At a glance: Nigeria

Real lives

A young boy’s ordeal—the story of Iyagu, a former child domestic worker

© UNICEF Nigeria/2004/Sarah Epstein
Iyagu, 12, who was trafficked into child labour at the age of eight, has now been reunited with his family and is back in school. His schooling is supported by MELPWOOD, a UNICEF-funded NGO.
ENUGU, Nigeria, 11 June 2004—Iyagu sits in a rehabilitated old church building as the afternoon sunlight streams through the open windows. He is 12 years old and speaks in hushed tones. Gradually, he feels more comfortable and begins to recount his horrifying experiences as a child domestic worker.

After the death of Iyagu's father, his mother and her eight children were left in financial difficulty. His mother decided to allow Iyagu to go with an acquaintance, who promised to take him to Alloh, where he would receive an education and earn some money. Iyagu was sent far from his home, to live with people he had never met, at just eight years of age.

"I went on the basis that I would be helping my mother," said Iyagu. "Yet I was afraid because I had never left my house before. I was scared of being used in rituals. I have heard stories about domestic workers disappearing," he added.

"While at this house, I did not get to go to school as was promised. I was made to fetch food for the goats and climb palm trees to gather palm nuts. One day, when I went to the forest to collect these things, I found some bones and got scared. I ran back to the house. Once there, I was beaten because I had not done my job properly," he explained. "They did not treat me well".

© UNICEF Nigeria/2004/ Sarah Epstein
Young boys and girls at MELPWOOD learn vocational skills such as knitting and sewing.
The suffering was too much for Iyagu. At nine years old, he ran away to find the man who had taken him to the house. "I told him I wanted to go back home or I would simply die. By chance he sent me back home." When Iyagu returned home, his mother was overcome with joy to have him back. Unfortunately, three of his siblings remain away from home in similar situations.

Thanks to MELPWOOD (Mediation for the Less Privileged and Women's Development, a UNICEF-funded organization that assists orphans and vulnerable children), Iyagu is now learning vocational skills such as sewing, knitting, cooking and how to make soap. Learning skills such as these will enable Iyagu to someday provide for his family and improve their quality of life. In addition, children at MELPWOOD are taught to foresee the signs of exploitation and to be aware of the risks of falling prey to traffickers. The NGO also provides funding for the education of the 55 children now taking part in the project.

The positive efforts of MELPWOOD give hope to thousands of children like Iyagu, who are forced into child labour and deprived of an education. The goal at MELPWOOD is to ensure that every child can go to school and be reunited with his or her family. In this way, their childhoods are being returned to them.



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