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PUNCH Documentary Reveals The Heartrending Struggles Of Teenage Breadwinners Of Families

PUNCH Documentary Reveals The Heartrending Struggles Of Teenage Breadwinners Of Families

It’s a worrisome trend that some teenage dropouts flock markets, streets to make a living from unskilled jobs just to take care of their parents and siblings.

17-year-old home help identified only as Rokeebah was busy washing a heap of clothes as tears trickled down her tender cheeks.

She tried to wipe away the tears with the tip of her faded blue-patterned wrapper as PUNCH reporter gently patted her back while she spoke about the challenges life threw at her. She noted that she left Ilorin, Kwara State, for Lagos three years ago to work as a maid.

Rokeebah, who is a dropout, said,

“I have no one to help me and that is why I work to sustain myself and my siblings. I am tired because the work is too stressful for me. My family depends on my salary to take care of everyone.

My farmer-father has three wives and because he makes almost nothing from his farm, he cannot take care of everyone. As a result of this, we have become our mothers’ responsibilities.”

When asked if she acquired any vocation, the young lady said she had not been able to do so. She added,

“I stopped school in my third year in secondary school. When I got my salary from my boss in August 2021, it was almost ileya (Sallah) time so I went home to celebrate with my family. As soon as I got home, my salary was used for the festivity.

Though I was pained, I wasn’t really bothered because I kept N50,000 with my boss back in Lagos. I had it in mind that I would use it to pay for my skill acquisition when I returned. Somehow, my mother calculated how much I was supposed to earn during the period and discovered that it was short of N50, 000.

After so much questioning, I told her that I kept N50, 000 with my boss to pay for a skill acquisition programme. The next morning, my mother called my boss to send the N50,000 I kept with her to her. She did. The money was added to expenses for my elder sister’s wedding. I pray to achieve my dream of becoming a lawyer some day.’’

UN data on street children

Street children, as identified by the United Nations Children’s Fund, are children in difficult circumstances; their rights and welfare remain a growing concern to both national and international bodies.

It notes that the phrase ‘street children’ does not only pertain to homeless kids but includes children whose natural habitat and source of livelihood are on the street without responsible adult supervision and care.

Generally, street children are children in difficult situations. They include child beggars, street boys and others. This category of children includes those who have been abandoned by their families or sent into cities or other places because of a family’s poverty situation, often with the hope that they can make money doing menial jobs.

19-year-old boy identified only as David revealed what he goes through every day to earn money for the upkeep of his family members.

Narrating how he became the one working to cater to the needs of his family members, the teenager who wore tired looks as he spoke to our correspondent said that his father’s visual impairment prevented him from working.

He added that the meagre sales his mother makes from his petty trade could barely sustain the family. He noted that the situation forced him to work at his age to help his family being the first child of four children.

On how long he had been bearing the financial burden of his family members, David said he was into manual laundering for two years including tidying people’s surroundings for money.

Despite the situation, David enrolled himself into a part-time programme at the National Open University of Nigeria.

He stated that he sometimes starved for his siblings to eat, adding that he preferred to see them eat than for them to go hungry. He also identified school fees as a major burden on him since he had to source his and his siblings’.

He stated,

“Transporting to school is another problem for me and sometimes I skip classes because of this. I almost didn’t pay my school fees the last time too. I need financial help.”

According to him, they live in a wooden house and each time he saves money to move out of the place, he ends up spending it on a fresh problem.

David, however, hopes to register his laundry service, own a Point of Sale shop to be run by one of his family members. He said,

“I have an online flier. I want to register my company under the Corporate Affairs Commission, and get influencers to help me promote my business.”

Another teenager bearing a huge financial burden, Marvellous Akinloye, revealed that he became a breadwinner after the demise of her mother, adding that life had been and added that life had been tough since then.

She added that her mother until her demise was the breadwinner of their seven-member family because her father was unemployed and unable to provide for the family.

She further stated that she had been struggling to help her brother who missed a semester in school due to his inability to complete his tuition fees at the Lagos State University after their mother’s death.

Marvellous said she recently gained admission to the university and had been doing everything possible to secure accommodation in the institution.

