It is often argued that hawking among children is a part of African culture and tradition while some are of the opinion that the family can do with the support of the child in augmenting the family income, as he is sent on precarious errands on the streets and highway to sell various stuffs. The child is exposed to lots of danger and exploitation as he wangles and meanders his way through the traffic with a tray of diverse items which may not cost up to a thousand naira.
Sadly, irrespective of the inconsequential financial worth of items being hawked, the child-hawker is faced with the danger of getting kidnapped, knocked down by vehicles, robbed, sexually assaulted or even killed. He is also exposed to a lot of vices as he is influenced by undesirable elements he mingles with, in the garages and parks. His health is also affected as he engages in activities too strenuous for his young and fragile form. He is denied his childhood as he is forced to work and take up adult responsibilities. He is also denied education and prevented from being somebody better in future.
The exploitation of the child can not be rationalized, justified or defended under any guise. Times are hard, things are changing and that is the more reason why children should be protected jealously. Parents will have to work extra hard to ensure that their children are provided for and not push them out to fend for the family. It doesn’t really sound logical to argue that an adult needs the assistance of a child to make ends meet. It is true that the times are hard. Yes, these are, indeed, tough times! But this should not be enough justification to toil with the lives of our children.
Life is dynamic, change is inevitable, culture and traditions must give way for meaningful growth and development to take place, most especially debilitating and retrogressive culture that demeans the value and dignity of the child.
Hawking by children is a form of child labour and it contravenes the Child Rights Act which stipulates that children under the age of 18 should not engage in any work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to them, preventing them from going to school; obliging them to leave school prematurely or to combine school attendance with excessively long or heavy work.
According to International Labour Organization, the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15million. Research has it, that street hawking by children constitutes one of the major forms of child labour, by implication a larger percentage of these children are on the street. This trend is quite disturbing, especially with the number increasing daily.
Presently, in many Lagos neighbourhoods such as the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Ikorodu Road, Agege Motor Road, Ikoyi-Obalende, Ojuelegba-Stadium, Oyingbo, Carter Bridge, Idumota, Oshodi, Ketu, Mile 12, Third Mainland Bridge, Cele, Iyana-Ipaja, Agbado, Oke-Odo, Ikeja among others, it is not uncommon to see little children ranging from 9-13 years hawking various goods on the roads. Some even take up the hazardous task of bus conductors. These children who hawk by the roadsides usually suffer from fatigue, irregular attendance at school if enrolled at all, lack of comprehension and motivation, improper socialisation, exposure to risk of sexual abuse, high likelihood of being involved in crime.
One of the reasons given for the increase is lack of enforcement of extant laws meant to protect children. In Lagos state, as part of efforts to enforce the law and get children off the streets, the Lagos state government has employed quite a number of strategies to reduce the trend and dissuade parents and the society at large from sending children to hawk on the street. Consequently, child hawking, especially during school hours has been outlawed. This ail of this is to get as many children as possible into school. Perhaps, more importantly, the state government also followed up by arresting parents whose kids were caught hawking during school hours. It also provided a supportive policy back up with the provision of its free Basic Education Programme for children.
However, this has not actually brought about the desired result as the number of child hawkers continue to increase on the road while a good number of children are still found on the street during school hours across the state. In addition, their number continues to increase at evening time, till late hours in the night, which is quite risky as most of these children are exposed to unimaginable perils. When it comes to the issue of children, everyone is a stakeholder since children are future leaders. Hence, it is important that parents, community leaders, traditional rulers, faith based organisations, NGO, the media among others partner with government to ensure that hawking among children is discouraged in our society.
Recently, the Lagos state government announced a ban on all forms of street and traffic trading with a fine of #90 thousand on the seller and the buyer with an option of jail term of 6 months or both. The recent development has been criticized as being too harsh on the masses especially in the face of economic hardship in the country but the fact remains that issues of child traffic trading, child road casualties, child exploitation and the likes, which are partly the result of child labour can not be sufficiently dealt with, without tackling street trading.
Child street and traffic trading is a form of child abuse and it must not be condoned under any guise. This unwholesome act is being perpetrated by family members and parents who send their children into modern day slavery as they are exploited for cheap labour. The laws protecting the rights of the child must be active and alive to safeguard the rights of the child. A recent FRSC data reveals that in Lagos about 40% of road accident victims are traffic traders, either on the road or by the road side and some of them are vulnerable and helpless children. This trend must not be allowed to continue.
We must respect all laws concerning child hawking. Government must show the political will to ensure compliance and there must be consistency in government policies towards zero tolerance to child-hawking. Government must not relent on its effort to fight every form of child labour in its entirety.