Child hawkers and street kids loitering around is a common sight on most streets of many cities in Nigeria. The international labor Organisation estimates that about 14 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are involved in at least one form of economic activity with around a 168million children involved in child labor globally.
Child hawking is a direct derivative of poverty. Data from World bank estimates that 40 percent of Nigerians live under the poverty line and another 25 percent are almost poor. Many Nigerian parents cannot afford sending their children to school. As a result, the number of children out of school is alarming.
Due to the high level of poverty in the country, some adults see the birthing of numerous children as ticket out of poverty or assurance of comfort and good life in their old age. This has lead to a lot of children being conceived and birthed in the country without proper plans for their welfare.
Some children are provided training at home and sometimes sent to pre-elementary schools before they are stopped altogether and taught how to fend for themselves. At such a young age, children who are supposed to be in the classroom studying are not only trying to fend for themselves but also for their aged parents and guardians at home.
Even when there is a provision for free education, some parents would rather their kids hawk so that food remains on the table at the end of the day. You see many of these children on Nigerian highways and streets, chasing after customers in public and private vehicles, trying to sell their wares. These children hawk almost everything: from drinking water to snacks, footwears, and cooking utensils.
Another reason why some children are hawking instead of being in school is lack of proper understanding of parents and the children even on the importance of education. They do not know or believe in the value of education. This idea that education is not important has become even more popular with the youths. They often make reference to a trend slang School na Scam.
Over the years, the government has tried to combat street hawking contain the number of kids on the street during school hours, but it has always been difficult and sometimes futile. The rising number of street children and school dropouts made the Nigeria government adopt Universal Primary Education (UPE) in the past, making free education compulsory for every Nigerian child. It was later remodelled into Universal Basic Education (UBE), but it still did not solve the problem of street hawking and has done only little in improving the literacy of the Nigerian child.
In recent times, the government has made a significant effort in curbing child hawking and education for every Nigerian child, below are some of the policies the government has enacted to help improve education in the country.
Nigeria’s Policies Mandating Education for Every Child
Free and Compulsory Education: After the civil war, and at the height of the oil boom, the Nigerian government and that of different states adopted free education in full form. Missionary schools that provided education to those who could afford it was taken over by the government and was subsidized or made free. There was an improvement in the literacy level of the country, but most children still did not go to school.
In the 2000s, the Nigerian government reiterated their commitment to ensuring that every child had access to education. They announced that there was free and compulsory education for every Nigerian child. It was made possible by keeping schools free for enrolment, and school items like bags, books, writing material and uniforms made free to enrolling pupils. Some states also provided free and compulsory education it its schools and signed in the Child’s Rights Act into law in a bid to stop child labor and hawking.
School Meal and Feeding: In 2013, the National Poverty Eradication Program (NPEP) began disbursing food and to poor families on the condition that their kids remain in school. Also, in the present administration’s bid to encourage parents to enrol their children in school, the present government promised to provide one meal per day in schools. This, however, has not really been effective in most schools across the country.
Constant Campaigns and Announcements: The Nigerian government since independence had always used the media as a tool for campaigns and announcements, encouraging parents to enrol their children in schools. They use radio jingles, announcements, TV broadcasts, adverts, and newspaper publications to sensitize the population on the need for education.
It is not uncommon to hear the government say that every child has right to education. However, little has been done to ensure that this becomes a reality for many Nigerian children. It is even more disheartening when you look at the budget of the country for education. The UNESCO benchmark for education is 15 to 20% of the nation’s budget but Nigeria has never allotted up to 10% for education. For 2021, the government allotted only 5.6% to education.
Education and Religion: Due to the religious nature of most Nigerians, the government decided to mix religion and education together, hoping that the religious nature of the citizens would entice them to seek education through religion. This was first introduced by Christian missionaries, but it has been adopted by Muslims too. The last administration built schools for Almajiri students, thereby combining the learning of Islamic doctrine and western education. The schools taken from the church by the state were returned to the church too all in a bid to entice more Nigerians to go to school.
The government have not fully enforced the policies due to a lot of factors. Shortage of funds, corruption, and lack of political will contribute as the reasons why the government of the country have failed in execution of these policies. Currently, 8.7 million children of primary school age are out of school.
National Program on Elimination of Child Labor: In 2001, The government adopted a program called the national program on elimination of child labor. This program had two main functions: to raise awareness against child labor and to enforce policies that favor children i.e taking custody of children cause hawking, rehabilitating them, and reintroducing them into the society.
Lagos State Government Ban on Street Hawking: In 2016, the Lagos state government banned all forms of child hawking. This ban on the long run wasn’t enforced properly and was ignored years later after a change in government.
In as much as efforts have been put in by both government and private institutions curb child hawking and street loitering by children during school hours, The problem remains unsolved and, the number of child hawkers and children out of school children haven’t reached a bare minimum.