He described it as pathetic, but this is a daily routine of thousands of underprivileged Liberian kids who have to hustle on the streets of cities and major towns in Liberia, sometimes selling to make ends meet for their families, or provide for themselves.
This everyday life for these kids, some as young as seven or eight years old, according to former United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) security personnel, Captain Felix Walz, is pathetic and worrisome. He feels these children are being overstressed and that has taken them away from their core function—learning for a better future.
Captain Walz, a Swiss National, said it is so ironic that many of these kids are carrying out what could now be termed as their portion of their family/household chores assigned to them by their parents, selling on major thoroughfares in the ever busy capital, Monrovia, to make ends meet for their family.
“I feel for the lives of these kids, especially when they are between the cars selling. I think this situation is horrible and the Liberian people must see this as an embarrassing situation that needs urgent attention from every stakeholder,” Walz told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview recently in Monrovia.
“Children grow well when they have the time and chance to play properly and have a good learning environment and not to be on the streets whole day selling. This is unacceptable,” he said.
However, this is the rough life of a Liberian child who has to fend for him or herself, and sometimes the entire family. Others could term it as a story of livelihood or survival, but all these directly point to the precarious situations that kids in the country endure on a daily basis.
What is sad about this situation is that most of these kids are brought from the interior by relatives with promises made to their equally poor biological parents that the children will be sent to school, but they end up in the streets selling for these relatives. The frequent excuse from these parents and guardians has been the harsh realities that are currently present in the economy—unemployment, low salaries and higher prices of goods and services.
But Captain Walz feels these parents or guardians should stop using kids as breadwinners, no matter the situation.
“It is parents who should be the one making the necessary sacrifices in order to provide better education and better future for the children, who are considered as the future leaders of the country.
“When I pass by these kids while on my way to and from work, I feel so downhearted, thinking within myself: ‘why should parents allow children to be the breadwinner of the family?’” he said.
The captain said the behavior of parents has undermined the value of parenthood as these young kids sell in the streets, instead of going to school to help them prepare for a better feature.
He added that if this attitude from parents doesn’t change, it would create a vicious cycle of poverty and unskilled generations, among others.
He termed kids selling in the streets as a serious violation of their rights. “This is a complete child labor practice being carried out by parents. This deprives children, underage kids, their rights and hampers them from discovering their potential. This harms their dignity and they see themselves less valuable. This also retards kids’ physical and mental developments.
“The country, through the national government, is doing little to save these kids from a bleak future by ensuring that they get off the streets,” he said, adding that government needs to exert more pressure on parents to cater to their children.
The UNMIL officer also acknowledged that government could not do all, though it may try, but the rest remains with the parents to do the right thing and stop making the wrong decisions.
“Poverty shouldn’t cause you to make wrong decisions for your kids by sending them to sell on the streets. This is your responsibility, and you must shoulder it,” he noted.
In helping to mitigate some of this pathetic situation, Walz has established the Bowier Trust Foundation Switzerland, which would help in this regard, though it is still in an embryonic stage.
The foundation aims to assist children or students prepare for the future and to be able to manage their country in the near future. It also aims to educate children about the importance of hygiene, security among others.
Walz also said that most Liberian youth are very smart, intelligent and talented, but they lack opportunities that would help them bring these to fruition.
He feels this is a national emergency situation, because it would present a negative reflection on the country in the near future.
Captain Walz has a humanitarian heart; this is why since his arrival in Liberia few years ago, he has been involved in community development initiatives to help vulnerable communities and people. He has been involved in several capacity building programs, especially for adolescent girls.
In collaboration with community leaders, Captain Walz constructed a modern school in the Amagashie Community on the Somalia Drive.