They leave their homes in the morning and rush to the market in the hot sun in order to make more sales because to them, this is the time people will be at their thirstiest which hopefully means more customers for the day. It is usually around nightfall before they return home to their parents. Child labor has become a serious issue in the country and this is leading to various forms of child harassment and endangerment.
*Maimouna, a 16-year-old girl who lives in Latrikunda, has been selling water at Latrikunda market for three years. According to her, she ventured into the business due to the financial hardships at home after the death of her father. “I decided to leave school after my primary six because my mother could no longer afford to pay both my school fees and that of my siblings who are still in primary school,” she told The Chronicle.
“The struggle here in the market is not an easy one, as we run after cars crossing dangerous roads, and sometimes we get beaten while trying to sell,” says *Maimouna. According to her, she wakes up early in the morning to do her chores, cook for the family and then targets the market around 1:00pm in the afternoon when the sun is hot because that is the time customers will want to drink more water. “I sometimes sell up to D700.00 or more depending on the market conditions,” said *Maimouna.
For *Maimouna, the money she gains from her sales is used to sustain her and her family, especially her siblings’ school needs. *Maimouna is committed to seeing her younger siblings go through school despite being a dropout herself. Her dream to graduate and become someone with great impact in the society ended with a plate of water on her head walking the market. “If I have the opportunity to go to school like other young girls out there I will, but because I cannot pay for school, I will try to make sure the young ones achieve what I could not. Often times we get harassed in the market, but I never give up because I know what brought me to the market to sell water,” *Maimouna told The Chronicle in an interview.
Another young market girl is *Binny who is 7 years old and lives around Coastal Road. *Binny goes to St. Theresa’s Lower Basic School. According to her, she goes to school in the morning and closes by 2pm. Upon reaching home, she changes into her market clothes after lunch and then carries her water to go and sell. This is the money her family uses for feeding and clothing.
*Binny is accustomed to her daily routine now, but still has her ups and downs in the business as she struggles to get home daily. “Going home is my biggest challenge, there is always a problem of getting a car to go back home and as small as I am, who can I push to find my way when there is a rush to find space in the car.” She said that she is usually pushed away by older and stronger passengers who are also trying to get home using the almost full commercial vehicles that ply the area she sells water. Oftentimes, it is usually nightfall when she gets home.
“I am not the only one in the family but I am the only one that my mother sends to come and sell.”
*Mariama one of the parents said “I have eight children that I take care of, and this is the reason I have to do this,”. Mariatou has been selling vegetables in the market for 10 years and has been traveling from Farato to Brikama daily. During the rainy season, she sells water in the market. According to her, if she has to sit at home doing nothing, her children will not go to school, have something to eat or clothes to wear.
“My children have to help with the selling, I am doing this for them and if all the work is left to me alone, it will not bring in enough money for the family,” she said. Her younger daughter *Begay in in third grade joins her at the market after school. “We only go home when the water is finished and, sometimes we stay here until 7pm. My daughter studies after we get home but sometimes, she doesn’t because she is too exhausted.”
“Because my husband is not feeling well and he is bedridden, I have to raise my children all alone. My first child stopped at grade 10 due to financial problems and it is only the second one that is able to go up to grade 12 this year. I do not depend on anyone for my children’s welfare and because help is not coming from anyone, I have to involve my children in this to make it easy for us to earn a living. I don’t keep the money I make from the sales because it goes to our daily needs,” said *Mariama.
*Ebou, a 14-year-old boy who lives in Nema with his parents works daily as a commercial vehicle apprentice and makes sure he goes home with some money for his family. “I am a student in an Arabic school and when I close from school at 2:00pm, I go to the garage to meet my boss and eat lunch when I get there. My mother sells at the market and selling alone cannot cater for all the family needs. I have to do this to help out,” said *Ebou.
“The job is really not easy because opening and closing the van doors can be laborious after a while. I sleep off when I get home because I am usually tired from the opening and closing of the door and also shouting for customers,” he said. According to *Ebou, he took this job because his parents asked him to so that he can help the family. *Ebou does not only have to deal with the physical demands of being a commercial vehicle apprentice, he has also learned to contend with rude passengers who find him suitable to heap their frustration on. “They come with insults and because I am small and out of respect for the elders, I cannot do anything about it but to keep quiet” he sadly said.
Lamin Fatty is the national coordinator of Child Protection Alliance (CPA), a non-governmental organization that advocates for child rights and protection and creates a conducive environment for children’s wellbeing and participation. He admits that many children are being sent out there to make a living for their families and are expected by the family to go home with ‘werrseh’ (daily earnings).
The Child Labour Act does not allow a child below the age of 18 to do any form of labour that will affect their physical and mental wellbeing. It also provides that basic education shall be free and compulsory for all children under the age of 16.
|Table 1. Statistics on Children’s Work and Education|
|Working (% and population)||5 to 14||20.1 (105,013)|
|Working children by sector||5 to 14|
|Attending School (%)||5 to 14||63.6|
|Combining Work and School (%)||7 to 14||10.3|
|Primary Completion Rate (%)||70.2|
Source for primary completion rate: Data from 2016, published by UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2019. (6)
Source for all other data: International Labor Organization’s analysis of statistics from Integrated Household Survey on Consumption, Expenditure and Poverty Level Assessment, 2015–2016. (7)
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Child Labor and Forced Labor Reports
But yet, children are allowed or sent by their parents to work when they are supposed to be in school which is a violation of the law. The laws are put in place for child protection, but then enforcement and loopholes within these laws has become the problem. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Child Labor and Forced Labor Report, “…although the government has adopted various policies addressing human trafficking, research also found no evidence of a policy on other forms of child labor. In addition, the scope of social programs is insufficient to fully address the extent of the problem, as programs do not reach all children working in agriculture and domestic work, or those vulnerable to human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, and street work”.
Child labor has long term consequences for the country in that children are not only denied the right to grow up as children should, they may not also be equipped to handle the needs of the country in the future. Their education becomes secondary to making money and this places them in harm’s way for criminals to abuse them.
*Names changed for confidentiality
Oumie Mendy is an intern at The Chronicle. She is currently studying Journalism at the University of The Gambia.