By Amie Sanneh
Children as young as 6 years, who normally should have been in school, are conspicuous in the major intersections and commercial areas in the sprawling Kanifing Municipality begging or selling negligible stuff for very few dalasi to take home to their parents.
It is becoming a normal feature seeing nursing or young mothers roaming the streets with their twins and young children in two asking for alms or a child going round with very few items on a plate to sell for few sums that are needed to supplement the income of the household.
“I am engaged in begging in order to support my sick mother at home as our father is in the village and we are very poor,” said the twelve year girl, who was carrying her less than two year old sibling on her back near the Westfield monument.
She was seen crisscrossing the highway to beg for money from passing motorists and passersby and carrying an umbrella on one hand and a cup on the other under the scorching sun.
According to this young girl, she dropped out of school when she was in grade three at Kandiba Lower Basic School because of the inability of her mother to provide her educational needs such as uniforms, shoes, lunch money, etc.
When asked whether her mother has not made any effort to look for support to enable her continue with her schooling, the young girl responded in the negative, adding that the mum is not in a good state of health to do that and does not know where to go for help.
Another young girl, who is thirteen old, was seen in the afternoon around the busy Tabokoto intersection with a plate on her hand selling cool water in few refillable 500 ml and 300 ml containers to quench the thirsts of commercial vehicle drivers, passengers, vendors, pedestrians, etc.
She explained that she is going to school but sells for her mother when she closes in the afternoon.
“I do not like selling on the streets but have to do it to help my mother who is also at home engaged in petty trading and to take care of the household,” said this young girl.
When asked how much she makes from the hawking in terms of sales per day, the school girl said it depends on the number of cold bottles filled. “Sometimes I sell up to D75 a day,” she revealed.
While at Westfield, this reporter met with a pedestrian who frowns at child begging or selling and describing it as unfair to children.
Adama Sey, a mother herself, said it is really not fair for parents or guardians to allow their children to sell on the highways running after vehicles.
“Sometimes you will see a child of six, seven years running after vehicles on the highway trying to sell few items on a plate such as ‘nana’, sweets or cool water,” said Madame Sey.
When told that the children have explained that they are selling because of poverty as the small money they receive from such begging or selling of items is given to their parents for the upkeep of their families, she concurred but added that efforts should be made to ensure that the children are taken back to school.
Section 18 (1) and (2) of the Children’s Act (2005), obliges the Government to provide free and compulsory basic education to every child and for every parent or guardian to ensure that his or her child or ward attend and complete basic education, respectively.
Government is also obliged by Section 66 (1 a) of the same Act to safeguard, protect and promote the welfare of children.
A government official at the basic education ministry maintained that there is free basic education as children in primary schools do not pay school fees now.
However, despite this waiver of school fees, pupils are not freed from such necessary and unavoidable school related expenses as books, uniforms, shoes, bags, school lunch, among others and which a poor parent may not be able to fulfill thus leading to the child dropping out of school.
Njundu Drammeh, Coordinator, Child Protection Alliance (CPA), described this children mendicant syndrome as a serious indictment on society and the duty bearers i.e. governments, etc. According to him, children have rights as enshrined in the 1997 Constitution of the Gambia and the Children’s Act.
“They have a right to education, to go to school, to be protected from abuse and sexual exploitation,” he said.
Mr. Drammeh noted that the street is not supposed to be the place for children who should have been in school when the environment is provided.
“I think it should be an obligation on parents to send their children to school. If the parents do not have the means, they should approach institutions that have mandate to support them so that those children can go to school,” said the child rights activist.
According to the CPA Coordinator, the Children’s Act prohibits child-begging and adult accompanying children to beg.
“We know that quite a number of child protection issues are involved. A child selling or begging on the street can have an accident or knocked down by a car; he or she can be abused sexually or physically by other people so you have some violations or denial of rights of the child,” he noted.
The child rights activist stressed the need for the state, as a duty bearer, and the child rights activists, as secondary duty bearers, to ensure that children are not on the streets.
The CPA Coordinator urges the state to “seriously enforce” that section of the constitution and the Children’s Act which makes it mandatory, and guarantees children’s right to education and obliges parents to send their children to school. “I think when the state enforces those provisions; I think every child will be schooled,” he said.
There is need for concerted efforts from stakeholders i.e. the state and society in general to address the issue of children of school going age roaming the streets begging or hawking due to the inability of parents or wards to maintain them in school because of poverty. These are potential scientists, medical doctors, teachers, journalists, social workers, among the host of useful professions who are wasting in the streets and needed support to develop their latent talents in order to be of benefit to the larger society. It is the country which should have put a higher premium on the future of our children that is losing out in this continued presence of children beggars and hawkers in the streets whose hidden capacities would never be realized to the advantage of society. The sooner this is addressed the better for children, families and the Gambia as a whole.