In spite of the International Child Rights Law of which Nigeria is a signatory, and constant campaigns against child abuse by some State Governments, child street hawking persists nationally. RUTH IJERE talked to some of the children in Lagos and reports.
Everywhere you go in cities, towns and some villages, child street hawking is no longer an odd sight in Nigeria. In the City of Excellence, the roads would look funny without underage children hawking just about anything.
Children, mostly boys and girls aged between seven and above, are involved in the practice, and they can be seen chasing after moving vehicles in traffic, even on the highways.
Some of these children are not living with their biological parents and our correspondent felt some are part time hawkers when schools are in session, and full time hawkers during holiday breaks.
As late as 25 pm on the traffic prone Dopemu bridge, a child of no more than 8 years was still by the road side, dozing; before her was a bowl with few pure water sachets in it. The sight so moved commuters that a woman raised her voice and commanded the child to go home.
“What mother would be at ease at this time of night with her daughter of this age still out in the streets selling pure water?”, a lady in the bus queried. Another interjected that she can’t be living with her biological mother.
A hawker of plantain on Akilo Road who didn’t mind talking to Daily Times said hawking is not only a daily business in the city, it has become a tradition. “The economy is responsible because we parents need every kobo they can get to support the house, while some just want to get their goods sold. Crops and fruits that are perishable just have to be sold and the more you roam the streets the more you sell.
“It is in Lagos here that hawking became a business; back in my town in Delta, young people would hesitate to hawk in broad daylight, but the Yoruba people made it so easy and even proud. People are too lazy to go searching for them, then take them to their doorsteps and you will smile home”,
Daily Times investigation revealed that most of the young girls sometimes hawk until marriage; many are lured into sex and impregnated while the males hawk until they get “established” and then leave their guardian is the case of 30 years old Matthew who stays at Oke-Ira in Ogba, Lagos.
Matthew Oke has been hawking boiled groundnut for his aunt from since he was 15 and he did that for eleven years before he left at age 26.
“My education was slow, at age 16, I was in Junior Secondary School (JSS1) that was in 2004,” he told Daily Times. “I attended school in the mornings and would hawk in the afternoons till late into the night. Initially, it was hectic. I used to sleep in the class. On the streets while hawking I use to be quite uncomfortable, but seeing people younger than me and even those older also hawking as well, I got used to it.”
Ten years old Monday Brown who hawks Oranges along the Agidingbi road. He told our correspondent that his guardian also hawks. “It is the only way she can make ends meet, so who am I to refuse to hawk?”
One out of five child hawkers on the streets do not attend school; some dropped out while some have never attended. A group of four kids ages seven to nine who were hawking oranges, water melon, walnut and cherry, had this pathetic story to tell: “Because of the items we sell, which customers need mostly in the mornings and early afternoons, our guardians cannot enrol us in school as it would affect sale.”
The children confided that there is no day of rest for them; they hawk every day including Sundays, whether tired or sick, in the wet and dry seasons because their guardians would have prepared their products before they wake up in the morning.
Also, Daily Times learnt from the kids that their guardians would not want to record any loss, so these kids are faced with no choice than to hawk each day. ”We are always happy during festive seasons like Christmas and New Year eve because we don’t sell at those times,” they said in their child innocence.
A really touching story came from young female hawkers who have fallen into the hands of men and young guys who would ask them for sex. This happens when they incur losses and cannot return home without the difference.
Our investigations revealed that some of these girls are raped, and sometimes, for nothing, and because they are kids, the men run away. Their male counterparts beg until they find those merciful enough to give them a part or the whole amount lost while some venture into stealing.
12 years old Hosanna Emmanuel narrates her ordeal during her early days of hawking. She was abused at nine but just could not tell anyone. “I don’t live with my parents, so that day,
“I lost all the money from my sales of over N400 one day. I was crying when one uncle saw me, asked why I was crying. I told him then he promised to give me the money so I stopped crying. Before he gave me the money, he robbed my body and then told me to always come to him anytime. That incidence brought fear to me that I feared going through that way for a long time and I became extra careful with any money from my sales,” Hosanna said.
Child street hawking, sometimes called child ‘streetism’ is one of the actions that violate the Child Right Laws on child labour and education deprivation. The United International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) sees street hawking as the worst form of child labour as it exposes children to many critical dangers.
Factors that promote child labour includes poverty, exploitation by adults, the rapid growth in population, high rate of unemployment, inflation, low wages and deplorable working conditions in most developing countries.
According to Human Rights Watch (2004), India has the largest child labour force in the world with 15 million, while Pakistan records 7.5million and Senegal with about 500,000. Estimates for Africa shows that 20 per cent of children between the ages 10 to 14 are involved in child labour and street trading. As such, children have come to comprise 17 per cent of Africa’s total labour force. Nigeria alone is estimated to have between 12 and 15 million child labourers found mostly on the streets hawking, at building sites, farming and other forms of trading.