In Nigeria, the International Children's Day is marked annually every May 27. This year, Ayodeji Ake, Sunday Ehigiator, and Ozulumba Chiamaka shine the spotlight on underaged street hawkers, who have swapped the classrooms for the streets in a bid to eke a living. Juxtaposing that narrative with the 2006 report on child labour by UNICEF Nigeria, which revealed that a staggering 15 million children under the age of 14 are working across Nigeria, this thus establishes a cycle of child rights violation that must be stopped at all costs
13-year-old Favour John and seven-year-old Gift John are siblings who on a daily basis, excluding Sundays, hawk groundnut the long distance of Ogba to Ikeja then to Oshodi, Lagos, to support their parent's finances. If Lady Luck shines on them, their trays would have been empty by their 8pm closing time and if not, they have to at least sell to a reasonable minimum.
Their living arrangements, as awkward as it sounds, probably works for them.
Favour, the eldest stays with their mum in Omole and attends Omole Junior Grammar School, while Gift stays with their grandmother in Oke-ira, Ogba and is a primary three student of Oke-ira Primary School. The duo meet at their usual joint after school to commence their daily hawking activities.
"I am Favour John and I attend Omole Junior Grammar School. I trek to Oshodi everyday to sell my groundnuts. I am 13 years old. We hawk everyday from Monday to Saturday and sometimes I hawk on Sunday. We eat before we start hawking until night when we return home. We close by 8pm. We go to Oshodi and sometimes we go to Allen," she told THISDAY.
Gift's story was pretty similar to that of Favour, although she added that after trekking to make sales, they board a tricycle from their proceeds to go home.
Residents of Ogba hinted THISDAY that the child hawkers are often seen in Ogba everyday. While some hawk groundnuts, others fruit. THISDAY gathered that some of these children do not stay with their parents but guardians who specifically bring them to Lagos to hawk for them to generate income.
For Azeezat Jimoh, a primary six student of United Primary School, Garage Ikorodu, she sells 'eko' which is made from corn in the bid to alleviate some of her family's financial burdens, while her mother runs a grinding machine. Together with her two junior brothers Saheed and Tunde, they hawk 'eko' everyday after school hours.
They each carry a tray laden with 'eko' and move from street to street within Igbo-Oluwo Estate Ikorodu to sell. Two wraps of 'eko' goes for N50. Azeezat told THISDAY that she loves helping her parents out but she would really love to play with her mates instead of hawking all evening.
Two sisters; Aminat and Mariam Adebayo are also underaged street hawkers, but while Mariam who attends Yewa Grammar school as she is currently in primary six, sells tomatoes and pepper, her younger sister Aminat, a primary three pupil of Anglican Primary School sells oranges.
Their mother Mrs. Adebayo sells exactly what her daughters hawk but in larger quantities in front of their compound in Erunwen, Ikorodu. She said economic situation of the country led her children to become hawkers after they get back from school. From her expression and countenance, she isn't happy her children are hawkers but has no control over the situation because her children make more sales when they move around different streets than when they sit in front of her stall.
Underaged street hawking is a universal phenomenon that is not only common to Nigeria, as it is practiced in both industrialised and developing countries of the world. However, child labour, of which underaged street hawking features prominently, constitutes a serious problem. From Kano to Anambra, Lagos, Rivers and other states of the federation, the social anomaly seems to be on the increase despite measures put on ground to ameliorate it.
Without a doubt, the consequences of underaged street hawking are far-reaching. It has a devastating effect on the education of children who practice it as it distorts government policies on education due to high rate of out of school children. Sometimes, the underaged street hawkers are drawn into delinquent actions that may even dovetail to petty robbery and then graduate into robbery.
Also, majority of such underaged girls who hawk are at the mercy of rapists and traffickers. Sometimes, these child hawkers are exposed to health challenges, accidents, stress, kidnapping, sexual abuse, and even death.
Truly, although the money they make from sales helps the family, but it doesn't rule out the hazards they are faced with daily on the roads. Sometimes, when it rains, they are drenched to the skin. The dry season does not make it easier for them either as the hot rays of the sun often scorch their skin.
