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With schools’ vacation comes rise in child hawkers but …

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STREET trading, a common trend in developing nations,  also called street vending could be described as an act of selling retail goods directly on busy city streets.

 

It can also be seen as an act of displaying  wares for retail sales by the road side. Carrying wares on head pan or raising samples of them to commuters while the vehicles are on the move in a snarling traffic is a  common form of the practice.

 

present day street hawkers, unlike those of the past who used to move from house to house and around the market place. besiege busy high ways due to large number of commuters every day. Street hawking, has also expanded to comprise small scale trade in which the seller moves around in public offices, institutions and mainly motor parks as well as busy public paths. Most of its operators are children.  A child, on the other hand, is a person, male or female, who is below the age of 18.

 

These hawkers constitute the sight that catches attention in most major cities these days. The shabbily dressed, under-aged children hawking various kinds of goods. They daily take risks on busy roads to make sales. During holidays their ranks increase.

 

Most of the holiday workers, as they are usually called, who are between 9 and 12 years, are sent to the street markets by their parents or guardians.  Some of them gets tougher and are  at times, mistaken for wolves in sheep clothes, because of the environment they are found in like motor parks. Most of them are actually out to make brisk money which will enable them go back to school upon resumption of classes.

 

However, parents and guardians tend to overlook the risks some of the children face when hawking on the streets and indeed wherever their businesses take them. Besides being attacked by thieves, these children are exposed to auto accidents as they usually rush near any car which stops by, to brandish their goods to passengers.

 

Roadside or street vendors are an integral part of mostly urban economies around the world and they offer easy access to a lot of goods. They sell everything ranging from fresh vegetables to prepared food, to even clothes and pieces of crafts. Street hawking by children, especially the girl child, in most parts of the developing world has become a common thing.

 

It is often argued that hawking among children is a part of African culture and tradition while some are of the opinion that the family can do with the support of the child in augmenting the family income, through the money they make from hawking on the streets and highways. But then, the child, by hawking is exposed to lots of dangers and challenges that if left unchecked could cause a lot of damage to the child in future.

 

Reasons abound for the thriving of street hawking in Nigeria. In the first place, most Nigerians have a habit of eating while in transit. Not many commuters eat before boarding vehicles especially in the morning.  while on transit, they would urge the driver to stop so that they can buy food. The poor nature of road networks in Nigeria has also made matters worse as it takes several hours to cover short distances due to pot holes, check points, stop over and congestions.

 

With this, people tend to be hungry on transit. In addition, low income earners, as well as people who do menial jobs prefer to buy from hawkers because it is cheaper and sold in small quantity and items can be obtained at any time.

 

Sadly, irrespective of the inconsequential financial worth of items being hawked, the child-hawker is faced with the danger of getting kidnapped, knocked down by vehicles, robbed, sexually assaulted or even killed.

 

The child is also exposed to a lot of vices as he or she is influenced by undesirable elements he mingles with, in the garages and parks. His health is also affected as he engages in activities too strenuous for his young and fragile form.

 

He is denied his childhood as he is forced to work and take up adult responsibilities. The most dangerous end result of children hawking and making money during holidays is that some of them who make huge income on daily basis eventually consider going back to school a waste of time and would prefer to drop out of school instead of continuing when the school resume.

 

Despite the fact that money gotten from sales made by some of these children goes a long way to help them and their families, there are many negative stories associated with street and market hawking by these children of school age. Firstly, these children work outside under harsh weather conditions.

 

Sometimes, these children do their businesses under the rain or under the scorching sun.  Most times, they contact some serious diseases as a result of these unfavourable weather conditions. Secondly, they are exposed to physical risks as some of them tend to carry very heavy things such as already prepared food, carrying very heavy loads with wheelbarrows , and worst still, some of them work as labourers, aiding in mason works at building sites.

 

commenting on the issue, Rev Izuchukwu Uzoegbu, a pastor with God’s Light Church, Attah Road, Nkpor, and  a father of three boys and a girl has this to say: “Children hawking during holidays is good training for so many reasons. Firstly, hawking makes children to start early to learn and value hard work, and to know that there is no short cut to success.

 

Hawking is a way of showing them the real life, letting them know that life is not a bed of roses, what life is really like out there, and more so, preparing them early to face the world as it is. Secondly, hawking prepares children to be independent and responsible. When a child makes money, he or she either uses it to support the family or save it for school fees and other requirements in school as the case may be. Thirdly, hawking helps children to learn how to save money.

 

Even my own children were all engaged in one hawking business or the other when they were in primary and secondary schools.  Today, all of them are grown and doing well”.

 

For Mrs Augustina  Igboezue, a nurse with a private hospital, “hawking by children is a form of child labour and it contravenes the Child Rights Act, which stipulates that children under the age of 18 should not engage in any work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to them, preventing them from going to school; obliging them to leave school prematurely or to combine school attendance with excessively long or heavy work.

 

The exploitation of the child cannot be rationalized, justified or defended under any guise. Times are hard, things are changing and that is the more reason why children should be guarded jealously.

 

Parents will have to work extra hard to ensure that their children are provided for and not push them out to fend for the family. It doesn’t really sound logical to argue that an adult needs the assistance of a child to make ends meet. It is true that the times are hard. Yes, these are, indeed, tough times! But this should not be enough justification to toy with the lives of our children”.

 

Mrs Okwuchukwu Nnaji said, “Street hawking exposes the hawkers to antisocial behaviours. Street hawking is a threat to family socialisation as these children while in the street depend on peers and other adults to learn values, morals and attitudes. They may end up picking behaviours that are not socially acceptable. The antisocial behaviours hawkers could be exposed to in the street ranges from robbery, smoking, drinking, being sexually active, cultism and vulgar languages”.

 

Mr Iwuchukwu, a business man, on his own part, said “hawking in itself is not a bad thing.  I can never say that a child that decides to start early in life to be industrious has a bad idea.  But it should always be done under the watch and supervision of the parents.  Most times, some parents influence their children to take to hawking, that in itself is not a bad idea.

 

There are, however, a number of children whose decision to go into street hawking was not influenced by their parents, but their love for hard work and the prevailing economic situation. As well, there are children who are pushed into hawking by their desire to make money at early age”.

 

He further said that children hawking during holidays become a problem when parents and guardians have little or no time to monitor their activities. Children need to be guarded in anything they do.  He observed that some of the street hawkers in his area were involved in smoking cigarettes and marijuana, robbery and pick-pocketing, petty prostitution for the girls, usage of vulgar languages and so many other vices.

 

According to him, “the above findings are a reflection of the moral decadence among street hawkers in the whole of the country. I believe that if the parents of these children monitored them very closely, they would have noticed when the behaviours of their children started changing, and they would have taken the necessary steps to put them on line. So, my take is that children should hawk to help themselves and their families, but should be closely monitored by their parents. Parents should endeavour to spend more time with their children, pray with them always and very importantly, monitor them closely.”

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