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Child hawking is never OK. But our culture still permits it

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“I’m a hawker, my Mummy is a hawker so I’m a hawker too.  I’m the third of eight children. Of my two older brothers, one hawks and the other one is a driver.”

Child hawking is prevalent practice in Nigeria, most major highways and streets are often flooded with emaciated children running after cars on shrunken legs and balancing boxes of pastries and cigarettes twice their size on their bobbleheads.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that in Nigeria about 14 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are involved in a form of economic activity. UNICEF estimates in their 2017 annual report around 10.5 million children are not in school, making Nigeria’s uneducated child population amount to one-fifth of the global burden for out-of-school children. But while a loss of education is the most cited side effect of hawking, the dangers aren’t just academic- they’re physical too.

“I ran after a car once and dropped the things I was carrying and the driver ran over everything, my Mommy beat me that day, we lost so much money, said Ifemelu, a 15-year-old hawker.”

Stories abound where child hawkers who chase moving cars and cluster near traffic girds are knocked down by other vehicles, leading to injuries, bone fracture and amputation, maiming and death. Child hawkers due to long hours of wandering about and lack of time to rest and eat experience physical exertion, malnutrition and premature ageing.

Child hawkers who are employed as sales girls or boys usually receive little or very low wages or may not be paid in cash, but are usually forced to replace or pay for items lost during hawking by their masters or mistresses. All these expose children to emotional health problems, sexual molestation with its sexual transmitted infections, kidnapping, trafficking, injuries, malnutrition and body pains.

When I was still hawking in Ebute Metta, one man who is a supplier told me I should pay him back by putting his penis in my mouth. He made me come into his shop and locked the door behind him, I was very scared but I told him no and he didn’t fight me, he opened the door and sent me away. I was 11 at the time.”

Families often force their children out of school, to be employed in any job that will help in the support of family income without considering its effects on the health of the children.  Sometimes also, children out of their own volition engage themselves in child labour for survival. The reasons for putting children at such high risk are often valid.

Moreover, many families in Nigeria are too large due to polygamous marriage and extended family affiliations. In such families, it becomes difficult or almost impossible for parents to cater adequately for numerous children in the areas of nutrition, health care and education. For the children to survive, many of them may be sent out to work outside the home. The government is yet to find a solution to this growing problem. Buhari’s school feeding scheme promised relief in theory but failed in practice, with its arbitrary implementation and limited age group.

Hawking can make a person very tired, my feet are usually so painful. Sometimes my neck hurts so much I can’t put my head down to sleep. But I don’t want to stop hawking because it nice going out of the house everyday.  Someday I will make enough money for my family so I don’t need to hawk again but until then, who will feed them?”


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