Kaduna — With schools in the country closed over the coronavirus pandemic, children who peddle flip-flops on Kaduna's busy streets now have to work longer hours to support their families and their dreams.
Kaduna's city centre is a typical place young boys between the ages of eight and 15 to leverage on traffic jams to advertise their wares to motorists, while other children engage in cleaning of vehicle windscreens for small change.
Among the crowd of children, one could see 13-year-old Yusuf Abdullahi racing after motorists, displaying his wares of flip-flops and imploring motorists to buy.
Yusuf finds selling flip-flops on the streets uplifting. The trade equips him with business skills, supports his parents and puts some little change in his pocket. Like many of his peers hawking on the streets, Yusuf understands that life is tough and sometimes tougher on kids.
Before schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the teenager used to hawk flip-flops from 2 pm to 8 pm, making a daily profit of at least N500. But since the spread of the virus across the country and the closure of schools, young boys like Yusuf are working longer hours to help make ends meet.
As a retailer, Yusuf collects dozens of flip-flops on credit from a dealer at an agreed price and does his best to sell them for a profit. He then pays the dealer the agreed sum, returns the unsold stock and pockets the profit.
"My parents know about this business," he told our correspondent. "I started it with their blessings. The profit helps supports them as well as help cater to my personal needs. I get to feed myself, buy clothes for myself and my siblings from the profit," he said.
Idris Aminu, also in the same line of business as Yusuf, said he walks long distances to sell the flip-flops. Draped in a transparent polythene bag, which serves as his raincoat during heavy downpours, Idris disclosed that the only challenge he faced since joining the business was when his goods were stolen and he was made to pay for them.
"I did not know how they got lost and the profit I made for the day could not cover the cost, so I had to pay for them in instalments," he said.
While most of the children go into the trade with the consent of their parents, others are almajirai brought to the city to memorise the Qur'an but end up on the streets fending for themselves. Some of the children were apprehensive about speaking with Daily Trust. The recent clampdown on the activities of almajirai by the state government had put them on edge. A good number of them have been returned to their states of origins.
Auwal Ibrahim, 15, said he started the business before the COVID-19 pandemic, he now works longer hours since schools were closed.
"Because schools are closed now, I start work at 8 am or 10 am daily and make between N500 to N1000, depending on the number of flip-flops I sell."
He added that "I walk to different areas around the city but mostly, I stay on popular roads because I target motorists. I don't have any problem with the distance I walk since I am doing this to provide for myself and my parents."
Abubakar AbdulKadir, a resident of Hayin Rigasa, said he has no qualms working longer hours and oftentimes targets motorists early in the mornings or at evenings to take full advantage of rush hour traffic. Abubakar said though his parents get a share of his profits, he also saves some money and hopes to one day own a shop from his savings.
According to the United Nations, child labourers are those too young to work and often engage in hazardous activities that may affect their physical, mental, social or educational development. The UN estimates that one in four children between the ages of five and 17 are in child labour; with Africa having the highest percentage with one-fifth of recorded child labour cases.
This year's World Day Against Child Labour, celebrated on June 12, had the theme: "COVID-19: Protect children from child labour, now more than ever," and emphasised that more children would be drawn into child labour due to the financial impact of the lockdown on lives and livelihood.
According to the UN, the COVID-19 crisis could push millions of vulnerable children into child labour with an already estimated 152 million children in child labour out of which 72 million are in hazardous work. These children, it said, "are now at even greater risks of facing circumstances that are even more difficult and working longer hours."
With Nigeria having signed and ratified conventions that ban child labour, the International Labour Organization, ILO, in 2019 said that 43 per cent of five to 10 year-olds in Nigeria are engaged in child labour in the informal sector.
In Kaduna State, Governor Nasir El-Rufai had in 2018, signed the Child Welfare Protection Law, which seeks to protect the welfare and safety of children from all forms of exploitation. The law stipulates a fine of N50,000 or five years imprisonment or both for those who commit any act that subjects, forces, or employs a child in exploitative labour. But the situation persists as sights of young children hawking goods are still common.
But Abubakar Abdullahi, a dealer who supplies the flip-flops and other items such as funnels and cloths hangers to the boys said what he offers is a better life from their reality, especially since most of them are not cared for by their parents.
"For some of the boys, their parents do not care about their wellbeing while others are almajirai who do not want to beg. This business provides them with experience as well as savings to start their own business," he said.
The Kaduna State Commissioner of Human Services and Social Development, Hafsat Mohammad Baba had reemphasised that the state government is striving hard to ensure children are protected more in times like this and permanently, adding that the state is pursuing more permanent solutions to child labour.
She pointed out that the persisting situation in some sectors that include the current "unwholesome" Tsangaya system, which supports child labour must change or be removed entirely.
"The law has been domesticated in the state, we have laws that prohibit child labour and street hawking and begging. We will not hesitate to prosecute offenders," she said