ASHABI  jumped deftly aboard the large bus that was just coasting to a stop at Oshodi, managing to unsteadily balance a tray of beef rolls in one hand and hung on for dear life to the bus’ doors as passengers struggled to alight from it. She is eleven years old, and the time was few minutes away from 10pm.

In response to the queries of a couple of incredulous passengers on the Cele-Ijesha bound bus, the youngster retorted: “Even my junior brother dey sell for Iyana-Isolo ( a popular bus stop on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway)”, as she proceeded to hawk her wares at the top of her voice while striding the length of the 50-seater bus.

“Look at how such a little girl is hawking by this time of the night when she should be in bed; what kind of parents will send such young children out to the streets to sell at such an ungodly hour? What if this girl is knocked-down by a moving vehicle, kidnapped or raped by persons of questionable character  lurking around?”, asked a bewildered passenger aboard the bus. This lamentation then degenerated into a hot debate among the passengers, with some arguing for and others against roadside trading among under-aged which is now a common sight on Lagos streets and highways.

Presently, in Lagos, at places such as Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Ikorodu Road, Agege Motor Road, Ikoyi-Obalende, Ojuelegba-Stadium, Oyingbo, Carter Bridge, Idumota, Oshodi, Ketu, Mile 12, Third Mainland Bridge, Cele, Iyana-Ipaja, Agbado, Oke-Odo, Ikeja among others, it is not uncommon to see little children ranging from 9-13 years hawking various goods on the roads. Some even take up the hazardous task of bus conductors.

These children who hawk by the roadsides usually suffer from fatigue, irregular attendance at school if they were enrolled at all, lack of comprehension and motivation, improper socialisation, exposure to risk of sexual abuse, high likelihood of being involved in crime.

Roadside trading, especially by children of school age, is a negation of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and also not in accord with the Lagos state social protection services. However, there is a divergence of opinions on what should be the response of government to street trading.   Some are of the view that government should not enforce ban on street trading because it is an integral part of African custom and tradition.

Others see it as a manifestation of both poverty and underdevelopment while some others see it as a natural trend in every major city of the world. But I am  of the view that a phenomenon that promotes child trafficking, misuse of public open spaces, insecurity on the highways, traffic gridlock, environmental degradation and violation of human rights should not be allowed to thrive.

It is indeed inhuman for anyone to engage a child in money making venture as seen every day on our roads with children running after moving vehicles with a view to making sales. Apart from  that, such children are denied basic education which is another important right of every child. Many children have sustained lifelong injuries through street trading and hawking. Moreover, children who engage in hawking or other forms of hard labour may physically bear the marks of this rigour on their bodies before they actually get to adulthood. Many of them have died as a result of hawking on the highways.

With all the environmental menace and insecurity associated with street trading; it is quite obvious that it could birth other social and security problems. It should be stressed that Nigeria has enacted legislation concerning child labour within the Labour Act and has also adopted the Child Right Act (CRA) (2003). A key provision of the CRA is that using children for hawking is a punishable offence under the Act while Section 59 (b) of the Labour Act which prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16 years in any work which is dangerous and injurious to their health.

It is in the light of this that it should be emphasised that the   Lagos State government has the   responsibility to execute policies that conform to best practice, that can mitigate environmental nuisance and the security threat which street trading poses to its citizens. Loss of educational opportunity to the child hawker and liability to the community and the nation as a whole are some of the reasons why the Lagos state government should be encourage to enforce the section of the CRA. Arising from this, our collective efforts should be geared towards securing a better future for our children.

Mr. Alao Diyaolu, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.

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