Inside The Sordid World Of Child Hawkers In Lagos

Aunty é ba mi ra ( please buy from me), she pleads as she flaunts vegetables on a rusty old tray to a very uninterested passer-by, who shoots her a look of disinterest and walks away briskly.

This is what Busayo Olumide contends with every evening when she goes to Ishaga to hawk her goods to enable her family to make ends to make ends meet for the next day.

In a chat with Information Nigeria, 9-year-old Busayo, a pupil at a government primary school in the area,
takes to the street every evening after school, including weekends, to sell the vegetables which her mother goes off to fetch from a farm not so far away from their home.

According to her, no matter how tired she is from school, once she eats her meal of Ijebu garri, groundnut and sugar or sometimes beans and garri, off she goes to sell her goods and sometimes doesn’t return home until 10 pm.

The weather, friendly or harsh, cold or warm, has no way of deciding her fate as it is constant; going out to hawk her vegetables is as sure as night and day.

Just like Busayo, many Nigerian children face the daily unpleasant hassle of street hawking and child labour, but unlike many other kids, Busayo goes to school and only picks up her tray of vegetables after school hours. Some other children aren’t so lucky.

According to experts, child labour is any work or task carried out by a child not up to the age of 18 years, with the hope that cash will be the reward or sometimes kind.

Child labour deprives a child of his/her good health, academic excellence and normal physical and mental development.

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The International Labour Organization ILO minimum age convention of 1973 No 138 says it is child labour because the children who do the labour are below the appropriate legal minimum working age (18 years).

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In 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) reports that about 50.8 per cent of Nigerian children, between the ages of 5 and 17, are involved in child labour.

The NBS conducted the survey in conjunction with other partners, including the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).

Another example is Mutiu Olawale, 11, and lives with his uncle and his wife in a one-room apartment around Iju – Ishaga. For Mutiu, at the break of dawn, he leaves with his uncle’s wife to her shop where she sells food. So, Mutiu is saddled daily with chores of taking plates off customers’ tables; washing them immediately; and run some other errands for the smooth running of the business. He speaks very little English but very fluent in Yoruba.

Unlike Busayo, Mutiu has only been to school a few times in his life and when he was brought from Abeokuta to live with his mother’s younger brother and his wife, who already have 4 kids, Mutiu’s only hope of ever getting a better life is to learn a trade as soon as he turns 14, as promised by his uncle.

Like these children, millions of Nigerian children grapple with this sad reality every day. Instead of being allowed to live their childhood free and happy as it should be, they are saddled with the responsibility of contributing their own income to their respective family.

Many parents and guardians have denied their children and those under their guardians the right to live a childhood life devoid of labour and have even paid deaf ears to directives from the government on the evil of child labour and the consequences if caught.

Poverty Takes The Blame

For the defiant parents, the culprit is poverty, not them. With so many responsibilities and bills to pa;y and a high cost of living to contend with, most of these parents and guardians have narrowed or even zeroed their options on involving every member of their family from oldest to youngest to contributing their own quota to the survival of the family.

For some of these parents and guardians, if they had a choice, they would give their children a better life but life has dealt them an unfair blow, and like it is rightly said, ‘the instinct to survive is the strongest in man’. So for the sake of survival, these parents would let their kids face all the dangers associated with child hawking or child labour just to soften the weight of poverty hanging mercilessly on their neck.

Tunmise Awosanya, an 11-year-old girl, who hawks oranges say her father has been unemployed for a long time and her mother is the family’s main breadwinner.

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“My mother sells oranges and other fruits along the road at Agege, Lagos. She leaves home very early to buy oranges from Ile-Ipo, Iyana-Ipaja.”

When asked about her father, she says, “My father used to work as a builder/in Lagos Island but has been unable to continue with the work because he suffers severe arthritis.”

So, for Tunmise, hawking oranges every day is her won way lightening her mother’s burden.

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Family Orientation

Whereas for some other parents, it doesn’t matter their financial capacity, what the child brings to the table is a plus, and as such, everyone must contribute to the overall income of the family…no matter their strength or age.

There have also been reports of guardians who take undue advantage of the financial capacity of the parents of the children sent to live with them, to turn them into slaves and money-making machines.

There have been harrowing narratives of guardians who send young girls barely 15, off of sleep with men for money. They go to their poor relatives to convince them to give them their children to look after, unsuspecting parents gladly do, thinking they are being helped and relieved of the financial burden of raising their children. These relatives end up sending these children off to the streets to hawk goods for them or work day and night at their petty businesses. Sometimes never sending them to school, or giving them proper meals or health care when they fall sick.

Children younger than 17 have been and are being sent out by guardians to beg, pickpockets, traffic drugs, shine shoes, wash cars, work in farms, among other disturbing things.

Information Nigeria also spoke with Esther John, a 15-year-old girl from Delta State, who lives with a family around Yaba, Lagos.

According to Esther, she started living with her current family when she was 12. Her mother’s elder sister who lives in Lagos had come to convince her mother to allow Esther to come to Lagos with her and stay with a rich family she knows very well.

Esther says her parents already had trouble with her fees and upbringing and even though she vehemently refused her mother convinced her that it was the best way for her to get a better life.

“Since I came to Lagos, it has been one type of work or another. It’s either they ask me to go and hawk soft drinks and bottled water or hawk jollof rice. Even on Sunday, I can’t go to church because I have to stay at home, to clean and wash the whole family’s clothes, ” she said almost in tears.

And when her mother calls her, she tells her to endure. All my mother says is “At least they are sending you to school and with one more year to go, you would take your Senior School Certificate Examinations, who knows they might even send you to the university”

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Family Size

With the high cost of living in Nigeria today, it has become almost possible for large families with no proper source of income to survive. In this case, everyone becomes a breadwinner and every little extra income from each member of the family counts.

Sometimes, these children on their own go out in search of labour, just to survive since they have little or no chance at surviving from what they are giving at home.

Cases have been heard of young children who take to the street to hawk or engage in labour just to get the amount of their school fees, exam fee or a particular levy at school.

Moshood Bello, also spoke to Information Nigeria, a 15-year-old boy, who lives around Agege, Lagos. Spotted washing cars in a car wash along Iju Road, Moshood says he goes there every day to wash cars. Depending on what the car owner wants the least amount is N500. Although he washes about 5 – 15, cars depending on how lucky he is that day.

However, not everything goes to Moshood as he is paid a percentage for every car he washes by the manager of the carwash.

“Sometimes I take home up to N2000 but other times I even make more when customers give me tips.”

On why he chose to were cars instead of going to school, he says no one will sponsor him. Moshood says he is the 4 child out of 9 children with the youngest being a baby.

He says his mother hawks Agege bread in the length and breadth of their area and his father is a vulcanizer. With the size of his family and his parent’s meagre income, the only way for him to survive is to wash cars. He walks all the way from their home in Agege, down to Fagba, on Iju road to make a living for him.

“When I get home and buy food for myself and my younger siblings. My elder ones are girls and they also fend for themselves, ” he said with a hint of pride in eyes.

What government has done

The federal government, including some state governments, have created laws and policies to tackle the menace of child labour in the country.

As with many other government policies, the bane with tackling child labour is implementation.

Many of the laws against street hawking and other forms of child labour are being flouted daily with visibly no government sanctions to check the rising trend.