She disclosed that she had handled many jobs from   ushering, selling of plantain, hairdressing to sewing in order to cater to her family.

Saying she got assistance from her mother’s siblings sometimes, she noted that it was nothing compared to the bills facing her She stated,

“I am a girl-mother so to speak and I face a lot. I am trying to pay N231, 000 for my brother’s clearance, exams and exemption fees.

I wrote to my church for assistance on his behalf. My sister is taking the WASSCE and the payment has yet to be completed. I went to see the principal and he said if she didn’t pay her balance, she wouldn’t be allowed to sit the exam.

I’m yet to pay for my accommodation in school. I don’t know how to go about that.  But I trust God. My younger brother’s school fees are also there to settle and our house rent will soon expire. My dad is not working. His business stopped functioning even before my mother’s death.

I am also trying to get money for my younger siblings’ transport fare to school every week. It’s a lot I face at my age.”

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Marvellous’ dream was to establish a business for her father and for her to also own his business too. She stressed that if her father got something to earn money, it would relieve her of the family’s financial burden.

For 17-year-old Bolu who is unwilling to give her full name, she left home at 14 to fend for herself for some reasons.

Bolu said,

“I lived with my grandfather before he passed away. My mother had four kids with four men and while I was with my grandfather, my other siblings lived with different relatives. After my grandpa died, I moved in with my mother and her current partner.

I quit school because she didn’t have the financial capability to send me to school so acquiring a skill was the next option for me. I learnt how to make hair at 14 to get money and fend for myself. Before I knew it, my mother would ask me for money and I paid for some things on my own.

My younger ones and mother relied on me. At a point, I got pregnant. The development had a terrible effect on me coupled with the fact that I now have a toddler and I stand most times while making people’s hair. I am usually tired. I always battle with back pain and body ache.

I got stigmatised because of my situation. I am beginning to save some money to open a hair salon. I hope to return to school too; maybe an evening school so that it would not taking care of my child and work.”

In another vein, a Fulani girl identified only as Hadizah, apparently a teenager was seen at Sango, Ogun State, with a little boy and a girl. She appeared unkempt but nonetheless her beauty radiated under the ruffled attire she wore.

She initially hesitated to talk and only murmured, “We are hungry,” when greeted by the reporter. After she was given some money to buy food for herself and the tots with her at a nearby food vendor, her face brightened.

She later narrated how she found herself helpless and on the street. Hadizah said bandits attacked farms and villagers in a community in Maiduguri, Borno State, where she lived. She noted she was able to escape with her younger siblings; Musa and Uwa.

She said,

“Before I could leave the community at night when the attackers came, my father’s house was up in flames. Everybody in the community ran for safety. During this time, my parents who were rice farmers were on their way to the farm.

I dragged my younger ones along with me. I was able to escape with them when I saw people struggling into a truck loading farm produce and food items to southern states for sale.

I ensured that we were among those who got in. It was a risky adventure but worth it. We were moved into another truck on the second day on the road after the first one broke down.

On the third day, the vehicle arrived in Lagos and I followed some Hausa women who said that they were going to a place called Sango. Since then, I have been struggling to take care of myself and younger ones. Sometimes, we are lucky and feed sufficiently for the day. Other times, we barely eat.”

On where they usually sleep at night, she said she and her younger siblings sleep anywhere the night falls on them. She added,

“Sometimes we sleep in front of shops or mechanic sheds. My concern is the whereabouts of my parents. I have tried to locate them but my efforts were to no avail. I don’t know if they survived the onslaught. I hope to return home whenever I gather enough money.”

Commenting on the issue, Coordinator, Lagos State Child Protection Network an Initiative of UNICEF, Aderonke Oyelakin, said she had seen situations of teenagers and was talking to some of them.

Oyelakin said,

“Currently, I have a young girl that is about 13 years old and her parents are separated. The parenting is one sided and the girl is now the one making sure that she and her mother eat. She cannot do much because after returning from school, she has to look for how they will feed.

It is so terrible to the extent that she is not doing well in school. Her attention is divided and she’s usually outside till 9pm every day and that is not so good for a young girl. She is so young and exposed to abuse and danger. Though her mother has a stall where she sells, the girl also had to go round to sell too.