According to report on child labour, United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria, 2006 reveled that a staggering 15 million children under the age of 14 are working across Nigeria. Many are exposed to long hours of work in dangerous and unhealthy environments, carrying too much responsibility for their age. Working in these hazardous conditions with little food, small pay, no education and no medical care establishes a cycle of child rights violations.
While children have always worked in Nigeria, the figures have significantly increased over the years. The end of the oil boom in the late 1970s coupled with mounting poverty has driven millions of children into labour.
Traditionally, children have worked with their families, learning skills they would need as adults, but today, children are forced to work for their own and their family's survival. The money they earn have become a significant part of poor families' income.
According to reports, millions of these children are losing out on education. Generally, working children have no time, money or energy to go to school. About six million working children in Nigeria, equally split between boys and girls, do not attend school at all, while one million children are forced to drop out due to poverty or because of parents' demand to contribute to the family income.
Over eight million children manage, at least partly, to stay in school and work in their spare time to pay education fees. Due to high demands at work, these children often skip classes. Missing out on education makes it impossible to break the cycle of poverty.
From young prodigies like Tomisin Ogunnubi the coding programmer to Marylove Edwards the tennis super star, Emmanuella the comedian, Misimi Isimi the Environmentalist and Gender Equality Advocate, Demilade Adepegba the Saxophonist, Zuriel Oduwole the Activist and Ozzy Bosco the Musician, the fragile but important role education plays in any society, especially a developing one like Nigeria, can never be understated. Little wonder it's a requirement of the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030.
However, without gainsaying, education-wise, the nation hasn't really fared better given the increasing number of out of school children. According to UNICEF data, one in every five of the world's out-of-school children is in Nigeria. This they noted was despite the fact that primary education is officially free and compulsory.
Breaking it down further, they said about 10.5 million of children aged five to 14 years are not in school, adding that only 61 per cent of six to 11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.
In the North, UNICEF lamented that the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53 per cent. One of the factors that has spiked the increase in out of school children can be traced to underaged street hawking. From the East, to West, North and South.
But in 2015, the number of out-of-school children rose from 10.5 million in 2010 to 13.2 million according to a Demographic Health Survey (DHS) conducted by UNICEF and the Nigerian government.
UN Declaration of Child Rights
The Declaration of the Rights of the Child, sometimes known as the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child, is an international document promoting child rights, drafted by Eglantyne Jebband adopted by the League of Nations in 1924, and adopted in an extended form by the United Nations in 1959.
Thus, the UN adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1989 which harped on the fact that the child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.
Rescue Operations by Lagos Correction Centre
When THISDAY visited the Lagos State Correction Centre at Oregun, it was gathered that according to the Child Rights Law of Lagos State, no child is meant to be on the streets especially during school hours because education is free from basic one to nine (primary one to junior secondary school three). This should mean that no parent is excusable in not enrolling their wards in school.
The state Ministry of Youth and Social Development has been saddled with the responsibility to exercise that law as social workers that they are. The ministry has a rescue unit, which is one of the means in bringing in such children. They comb all the state to pull such kids off the street. The male underaged that are picked, are brought to the center in Oregun while the females are taken to Idi-Araba.
For the home, the second means of admission is through the Lagos State Task Force, who also pick children hawking off the streets.
Tagged under the category of 'care and supervisions', these are the ones rescued from the street who are either hawking, not going to school, sleeping under the bridge, or wandering around the street.
At the home, THISDAY checks revealed that underaged street hawkers are the highest number of kids. This also includes those on the street cleaning windscreen of vehicles for a token.
At the correction centre, the rescue process is not where it ends for those underaged street hawkers. It was gathered that when they are rescued and brought to the home, they go through four different trainings.
First is the 'Psycho-social' training, which is the most important of all. It basically involves consistent counselling. And this counselling isn't for the children alone, but for the parents also because in most cases, they were sent to hawk by their parents or guardians. The dual counseling is so that when they are returned to their respective homes, they don't find their way back to the streets.
The second part is the 'Educational Training' which is carried out in the inbuilt school in the centre, which is staffed by the Lagos State Primary Universal Basic Education. Some of them who have never seen the four walls of a school are taken through the basics. Hence, it's safe to say that education is used to remould them. Another tool is the ICT training.
