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Selling for Survival and Harming the Future: State of Child Labor In the Gambia

In Gambia, children as low as under ten years have become key economic players at the detriment of their future. This is visible mainly in the country’s metropolitans such as the greater Banjul area and rural towns doing different forms of labor that have the potential to sway them from their academic journey.

The Gambia ratified ILO’s Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor 1999 (C182) since July 2001 which prohibited all forms of hazardous activities that may compromise the physical, mental, social or educational development of children.

The Children’s Act 2005, amended in 2016 does not also allow a child below the age of 18 to do any form of labour that will affect their physical and mental well-being.

In the Gambia, children are mainly engaged in agricultural, trading and manufacturing activities.

“Of course, I am going to school. I’m in grade eight. But my mother asked me to do this business to support her in terms of financial needs,” Binta, 14, tells The Chronicle.

Her daily economic routines include selling water in the Serekunda market every morning before she goes to school in the afternoon.

“I’ve been doing this for a while now, maybe for five years when I was ten years old. It has been affecting me more especially in the beginning but I guess I’m used to it now. But I believe that without engaging in water selling, my performance could even be better than this in school,” she said.

Binta narrated her ordeals she gets from her business trips every day in the form of a general body pain which leads to her skipping her study time tables at home for many occasions.

“Yes! I know that some of my classmates that are ahead of me will not beat me in academic performance if I should get enough rest and study time.”

The practice of children selling water, pea nuts and cakes are rampant across The Gambia. The practice has contributed to the rate of drop-outs of school for many children especially girls.

“When I was going to school, I was selling peanuts for my mother in the market. But things weren’t going well economically so I decided to leave school at grade 5,” says a 14-year-old girl Fanta Njie in Farafenni.

Fanta would normally leave her house at breakfast time carrying his plate of roasted peanut prepared by her mother to sell in the market. She would come home at lunch time. By 4pm, she would go back to the market only to retire for the day late evening. According to her, she could not do anything else.

“I’m making sure that my siblings continue to attend school by helping them from my business gains,” she tells The Chronicle.

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An increasing number of young boys are also being used as apprentices for commercial vehicle drivers – with tasks to open and close vehicle doors for passengers as well as collecting fares. Ebrima Ngum is seen in one of the vehicles doing exactly that and he tells The Chronicle he sometimes gets punished when he confuses collections.

“It’s not easy bro,” he tells the reporter in his native wolof language. “The driver will call me up sometimes 5 in the morning. We’ll walk the whole day. I would be so tired in the vehicle. And when this happens, I would start confusing the money – I would accidentally skip some passengers and in the end, when everything is accounted for, I get punished. The driver would not beat me but he’ll stop going with me for a certain number of days,” Ebrima says.

According to him, his parents are happy with his work because it makes him take care of his own daily lunch sum at school. At 15, in grade 8, Ebrima normally joins his driver between early morning and midday on school days and rests on the day on non-school days.

A mother who also engages her children in water selling, Fatou Gassama, justified that “I have eight children that I take care of, and this is the reason I have to do this.”

Fatou has been selling vegetables, leaves, groundnut etc in the market for close to 10 years.

“My children have to help me 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. 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,” she tells The Chronicle.

According to the United States Department of Labor, in its 18th annual findings released last year on the Worst Forms of Child Labor Report (TDA Report), The Gambia is engaging in the worst forms of child labor.

Muhammed Kebbeh, Global Youth Ambassador for TheirWorld said the issue of child labour is one of the major factors that is hindering the progress of many children’s education in The Gambia. he said it sometimes even leads to school dropouts.

Muhammed-Kebbeh-mentoring-lower-grade-students-in-The-Gambia

“It is an undisputed truth that there is a high rate of child labour in the Gambia and there are scores of reasons to back that. It is evident that lots of children engage in selling at almost every corner of the greater Banjul area and in the other cities.

“Children engage in selling stuff like water, groundnut, banana, apple and many other foodstuffs. Some even go to the extent of engaging in the business of street begging, which is now becoming lucrative in the Gambia,” he said in an article published in his organization’s website in 2017.

As per the Children’s Act 2005, no person shall exploit a child in any form or way that is prejudicial to the welfare of the child. It prescribed a punishment of the offender upon conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand dalasi or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or to both the fine and imprisonment.

However, according to a child protection activist, Lamin Fatty the law around child exploitation has never been implemented.

Lamin Fatty

The Child Protection Alliance’s National Coordinator indicated that the government could have played its part well by implementing the child rights and protection regulations, which he said have created a conducive environment for children’s wellbeing and participation.

The veteran child protectionist, Njundu Drammeh believes in order to end the child labor in the country, the government must ensure every child of school going age is in school and stays there, compulsory and available to all.

He added: “The state to support vulnerable families through cushioning them from the effects of poverty by strengthening the social protection system.”

Njundu also recommends for the full implementation of the domestic laws as a way of ending the practice.

“The state should enforce the provisions in the Children’s Act 2005 and Labor Act 2007 which prohibit child labor or the engagement of children in works or activities which are exploitative, hazardous or not in the best interest of children.”

Editor’s Note: Names of the children used in this story are not their real names. 

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