15 June 2014

For The Child That Wins Bread | Guest Post for World Day Against Child Labour

"This article took me back to my own childhood experience and there's a smile on my face at the memory. However, reality tugs at that smile and images of children, child-workers fills the screen of my mind. As you read, remember your childhood experiences, whether good or bad, and strive to contribute to freedom for the child-workers in our environment. Say an empahtic "no" to Child labour."- Editor's note.

Image Credit: UNICEF
I was in primary four I think. After school I would get back home, take that annoying compulsory siesta and then watch the rest of the day go by. Some of my schoolmates on the other hand, were luckier--they had this really fun after-school job where they stacked trays with all sorts, placed it on their heads and waltzed into the horizon.

I had to wait for them to come back before we could play and sometimes they were too tired. I wanted to hawk too and I told my father that much. His answer was an emphatic "no". I broached the topic in different ways several times; his answer remained the same and his voice got louder. I got the message but I could not for the life of me understand why he would choose to deprive me of the opportunity to achieve my dreams. One bright and sunny day, I decided I had had enough. No more trampling on my fundamental human rights. I was going to do it and there was no stopping me. My big idea: hawking boiled groundnuts.

Armed with this new found strength, I saved enough to buy a bowl of fresh groundnuts. I came back from school, took off my uniform and went to work. I boiled the pods thoroughly, I tell you; stuffed them in open peak-milk tin cups, arranged them on a tray and went my merry way. After walking for like 10 minutes I began to look around, wondering why no one had called me yet. I walked and walked and walked. I could as well have been a ghost because I cannot recall anybody looking my way. It was then I bumped into him-- a neighbour of ours. My heart almost stopped. I thought, “I am dead, he is going to tell my father” but he looked at me sadly as if to say, “Is it so bad that they have to send this poor child out in the scorching sun to sell, of all things, boiled groundnuts?” and then he said “give me two cups.” I think it was more out of pity than a craving for what I was selling.

I was thankful for that but I still had a full tray. After embarrassing my family from my verandah to the market more than a kilometer away, I went back home. That was a low moment for me. I wanted to go back home with an empty tray like some of my playmates, and shock my father with a pocket full of money; to show him just how much there was to be made from selling boiled groundnuts. I came back from school the next day and lay on the bed, enveloped with an exhilarating feeling of gratitude. Most of all I was grateful for siesta, for the time I had been given to do with as I pleased. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt a pang of sadness for my playmates who hawked whether they liked it or not.

As we observe World Day Against Child Labour, I remember my father and I have come to see that his unflinching insistence that I face my studies were predicated on his understanding of the context and the issues. He understood the importance of education and was willing to do whatever it took to ensure I got one. He could afford to provide the necessities I needed to thrive– food, clothing, shelter; and therefore saw no advantage to me hawking. More importantly, even though hawking was acceptable in the society I grew up in; an unwritten understanding that parents who could not make ends meet could supplement their income using their children for labour, he never tolerated the culture.

The same cannot be said for the 246 million child workers in the world today who are denied access to education and made to engage in work that by its nature is dangerous to their safety, physical, mental and social health. While groups that fight for the rights of children are doing very important work, any intervention aimed at curbing the prevalence of child labour has to address the root cause of the menace– inadequacy of family income and lack of education. Parents who cannot afford basic necessities their children need to thrive are vulnerable to exploitation from employers who use children for labour or end up perpetuating the practice themselves. This inadequacy and ignorance amplifies their need, which blinds them to the hazards of engaging children for work, causes them to birth more children than they can cater for and reduces their chances of breaking the cycle.

“Employment is nature's physician, and is essential to human happiness.” So says Galen. While I agree with his assertion, it is imperative that employment is legal, voluntary, enhances the physical, emotional and professional growth of the employee and provides adequate compensation for the activity. Anything less is unacceptable.

Naomi Lucas is a graduate of Theatre and Communication Arts from the University of Jos, Nigeria. She’s an Entrepreneur, Youth Development Expert, Media and Communications Advisor, Blogger, and an astute Project Manager within Nigeria’s creative economy. She blogs at naomilucas.blogspot.com.

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