Every day, while children of their age are in school, Hafsat Usman and Maimuna Iliyasu would carry trays on their heads, hawking boiled and fried groundnuts in the streets of Hadejia Local Government Area of Jigawa State.
When eight-year-old Usman fail to sell all the groundnuts, she would wait till late evening and go to a motor park where she would join other hawkers, mostly young girls, to sell to drivers and passengers.
Usman said her mother sends her out to hawk. “My elder sister used to do it, and now she got married. There’s no one to do it but me. All the money will be used to buy us food,” Usman told Prime Progress.
Unlike Usman, who has never been to an Islamic school, six-year-old Iliyasu hawks from morning to afternoon and returns home in the evening. She will then rush to a nearby Tsangaya school for lessons.
Iliyasu said his father doesn’t want her hawking, “but my mother always insists, and she’s using the money most of the time,” says Iliyasu.
Usman and Iliyasu are friends who live in the same neighbourhood. “I would like to go to school like the children we see on the road every morning when we are hawking,” Iliyasu said.
Usman also said she admires the children she sees in the schools within the town. “We usually go to school during their break to sell them groundnuts. I want to join them too, but whenever I tell my mother about it, she will say I should forget it and understand that our lives aren’t the same,” she said.
Usman and Iliyasu are only two of the 74% of the children in Jigawa reported by UNICEF as multidimensionally poor and deprived of their fundamental rights, including education, and despite efforts by successive governments in the state, it still has an army of children roaming the streets and hawking.
Hard to sell
According to a 2022 UNESCO data, Jigawa has one of Nigeria’s highest out-of-school children rates, with more than 700,000 children, mostly in rural areas and hard-to-reach communities, not attending school.
This number is despite the state’s claimed investment in the sector. In 2009, Jigawa State budgeted over N20.5 billion to restructure the education sector, and more has been budgeted since then.
The government had also declared free education from basic to secondary institutions in the state; it also prioritised the education of girls, creating a system that allows them to study up to tertiary institutions for free and receive stipends every academic year.
But in a state where 8 in ten people live in poverty, parents choose the safety of food today over education’s promise. So, parents send their children to hawk on the streets as a means to provide for their families, denying the children the privilege of an education.
Notwithstanding, this has not been without consequences for the children; They are exposed to hazardous conditions that endanger their physical and emotional health. Many children hawk in busy streets, often near moving vehicles and in unsanitary environments, increasing their vulnerability to accidents, injuries, and illnesses.
Additionally, prolonged exposure to harsh weather conditions, such as extreme heat or heavy rains, has led to health issues that can have immediate and long-term effects on their overall development.
A Local reaction, will it work?
In an attempt to reverse the spate of children beggars in their locality, authorities in Hadejia Local Government Area recently banned the use of children as beggars and children hawking at night.
The authorities said the children have been exposed to all forms of abuse, including sexual-related violence in motor parks and markets across the town.
The chairman of Hadejia Local Government Area, Bala Abdulkadir, called on parents to support the government’s efforts by enrolling their children in schools instead of allowing them to hawk on the streets.
Need for more
Ending child street hawking and getting them to school requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the root causes and provides comprehensive support to children and their families.
Firstly, While the government constantly mouths free education, it should invest in ensuring that it is accessible and of quality. The government should also ensure that the environment is safe and engaging, as children are likelier to stay in schools they enjoy.
Secondly, targeted social welfare programs can be crucial in ending child street hawking. These Families sending their children to hawk live in poverty, and by implementing cash transfer programs or offering financial assistance to vulnerable families, governments can alleviate economic hardships and reduce the necessity for children to engage in street hawking.
These programs should be accompanied by vocational training and job placement opportunities for parents to enhance their employability and income-generating potential.
Also, vigorous enforcement of child protection laws and regulations is essential. The government should actively combat child labour by imposing strict penalties on those who employ or exploit children on the streets.
Simultaneously, creating awareness campaigns and sensitizing communities about the negative consequences of child street hawking can foster a collective effort to end the practice.