The last tool is 'Vocational training', where they are trained in six different skills; cane weaving, leather works, tailoring and embroidery (they sow the school uniforms under proper supervision), videography and editing, screen processing and photography, and barbing saloon. All this is to enable them integrate better into the society when they return.
Release and Integration
After they must have been taken through the four steps and rehabilitated, these street hawkers are released back to their homes and society.
According to information from the home, ideally, they are free to be returned to the society after they might have completely gone through all the processes of correction earlier stated and have been observed to have developed social improvement. All these processes are supposed to end within six and nine months. That is how the program is structured.
Notwithstanding, several other factors could keep them there longer than the specified duration. For instance, if a ward is rescued on the street, and doesn't have a parent in Lagos, and the authorities have gone through all the processes of locating the parents but didn't succeed, since they can't throw him or her back to the street, they will continue rehabilitation until they find someone that would come for the adoption or fostering.
At this point, it would be pertinent to state that while the rehabilitation process worked with some, it failed with others as no sooner was their release effected did they go back to the streets.
However, in a phone interview with the Director of Public Affairs, Ministry of Education Mr. Adesegun Ogundeji, he begged to differ on the statistics of out of school children who are street hawkers.
"I can tell you that Lagos State has a negligible number of out of school children. I won't say that they don't exist because people move in and out of Lagos everyday, but what I can tell you is that, parents in Lagos State, irrespective of their social status, or economic prowess, strive to put their children in school. You will see some even striving to put their children in private schools and struggling to pay. But I must say that our free education policy in Lagos State have encouraged so many school children to be enrolled in school without paying a dime. All they need is school uniforms, shoes and bags etc, of which so many people, especially the wife of the Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, have been intervening.
"There is also a popular religious organisation located in Oregun, who is also doing a lot. Year in, year out, they donate school utilities to school children and you will see a lot of queues in their premises at around resumption in September, to collect these school items. So that has really encouraged a lot of people to enroll in school. If you look at the statistics of out of school children as last released by UNICEF, and you do the ratio, it is 0.000 something, so I don't think it is a major challenge in Lagos State.
"So the Lagos State government is committed to ensuring that no child lives in Lagos without acquiring education to the best of his mental capability. As you also know, our university is the most affordable. Our secondary schools are free and even the model colleges are heavily subsidised. These all efforts to ensure that children have no difficulty whatsoever going to school either because of the economic situation of their parents or whatever. And you can see that our investment in school infrastructure has also been encouraging people to bring students from private schools to public schools.
"We have not only increase the number of teachers in the last four years, both in primary and secondary school, we have also built new classroom blocks, improved on the teaching and learning environment, improved on the training of teachers, as security structures around the schools are also being developed and all these are beginning to yield fruits. You see that one of our students; Ekere Frankline came top in the UTME that was recently released, with 347. And there are so many of them who scored above 300, and are from public schools. You see the water beautification contest that the finals would hold in Abuja; five of our products were taken, instead of taking one product from each states. But because of the quality of the work we presented, five were taking from here. The last Jet competition, we were the state to beat. We came first in the entire country, and we were represented by public schools.
"Just recently, our children returned from Thailand to represent Nigeria in the world Robotics Olympia. And we have been winning this Olympia since 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, back to back in the last for years. We are waiting for the 2019. So it is good to say that our schools may not have the best of glamorous infrastructure, but we are encouraged by what we have achieved so far. There is no amount of money that you will bring back from selling groundnut in the street that can guarantee their future, no that of their parents. Because, very soon, the parents will grow old and be helpless.
"In the case of children hawking around during school hours, for me, I think their parents should know, that their future and that of the children are at risk. Very soon, they will grow old and can no longer help themselves, these children must be able to help them. But if you don't send them to school, for them to be able to stand on their own, then it's a timeless doom. Even if you hold an ND, and decide you want to be selling groundnut, your branding would be different from the way one who hasn't been to the four walls of school would be. So, they must know this, and these children must go to school to the best of their mental capability, because it is free. Even to WAEC Level. So they should take advantage of it, so that their future to be better."
From all indications, children are often sent to the streets to hawk due to poor standard of living and the high level of inflation. Based on this, the onus lies on the government either at the federal, state or local levels to not just make laws that prohibit street hawking, but to also boost the economy to alleviate the standard of living of Nigerians.