Children Should Not Hustle!

Young girl hawking sachet water.Image: The Guardian The little girl ran up to me, somehow balancing the crate of boiled eggs on her head and trying to keep her falling wrapper in place. Her feet were clad with slippers that were well worn and designed with holes. She couldn’t have been more than eight years old and as she reached me, the smell of her unwashed body repulsed me more than she could have imagined. As she raised her head to ask if I wanted the eggs, I had a full view of her face.  She was made up, with a haphazard line taking center stage on her brows. Her eye pencil was dripping, making her lower lid look heavy. Her powder was in patches, with more shades of grey on her dark skin than there was on a wiped chalkboard. Her pouty lips were made more so with the red lipstick she wore and the very black liner she used to line her lips. She was wearing a torn Hijab made of a print material. The Hijab was bunched at her shoulders as she held the tray that held the crate. Her skirt was a different print from her top though they were similar in one way; they were both threadbare, dirty and reflected just how poor she was. I took all these in as she advertised her eggs. The makeup, dirty clothes, torn slippers and the over coat of unwashed funk all reflected one thing: poverty. In one glance, I could tell that this young girl was forced into child labor. It didn’t take Einstein to figure out that this little girl was doing this to make money for her family. She was probably going to walk up and down the town in her quest to sell the eggs. The more eggs she sold, the more likely her chances of eating something that night. If she returned the eggs home, she was most likely going to sleep hungry. As I continued to look at her, imaginations of how hungry she might be kept flicking through my mind. Though her smell repulsed me, I was drawn to her in a way that was against my personal principle. I was torn. A common sight in many African communities if the presence of child hawkers who are working to sustain their families.Image: Signal You see, when I was in primary school, I had a teacher called Mrs. Williams. She died. But before she did, she had imparted so much in me that I owe some of my life’s principles to her. She urged us always to be the best and always had little quips that stayed with us; with me. On one of such occasions, after a field trip to the airport, she said something that stayed with me till this very moment. As the school bus slowed at a traffic jam, some children ran up to it to display their wares. From candy popularly called ‘alewa’ to groundnuts and what not, these kids had enough to attract our attention. Many kids started pulling out their lunch money to get things and only refrained when Mrs. Williams bellowed. Thankfully, the traffic jam lessened and we got going. That was not before we saw the disappointed looks on the faces of the children as they saw us go. We had been their hope for some money but Mrs. Williams crushed that hope. I was, for the first time in my young life, furious at her. When we got to school, I was still furious. As we settled into our seats in class, Mrs. Williams demanded our attention. When she got it, she started teaching us about child labor and abuse. She told us it was wrong to send kids to the streets to hawk. She asked how we felt knowing our mates were hawking on the streets and highways when we were in class, learning and getting an education. In truth, we didn’t understand what she was saying – we were just in primary three – but the passion with which she spoke hit me. The message I got that day was that children shouldn’t work when they should be in school. As little as I was, I felt bad that I could afford to be in school while others were out there fending for themselves and their families. I really cannot remember if that was when I made the choice to never buy something from a kid but I know that as I grew up, my resolve strengthened. My ideology was that, as long as we buy things from kids, we were also promoting child labor. I felt that if children went home every night without selling anything, then their parents would be wise about sending them to the streets. At that time, all of these made great sense to me. As I grew older, I realized that the ideology I had was hard to keep, especially as child labor came closer to home. A close friend of mine, whom I will call Williams, had to work to make ends meet. Williams came from a comfortable family. He had two brothers and one sister. They had most of what they wanted. They ate right, dressed well and even went to good private schools. The fairy bubble burst when his father lost his job after the Kaduna textiles closed down. They were tiding over until they just couldn’t keep up the pretext anymore. They had to move to a much smaller house and even sell most of their stuff. After a while, his father travelled to find work and was not heard from for months. They had absolutely no idea where he was or even if he was alive. His mum had to pick up the mantle of leadership to keep the family going. She got a job working as a cleaner in a school where the pay was barely enough to cover utility bills. Gradually, they had to be pulled

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