Street hawking is a growing problem in developing countries like Nigeria due to its associated risks. As well, poverty is one of the fastest growing scourge in Nigeria and by extension in Africa.
It is also apt to also register that Street hawking and poverty are symbiotic because poverty feeds street hawking.
In Nigeria, the increasing scourge of poverty and worsening economic conditions feeds the drastic rise in street hawking in the country’s major cities such as Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Abuja Aba, Owerri and Onitsha. This development is a clear manifestation of socioeconomic realities on ground. For instance, families and young people migrate to cities in search of livelihoods but end up on street hawking.
Most State governments have recently started enforcing a law that bans street hawking in their state’s major cities. Some of these States implement this as urban renewal policy aimed at kicking the unwanted, out of the cities, towns and streets instead of tackling the rising poverty indices which beget the increasing Street hawking scourge.
Over 80% of Nigerians live below the poverty line and street hawking has become the easiest route to survival. Thousands rely on street hawking for survival, conspicuously standing at traffic interchanges, weaving between cars and setting up on pavements. The ban is usually regarded as part of the government’s drive to modernise the city and improve infrastructure in the state.
But the way that the assigned units do the job of chasing out the street hawkers is dehumanizing; pursuing them like animals, confiscating their goods and demanding money for bail usually cause more harm than good. Sometimes, these Street hawkers run into dangers such as accidents while running to save their wares from vandalisation and subsequent exorbitant extortion.
Frankly, there is no justification for such a policies in Nigeria when the poverty situation of the country has not been addressed. Policies should be founded on research and evidence based practices. Nigeria should learn from countries like Bangladesh, Ghana, Uganda and Tunisia. All have failed to forcibly evict street hawkers.
Street hawkers are transient, resilient and adaptive that if threatened with eviction, will change their strategies, location and mode of operation. They could also resort to crime when forcefully evicted.
The question is how can government effectively respond to issues of street hawking?
There is no consensus on an effective intervention. The state argues that street hawking promotes child trafficking, misuse of public space, environmental degradation, lawlessness and violation of human rights.
As part of the cleanup, the government can offer small loans to street hawkers through the Employment Trust Fund to use as a means to start proper and standard businesses.
Nigeria is in its worst economic shape in history. The poor bear the brunt. And there is no social welfare system in the country to cater for poor families.
There is a pressing need to protect children and other young people from being exploited. Evidence shows about 40% of children that hawk on streets are victims of adult exploitation. This amounts to child abuse, according to United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although Nigeria promulgated the Childs Right Act in 2003, it has not been implemented effectively.
Children are sometimes sent to the streets by their parents to supplement the family income. Others are children trafficked from neighbouring states or West African countries. These children were given away by their parents on the premise that they would receive food, shelter, good education and care. But they end up being exploited.
The impact of street hawking is enormous; especially for vulnerable children. They are at risk of being hit by a vehicle, subjection to sexual abuse and possible of suffering physical exhaustion. For those that attend school, street hawking also affects their academic performance.
State social protection services have a responsibility to protect children and young people from the negative impacts of street hawking.
Responding effectively to street hawking requires both a structural approach and one that focuses on individuals. Parents who use children to hawk for income should be given jobs to help them provide for their families and meet their economic needs.
And children should be provided with training to make up for any deficiencies in knowledge and skills to help them lead a successful life.
The anti-street hawker policy will not be fruitful if it’s enforced without addressing the root cause of street hawking which is poverty and joblessness.