By Glory Ugochukwu
In Nigeria today, we have shocking stories of women who are traders, sales girls, hawkers, among others, passing through agonising and abusive experiences on the streets at their shops or ‘bukas’ by men.
The abuse among young female street hawkers in Nigeria is on the increase. Due to the declining economic situations of many low income earning households, young girls now find themselves contributing to the livelihood of many households. This income generating activity that young girls undertake make them vulnerable to various forms of abuse.
Hawking is a common practice in the South east. Interestingly, hawkers have become essential service providers in different parts of the region, including the villages, cites and metropolises. Those who need to quench their burning thirst while moving at snail speed in traffic and those who need to grab a bite while on the move see hawkers as handy service providers.
Female hawkers tend to be abused more because some men think that they will do anything to have their goods sold on time to enable them make sales. Some men unreasonably touch the woman or the lady no matter their age. They touch their private parts, especially their breast in the process of buying the goods or whenever they see the person passing.
Female abuse is described as any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private.”
Young girls working as street vendors in open and crowded places are vulnerable to sexual abuse. It all starts with indiscriminate touch of private parts to forced sex or forced sexual practice. Sexual abuse has been described as the act of enticing or forcing a person to take part in sexual activities such as touching of breasts, buttocks or genital fondling, kissing, cunnilingus and penetration of the vagina or anus with sexual organs or objects.
Eighteen years old Favour Eze, a plantain chips seller, while speaking to our correspondents said that ‘I have been selling plantain chips for two years now, and I have been abused severally since I started the business. I mostly get abused by touts at the park and some policemen who keep looking at my buttocks.’
“I have people who hawk in garages and have become victims of rape and even got pregnant in the process. I don’t want that to happen to me,” she stated.
Shockingly, some of the security agents who are supposed to be ‘the protector of lives and property’ are also involved in this repulsive act. They touch and abuse some of the women and girls they see on the streets because they feel like they have no right to question them.
Some ladies who were also questioned by our correspondents said that sometimes they don’t feel like going to local markets because of how some men will touch, tease them and calling them ‘my colour’, ‘my size’, or ‘my wife’, and while the violent ones swill drag them by force, insisting that they must buy goods from them. They said that they prefer the supermarkets and going to some big shops because they won’t find any ‘tout’ there.
A sales girl at a famous restaurant, Gift Emeka, while speaking to our correspondent said that she has also been abused severally while selling food to customers at her Aunt’s restaurant. She said ‘I would be called all sorts of abusive names whenever I refuse to sleep with them or allow them to touch me. Some will rub my body and say I am their property.’ She also said ‘some of the men will tell me that the reason my madam brought me to sell food to them is so that I will sell my body to them.’
Talking to another sales girl from the same restaurant, she said ‘I have worse experiences than my sister ‘referred to as Gift.’ My madam sometimes asks me to deliver food to some engineers who work at the site, when I go there they engage me to start talking with them. They will give me extra money and then they will want to grab my breast and my buttocks in front of their workers and when I don’t allow them they push me and spit on me and insult me.’
“I have almost been raped one time but I was lucky that I poured sand in the man’s eyes for me to escape”, She stated.
Nigerian Civil Security and Defense Corps (NSCDC) Officer, Chiagom Onyinyechi, while speaking to News Echo reporter said that “some of the abuse women pass through is caused by us. Some women will wear some revealing clothes which attract some of these men to touch them.” “Some female hawkers who pass through abuse also wear revealing clothes so that men will buy their goods. How can you wear clothes that are begging them to touch you and you say you are abused”, she stated.
There should be need to domesticate very strongly the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) law prohibiting economic abuse, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, substance attack, depriving persons of their liberty, incest, indecent conversations, among others. It also intends to eliminate violence in private and public life and provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of violence, and punishment of offenders. The bill will go a long way to check some of the abuses being experienced by young girls especially.
There should be awareness to some of these women who are being abused to file a report against anyone who is abusing or has abused them. The provision of VAPP should be made known to women, so that they do not hide or tolerate abuse from anyone. Men should also be aware that violation of human rights is an offence punishable under the law. There is also need for young girls to continue dress properly to avoid being violated.