Child labor is on the increase in Gbarnga, Bong County where children ages 7-15 are bread winners for their families.
Investigation into the problem shows that some of the children are in school but many others are not.
Those without the opportunity to enroll are either engaged in farm work or are found in market places or on the streets selling an assortment of wares including cold water and drinks, potato greens, chewing gum and candy.
In an interview with the Daily Observer over the weekend in Gbarnga, Ruth Kerkulah, 7, says she lives at Silver Compound outside the city and sells cold juice.
“I live with my mother. My father is dead. I sell for her so we can have food to eat,” she told this reporter.
She said her mother is an old woman who cannot do much to earn the needed income to feed them, “Therefore, I help her to sell the cold juice every day, and then I can go to the school.”
She disclosed that she sometimes makes LD400-500 a day which makes her mother happy.
“It really hurts me when I go to sell on the school campuses and I see my friends dressed in their uniforms and I’m serving them with LD5 juice during recess period.
“I know that one day I will be in school like them because my mother promised to send me to school when I make plenty money for school fees,” Ruth explained.
Ruth’s mother, Esther Kerkulah, said the reason her daughter is not in school is due to the lack of financial support.
She said since the death of her husband, things have been very difficult and her daughter is the only person that normally helps her sell the juice she prepares every day. What she sells a day is used for food as well as solving other problems in the home.
“I’m not happy to send my only daughter to sell, but it’s because I’m paralyzed and there is no means of me going anywhere. I used to go on the farm but since my husband died of heart attack, I got involved in petty business.
“It’s my hope that one day my daughter will go to school. For now she will continue to sell until the money I want reaches the exact amount for her school fees. I don’t want to send her to school now and later take her out due to school fees,” Madam Kerkula said in tears.
Another young breadwinner, Forkpaye Sackie said, “I’m 12 years old. I live with my mother and father in Wainsue, Bong County and my parents are farmers. They send me to sell cold water, chewing gum and sometimes potatoes greens, cassava and other food when they harvest.”
Forkpaye said he has been selling for the last two years and has many customers who buy his products. But Forkpaye says he has never been to school.
He said “I see others going to school and I want to be like them but there is no means because my parents are making cassava, greens and pepper farm and I am the only one to sell in the market.
“I don’t want to disobey my parents by refusing to sell. My everyday work in the market won’t let me to be like my friends. I want to go to school. I also want my parents to send me to the garage so I can learn something to help them instead of selling from one community to another,” Forkpaye recommended.
Forkpaye said he walks many miles from his house to the market. “I wake up at 5 in the morning and because I can carry a big tub on my head, my head can hurt every day.”
When Forkpaye took our reporter to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mulbah Sackie described Bong County as one of the difficult places to live in terms of food and they only depend on farming.
Mr. Sackie stated that “the government is not prepared to help us to take care of our children by providing the necessary support they need as future leaders, but (the authorities) only make us afraid by saying they will arrest our children and put we the parents in jail. That will not happen because they are not helping us so they can’t stop us from sending our children to sell and help the family.”
He said if parents must stop sending their children to the market then the Liberian government through county officials must have a program that will enable all the children to go to school.
“I’m not asking for only financial support. As farmers, let the government provide us with seeds that we can plant to enable us to provide for our children,” Mr. Sackie asserted.