Role Swap: Children Now Being Used as ‘Bread Winners’

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It is often said that children are blessings from God and are the future of every society. This calls for them to be properly educated and nurtured with morality and with ardent love and care from parents, guardians and others to prepare them to face the future.

But the case is often most times, quite different in Liberia; as many children, including the ones pictured above, who forced to survive on the streets selling to make ends-meets for their parents.

The issues of child abuse, labor, trafficking and other crimes suffered by children are on the rampage throughout the country even though the Liberian National Police have reportedly “taken measures to curtail these happenings.”

Many children in Liberia, as young as 7, 8, and 9 are forced into the roles of “breadwinners,” without chances to acquire an education that would assure them of a better future. This simply means these children—who number in the hundreds of thousands— are facing a depressing future.

During a survey by reporters of the Daily Observer Thursday in Monrovia, it was discovered that many of these children are laboring just to feed themselves. This is a responsibility that has been neglected by their parents/guardians.

We spoke with two young children, Daniel Yansaih and Martha Nyanquoi, who were selling bathing  siphon or sponge at the Bus Station on McDonald Street. These cut sponges are torn from a whole mosquito net, which are brought into the country by donors and given to the Liberian government for use in prevention of mosquito. These things slip out of the government’s control and end up in streets being sold siphons by these kids some adults.

Martha and Daniel, who did not say their ages because they did not know, disclosed that it was difficult for them to receive an education as well as make a living, adding that “We have to sell before receiving something to eat at home.”

The two children from the New Georgia Estate area,  explained that they usually walk from the New Georgia Estate to central Monrovia to sell bathing siphons for their guardian, Ma Mary. The distance they cover morning and evening is nearly five kilometers from central Monrovia, where they come to sell every day.

Their torn siphons or sponges are sold for L$10 or 25. They highest they have ever made in their trade is L$600 (US$7.50 at prevailing exchange rate between the Liberian and US dollars).

According to Daniel, who is a student of the Joel Elementary School at Tusa Field, his mother lives in the Caldwell area and currently works for white people as a cook and cleaner, “I can go spend time with my mother and come back to Aunty Mary.”

 “I am not feeling fine selling in the streets, but I have to do it in order to help my aunt pay my school fees and provide food for us. My aunt is also selling the same market I am,” Daniel disclosed.

He explained that the living conditions of children in the country are not being looked at by the national government.

Daniel then called on the government to support the youthful generation for the challenges ahead, adding that the future of children must be seen as important by the government.

At the same time, Martha, Daniel’s selling mate said, “In spite of my selling in the street, I am hoping to get a better education because I have the dream of becoming some one important in my country.”

Martha explained that her father, Pewee Nyanquoi, is suffering from a sickness that has left him unemployed for years. “This is the reason why I am selling on the streets and it is the only we will have food to eat.”

Despite living this destitute life, little Martha called on Liberian children to obey their parents and focus on their education if they have the opportunity to go to school.

“My friends laugh at me when I am coming to sell, but it doesn’t move me because I am working towards my goal. I have to sell and work hard in order to get a better education.”   

Since the Observer could not get a direct response from the parents or guardians of Martha and Daniel, we decided to look back at a similar story we ran in our Thursday’s January 30th edition.

In that article, a little boy of eight, Joseph Flomo, a student of the J. F. Clarke Kindergarten School in Gbarnga, said that it is through the sale of baskets (ones used as chicken houses) that his father is able to send him to school.  

The J. F. Clarke Kindergarten School is a government-run elementary school situated in the Bad Habit Land Community on the Kokoyah Road in Gbarnga.

“I have to come from school to go and sell the baskets before we can eat anything” Joseph Flomo told the Daily Observer.

He informed this paper that he is the youngest of three and that his mother died as the result of labor complications; leaving behind he, his siblings and his father who is disabled.

“I should have been in the second grade, but due to my irregularity in class coupled with my engagement with the selling, I have had difficulty with my lessons” Little Joseph Flomo disclosed.

An investigation conducted by this paper established that many school going children between the ages of seven to ten years in Gbarnga are involved in street selling despite its publicized government free and compulsory school program.

Even in the face of persistent cries from human rights groups operating in the county condemning the use of minors as bread winners; it appears as if many parents are still making use of their children to contribute to their household incomes.

Many parents who spoke to the Daily Observer attributed the rising number of street selling children to the high cost of living.

Nyamah Dolo, a mother of five told the Observer that her children are selling not because of extreme hardship but what she termed as “training” so that they would not be beggars or liabilities to society.

“You see me, my mother reared me the hard way, this is the reason I am on my own” Nyamah emphasized.

Another mother, Korto Kollie, a former teacher, stressed that due to the current economic insecurity in the country, specifically in rural Liberia, many parents engaged their children in petit business in order to provide some financial stability to the home.

“If the children do not sell, how will the home be stable when the man (husband) is unemployed?” she asked.

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