While many children have the pleasure of going to school, other less fortunate ones across the country are forced to put their dreams and hopes for the future on hold as they engage in roles and activities meant for adults. PEMBI DAVID-STEPHEN writes.
About five million out-of-school children across the nation are forced into child labour, getting into adulthood earlier than their time due to early exposure to the hard world of breadwinners. Yet, poverty is widespread. A UNICEF study accessed November 2008 shown shat nine out of 10 Nigerians live on less than $2 a day (that’s about N300).
At about 5:15pm, in the busy Zuba junction, along Abuja-Kaduna Road, Asabe (not real name), a seven year old girl runs endlessly after buses amidst careless traffic not because she wants to board, but to sell sachet water. Sometimes, she risks being knocked down by vehicles. Sixth in a family of nine, Asabe is among over a staggering 15 million children under the age of 14 who are forced into labour across the country.
She is part of the 40 per cent of Nigerian children who miss out in school and have no work in order to survive. “i have no one to help me; i was in school but had to stop because my parents have no money. From the little money i make, my mother would buy food stuff for the family,” she says.
Asabe carries too much responsibility for her age and she is exposed to long hours of work in dangerous and unhealthy environments.
“I leave home very early in the morning to fetch water in the well and help my mother to wash plates. After that, i go to the water i sell”, she say notes that her two older brothers and her younger brother have to work for the family to afford to eat.
“My elder brothers push wheelbarrows while my younger brother and i sell pure water but my other brothers abd sisters are in school, they join us to sell pure water and also kola nuts. My father said my brother and will be going to school next year. If we don’t go out to work, we will have nothing to eat at home. My mother has a baby so she cannot go out to sell anything. She sells firewood at home.”
Asabe explains that like a government worker who works for eight hours every work day, she hawks water for about seven hours each day of the week. “I come here by 7 am and go home by 10 am to do some house work and also eat. I go back by 12pm and close by 6pm or so. The young girl says she sells between three to four bags of sachet water every day.”
Asabe says her father worked in an office in Abuja. Until he lost his job in 2010, she was in primary one and was doing well. Now she sells water to survive. That particular Thursday, though Asabe hadn’t sold much as she could not get ice block from her suppliers; she is glad if she is able to sell three bags of sachet water.
Whenever Asabe sets out to sell sachet water, she says, people tell her things like ‘you are too young to sell pure water. Go to school and learn something so that you can have a life.’ But i cannot go to school because my parents cannot pay for me.” She has no time nor the energy to go to school not because she doesn’t want to but because she cannot afford to.
On a sunny Friday evening in Doka, Kaduna State, Asma’u, a 12-year-old girl was busy attending to customers. For three year, she has been hawking beans cake on the road sid
“I have been on this road since 2009 helping my mother to sell kosai. I cannot o to school because there is no one to help my mother with the baby. If i go, the work will be too much for her and she will not be able to sell again.”
“If my mother does not sell kosai, we cannot eat food because my father is an old man and cannot work. He stays at home to take care of his sheep.” She explains.
This fateful day, as on most days Asmau, with zeal beyond measure and a desire to sell on and go to the market to buy beans for the next sale, is happily on duty. “I want to go to the market and buy beans, pepper and onions for tomorrow. As you know, tomorrow is Saturday and that is the day we make more sales. Though we have these items at home, we need more to be sure we don’t run out of stock.” She says.
As you move through Suleja market, as early as 6:30 am, just opposite Conoil Filling Station, you are sure to notice Musa (not real name). Musa, a seven year-old boy, is popular not because he is Manchester United fan or that of the almighty Real Madrid, but because he helps his mum to sell Beans Cake. “I attend school but I have to come around and help my mother every day before I go to school,” he says with an air of accomplishment.
Speaking on helping on his mother to sell beans cake and still have time for his books, Musa says he makes sure he is not left behind in the class. “It is easy, I usually read at night. I make sure i finish my assignments before sleeping. I am not the best in the class but i am among the first ten.” He explains.
The need not to die of starvation and contribute her quota in running the family is certainly enough reason to make Safiya, a nine year-old native of Katsina State be on the street for more than five hours every day.
‘I wake up every day at 5 am to help my mother prepare Koko (local pap) which we sell at the bus stop. We go out to sell as early as 6 am and depending on the market, by 8 am, our koko is usually finished.
We go back home and prepare for the evening sale. In the evening, we start by 6:30pm and close by 8 pm or so.’ He says
Though helplessly unhappy, the young children like locusts on a farm, are everywhere on the streets, selling one item or the other to help their poor parents whose level of poverty cannot let them to send the children to school.
“My son,” Musa’s mother who was busy frying beans cake, calls the attention of LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, “If the children don’t help us, who is going to do so?” We know that they are supposed to be in school but tell me, can they be in school with empty stomachs?”
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