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Child labourers not sure about their future

February 10, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai

Children who sell wares on the streets of Freetown have expressed fear over their future as most of them have stopped going to school, despite promises by their guardians that they would send them to school.

The sight of children selling wares on the streets of Freetown and major towns in the provinces is not uncommon. Most times these child hawkers are seen running after vehicles to sell their wares, while others ‘hustle’ in and around markets.

Alhaji Kargbo, a 14-year-old boy who sells cold water, soft drinks and ginger beer at the Eastern Police roundabout, says he used to go to school when he was with his mother at Samaya-Bendugu in the Koinadugu District. However, since he was brought to Freetown two years ago by his aunt he has not been attending school.

“I am willing to go to school because most of my friends in the community where I live are school goers and they have been telling me what they want to become in the future if they are educated,” he discloses. “I have attempted to tell my aunt to send me back to school but she would always shout at me and threaten to return me back to the village.”

Mabinty Turay, a 13-year-old girl who this reporter met around the King Jimmy area selling cold water, says she was in Class Three when she was brought to Freetown by her mother’s senior brother, who is a blacksmith.

She says she intends to continue her schooling but her uncle has told her to wait until next academic year when he would have gotten enough money to send her back to school. “My uncle is not against my going to school, but he always tells me to wait until he gets money,” she says.

She adds that if she doesn’t return to school, she is afraid she might not be the doctor she is aspiring to become.

Abdul Karim Conteh, Head of Child Labour and International Labour Standards Unit at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, admits that child labour is on the increase in Sierra Leone, especially in Freetown the capital.

He says the solutions to child labour are livelihood support programmes for vulnerable parents and children, affordable education programmes for children whose parents are poor, adding that these solutions should first be sought before laws are enforced on child labour.

He discloses that since child labour was brought under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour in 2010, after they signed an agreement with the International Labour Organisation, they decided to implement two major conventions which are 138, Minimum Age for Employment, and 182, The Worst Forms of Child Labour. He adds that both conventions have been ratified by Parliament.

“These conventions stress that the child should start to do non-hazardous jobs at age 15 and hazardous jobs at the age of 18,” he explains. “Hazardous jobs for children below 18 are underground mining, street trading, working in chemical industries, some work in the agriculture sector, cart pushing and pulling, serving as apprentice for vehicles, and working at sea, etc.”

Addie Valcarcel, Advocacy and Communication Coordinator at the National Commission for Children, said it is risky to send a child below the age of 14 to sell on the streets, especially for girls, as they may be impregnated by ill-motivated men.

“Street trading destroys the future of children. We are not saying children cannot help their parents at home but they should do so under their supervision,” she said.

She said the Commission frowns at parents and guardians who send their children to fetch water at night, noting that child trafficking is a crime and that most children who sell wares on the street are not with their biological parents in Freetown.