By Maria Famakinwa
Victor, a -12-year old boy hawks vegetable along Oba-Adesida road, Akure. He did not go to summer classes like most children. He and his siblings usually help their mother to hawk during the holidays in a bid to make things easier for their mother.
He said: “Things are very tough now in the country and feeding four children is not easy. The only thing we can do during this holiday is to help my mother to hawk ugwu vegetable so that she can make more sales.
“Other children are also helping their parents as you can see that some other children are also hawking. Not that I don’t want to attend holiday lesson but it is not free. Very soon the holiday will be over and I will need to buy books including my siblings. I think it’s better to help my parents now for her to have money to buy books for us when we resume,” he stated.
Despite his young age, he seemed to see nothing wrong in hawking in order to alleviate the hardship experienced by his mother. He stated that he needed to pitch in to make life easier for his family.
Children are often said to be the leaders of tomorrow. They are gifts from God. Universally, their arrival bring joy as many believes they are the future pillars of any country.
It is rather sad to see many Nigerian children like Victor dotting the streets, hawking, starved and worn out. They are seen by road sides and street corners selling every conceivable article ranging from sachet pure water, soup ingredients like pepper, tomatoes and fruits among other items.
These kids who are expected to be under the love and care of their parents are rather being exploited by them due to the present economic challenges occasion by the removal of fuel subsidy. This trend exists across the country and with each passing day, the number of children who take to street hawking increases. Sometimes, they are exposed to many vices plaguing the society like kidnapping, rape, rituals as well as road accidents.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 80 million children aged 18 and below are being engaged as labourers by the adult across the world and two million involved in prostitution. In Nigeria, the National Assembly passed the Child’s Rights law in 2003 as a way of tackling this menace. However, most parents are not conscious of this fact that there is a law protecting the rights of children and therefore take their responsibility towards their children and wards with levity, thereby subjecting them to all manners of abuses.
Despite the fact that most of states in Nigeria offer free education, from primary to secondary school levels, some of these children are often seeing hawking when they are supposed to be learning in schools.
This was the case of Iyanuoluwa, a 11year-old Primary School pupil who sells pure water at Oja-Oba market even when she was expected to be attending summer classes or learning a skill as others who are using the period of long vacation to impact their lives positively.
Asked why she was hawking sachet water she said: “I stay with my grandma in Igbara-Oke but came to Akure to visit my mother because schools are on holiday”.
According to her, “anytime I am around, my mother will want me to sell pure water for her so that whatever profit generated can be used to augment the income of the family.”
Also Taiwo and Kehinde, who hawks kerosene in bottles in the same market explained that they didn’t go to summer classes because they must support their parents to fend for the home in their own little way. They said: “We have been hawking before the long vacation. We hawk after school closing everyday except when my mother didn’t have any market left and on Sundays when we go to church.”
Taiwo added: “My mother asked us to hawk so that we can have money to feed. Our father do not stay with us, he stays with his second wife in Oke-Igbo but visits us once in a while.”
Reacting to the danger involved in child hawking, Kehinde said: “ Early this year, a boy hawking tomatoes who could not be more than 13years was knocked down by oncoming vehicle while crossing the road. He only checked one side of the road and forgot to check the other side before crossing. I could not say if he survived it but the boy was seriously injured. Due to this, we have been more careful while crossing the road. My mother is also aware of the risk involved but always remind us to be careful in crossing the road.
Another boy, Oluwaseun, who hawks dried fishes said: “This is my mother’s business and I assist her in order to meet the needs of the family.” The 12-year-old explained further that he at times join her mother to travel to Igbokoda, a riverine area of Ondo State to buy dried fishes and cray fish in bulk to sell to consumers.
On if he is reading during the holiday, he said: “I read but not like when the school is in full session. I sleep when I am tired. Though, I would have loved to attend holiday lesson like some of my friends but I want to help my mother to make more sales.”
However, a Guardiance and Counselor, Mrs Chika Olayinka, advised parents against allowing their children to hawk especially the under aged, adding that it is prohibited in Nigeria under Child Right’s law. She stated: “The risks being encountered through hawking by children involved in modern day Nigeria is indeed daunting, even for the matured adults.
“Hawkers are exposed to reckless drivers, ritualists and intimate predators. The future of child hawkers is bleak. The lucky ones will graduate into touts, labourers, bus conductors, while the unlucky ones will become drug peddlers, prostitutes, armed robbers and social misfits. Government at all levels and Non Governmental Organizations should conduct sensitization and orientation programmes on the ills of child labour because no level of economic hardship can be compared to pains and regret of encouraging child hawking,” she warned.