Chibuike Ibe jumped nimbly aboard the large bus that was just rolling to a stop at Oshodi, managing to precariously balance a tray of beef rolls in one hand and hang on for dear life to the doors as passengers struggled to alight from the bus. He is nine years old, and the time was few minutes shy of 10pm.

Reacting to the queries of a couple of incredulous passengers on the Mile 2 bound bus, the youngster retorted: “Even my junior brother dey sell for Cele (bus stop on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway)”, and proceeded to hawk his wares at the top of his voice while striding the length of the 50-seater bus.

“Look at how such a small boy is selling things by this time of the night that he should be in bed, what kind of parents will send such young children out to the streets to sell? What will he even sell?” asked a Shola Akanbi, a passenger aboard the bus.

Not all passengers, however, shared Ms. Akanbi’s concerns, as the wad of cash that Chibuike clutched in his dirty hands showed sufficient proof that business was good.

As the massive population of Lagos State continues to swell considerably, the activities of child hawkers have continued to increase, despite the efforts made by the state government’s at curtailing this development.

Child Hawker at Oshodi

Child Hawker at Oshodi

What the government did

Concerned with the trend, the state government have rolled out series of sensitisation programmes in the last few years and warned that parents whose children were caught in the streets, especially during school hours, would be issued a ‘yellow card’ for first offenders, and a ‘red card’ for repeat offences.

The state’s deputy governor, Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, has constantly instructed law enforcement agents to sweep the streets and apprehend defaulters, specially targeting the arrest and prosecution of parents whose children were caught.

“Education and proper upbringing of our children is the only way to eradicate poverty,” she said. “The law forbids the use of under-aged children for domestic labour, negligence and maltreatment on the part of parents and guardians as it negates the tenets of the Child Rights law. The Lagos State Government, through the various agencies of government, will ensure the survival, development and protection of all the children in the state, the laws will be enforced to the letter in order to ensure that all the rights of our children are protected.

Parents, scared of finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, reign in their children during day. However, the child hawkers simply come out at night, when law enforcement officials are scarce. And their numbers have continued to swell considerably.

Spots like Oshodi, Ojuelegba, Obalende, Cele bus stop, and Mile 2 are their favourite haunts due to the high number of commuters that pass through these places, and their bustling night life.

‘We make money to support’

Another child hawker at Oshodi, who gave her name as Toun, said she had to make sure that she sold out her oranges before going home, often as late as midnight. She gave her age as 14, but looked 10.

“Our house no far, so if I finish this one, I will go and take more from my mother who is peeling them there,” she said, while expertly balancing a tray of oranges on her head and darting in between the buses at Oshodi. “Why my mama say make we help am sell na to support am.”

Not all of them, however, are trading to supplement family incomes; some, like 16-year-old immigrant Sherrif Adebisi, have no family to take care of them, and simply have to live off the streets.

“Before I used to beg (for alms), but one Good Samaritan gave me N5000 and I started with pure (sachet) water business before I went into the soft drinks that I am doing (selling) now,” he said.

Bad economy

Oluyemisi Wada, founder of Haven for the Nigerian Child Foundation, an Lagos-based NGO that rehabilitates street children, is not comfortable with the government’s efforts so far, and also blames parents for contributing to the increasing population of street children across the metropolis.

“The economy is so bad now even in urban areas, not to talk of rural areas that majority of these children come from, so parents often end up subjecting these children to street hawking,” she said. “Often, these children run away to the cities in search of better lives. I think parents should pay more attention to children, and strive not to put them in situations were running away from home becomes attractive.”

For some of these children, like Chibuike, it is simply a question of survival.

“If I finish selling, I go follow big bus go Cele and help my mama pack for where she dey sell before we go begin go house,” he said.

Glance box: UNICEF REPORT

  • Child labour remains a major source of concern in Nigeria, in spite of legislative measures. Child labour is defined as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development.
  • According to the International Labour Organization, the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15 million.
  • The high level of diverse and tedious jobs that children execute in dangerous circumstances is particularly worrying. These jobs include being street vendors, beggars, car washers or watchers and shoe shiners.
  • Research also shows that child workers display poor educational achievements. Girls start working at an earlier age than boys, particularly in the rural areas.
  • Major causes of child labour are widespread poverty, rapid urbanisation, breakdown in extended family affiliations, high school dropout rates, and lack of enforcement of legal instruments meant to protect children.
  • Traditionally, children have worked with their families, but today children are forced to work for their own and their family’s survival. The money earned by child family members has become a significant part of poor families’ income.
  • These children who work suffer from fatigue, irregular attendance at school, lack of comprehension and motivation, improper socialisation, exposure to risk of sexual abuse, high likelihood of being involved in crime.

Story By Telegraph NG