blades and broken bottles.
Despite all these hazards, the children continued to work at the dump because of chronic poverty. Some of the children’s parents were waste pickers themselves. Many came from areas lacking sanitation facilities or basic health services.
In combating the use of children for forced labor or exploitation, integrated approaches have been most successful in South Asian countries. (Afghanistan is an important exception.) These approaches can include, for example, conditional cash transfers combined with interventions such as the provision of education and health care services.
Thus, a pragmatic regulatory framework should be developed in which different actors (government, civil society and international organizations) focus on eliminating the practice of waste collection by children. Such efforts require strong political backing and financial backing.
Such a regulatory framework should also provide financial assistance to parents of children through a direct assistance program.
The government needs a well thought out plan to introduce free and compulsory primary and secondary education for every child. Making education compulsory, especially at the secondary level, is a way to continue learning and, ideally, to prepare for future safe and decently paid work.