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Justice for Margaret Joshua

The recent arrest by the Plateau State Police Command of a mother of two for allegedly torturing and killing her 11-year-old maid identified as Margaret…

The recent arrest by the Plateau State Police Command of a mother of two for allegedly torturing and killing her 11-year-old maid identified as Margaret Joshua, brings to the fore, once again, the ill-treatment domestic workers – mostly female and underage – are made to endure in Nigeria.

According to the police, Margaret, a young girl, who fled insecurity in her community in Kebbi State, was forced to sit in a hot water-filled container which severely burnt her buttocks and private parts, among other forms of torture, by the suspect, Mrs Nnaemeka Nwachukwu, a microbiologist at a research institute in Vom, Jos-South Local Government Area of Plateau State.

The Plateau State Coordinator of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mrs Grace Pam, whose office was following up on the case, said the scars and wounds seen on the girl’s body indicated that she must have been subjected to a series of torture during the period she stayed with her guardian.

Mrs Pam said when they met the suspect at the police station, she claimed that the girl used to masturbate, and so she was beaten to make her stop, adding that the deceased fell into hot water after which she ran out of the house and did not return. Mrs Nwachukwu also told the NHRC officials that she did not know what used to come over her because she felt bad anytime she beat the child.

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Margret, who was left untreated despite her injuries, eventually died after she was taken to the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH).

Shocking as the story of Margaret Joshua is, it is not the first involving domestic workers and their employer-guardians in Nigeria. In the last five years, the traditional and social media have been awash with similar, horrid stories: from a female employee of an oil company in Kaduna, Mrs Yemi Awolola, who was arrested for allegedly placing a knife in the fire and scarring the private parts of her 14-year-old maid, Princess Michael, to a couple nabbed by the Enugu State Police Command for allegedly burning their 10-year-old maid with a pressing iron and drilling nails into her head.

We condemn these acts in totality and ask the authorities to put a stop to them by ensuring that justice is served in this particular case. Most of the victims of abuse are poor and usually find themselves in the practice for want of a better alternative. Some are made to become maids after losing their parents, to augment the earnings of their households.

We note that the way domestic workers are engaged in Nigeria clearly violates the provision of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003, as amended in 2015, which makes it a crime to use minors as house help.

Section 23 (1)(a) states: “Any person who employs, requires, recruits, transports, harbours, receives or hires out a child under the age of 12 years as a domestic worker, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a minimum term of 6 months and not exceeding 7 years.”

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) also identified a number of risks children face in domestic service, from long and tiring working days, to inadequate sleep, food and accommodation, as well as ill-treatment including physical and verbal violence, and sexual abuse. This is in addition to the denial of fundamental rights of the child, such as access to education and healthcare, and the right to be cared for and to have regular contact with their parents and peers.

Sadly, despite the provisions of the law, many culprits have been getting away with their dastardly acts. Cases involving maids and their employers also suffer unnecessary delays during investigation or prosecution.

For instance, the case of Ochanya Ogbanje, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, who was raped to death in 2018, is still ongoing. Justice is still not served more than four years after.

The case of Margaret must not be allowed to follow this path. It must not be swept under the carpet. Justice for her, and others in her situation should neither be delayed nor denied. There is absolutely no reason to take in someone’s child and not treat them in a manner every true parent will want their child to be treated. Sadly, most of the offences for which these maids are abused are things that ‘madam’s children’ do repeatedly without any form of reprimand.

We call on the Nigeria Police Force to be thorough in their investigation and bring to book all those involved in this form of crime, no matter their status. The National Human Rights Commission should also follow up the case to a logical conclusion.

While urging the authorities concerned to trace the family of the slain Margaret for compensation, we call on parents to resist the temptation of handing out their children to strangers in the name of fighting poverty or other excuses. The relevant agencies should also ensure that the Nigerian child is protected from abuse and exploitation in line with extant laws.