I have seen cases of this category of people but I will still trace it to parenting. Some of these children assist their parents while some are the heads and main providers for the house. Some sell their bodies and that’s unnecessary exposure and exploitation.

Another case I have dealt with is a young boy being used at construction sites and still being denied their wages. When I got there with our officers, we discovered that the children’s wages are paid into another man’s account and he still denies them the money.”

She said that she usually encouraged couples and young individuals not to bring children into the world if they couldn’t take care of them.

She added,

“We know of life’s eventualities that sometimes things can happen. Some cannot afford some things yet keep giving birth to children. This is crucial and we all have a role to play. A child should not be exposed to money at a young age. Such a child can be exposed to drugs or a sex offender. That is why it encompasses parents and society.

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We can curb this through sensitisation. We have to work as one to ensure that every parent is informed. When we try to give these children accommodation, for how long can it be sustained?  What we do is to empower them and strengthen their families. It is important for all hands to be on deck to rid society of sorts of abuse and it begins by educating parents and the children.”

Child experts intervene

On his part, a social worker with Street Child Care and Welfare Initiative, Iboro Akinola, stated that teenage breadwinners were exposed to many vices while on the street.

Akinola said,

“They are faced with the dangers of kidnappers and ritualists. Another thing is that they lack parental care and are denied a life where children of their ages get parental and adult supervision. These categories of children have to make their decisions alone and face the consequences later.

Another negative effect is that they are exposed to hard drugs because while on the street they are exposed to cold weather. When they see the ‘big boys’ smoking being cold or desiring to be tough on the street, they are also exposed to it. They are at tender ages when they can be sexually abused on the street which also negatively affects their lives.

My team and I do rehabilitation a lot. We go to the street and talk to them. We send them back to school and look for those willing to leave the street because in social work, you can only help those who want to be helped. We pick out those willing to leave the street.

We try to help them by accessing the situation at home. In some cases, some of the children’s parents are just laid back and they feel like these kids are old enough to sell things or make money by all means.”

Besides, founder of Apex physiotherapy and rehabilitation centre, Dolapo Omode, noted that teenage breadwinners were exposed to the dangers of being influenced into drug abuse and cultism by miscreants.

He stated,

“They are addicted to drugs or alcohol and often in need of additional care and assistance that addiction treatment centres provide. Rehab treatment facilities help patients make positive changes in their lives by rectifying maladaptive behaviours. Patients learn healthy coping skills, impulse control, emotional regulation skills, and drug-refusal strategies.

The rehabilitation is a long-term thing. It is not that easy and it is two-sided. First is the physiotherapist and the other is from the individual getting the rehabilitation. It has to come with willingness from the individual. Rehabilitation is not magic. These behaviours can’t just go off them like that so it’s a process that they need to undergo.

There was a child that was into drug abuse at a tender age. He took drugs, alcohol and others and we were able to convince him that the activities were bad and life-threatening. A few months later, we saw changes in his delinquent behaviours.

To help patients overcome denial and make healthy choices and commitments, doctors educate them on the consequences and effects of substance abuse and addiction. Patients learn about the effects that drugs and alcohol have on their bodies in the hope that they will be more motivated to make a change.”

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He added that rehab treatment centres offered frequent individual counselling to patients, adding that the counselling sessions sometimes even took place daily. Omode said,

“Counsellors help patients discover any emotional or psychological factors that may have contributed to their addictions.”

On his part, a therapist, Ayo Bankole, stated that children on the street were of two categories.

He identified them as those who took up family responsibility because of circumstances and the ones who became breadwinners due to pregnancy. He added,

“The psychological effect for them is draining. Psychologically, a lot of these teenagers are confused because they are still developing and don’t know what’s going on fully with them. This is coupled with the fact that they have to deal with looking after themselves and their dependents as the case may be.

There are two sides to this; for some of them the situation overwhelms them and they never really recover. But for some others, they grow faster because they understand what it means to be responsible for the wellbeing of another person.

They grow up into adulthood really fast while some others struggle and they never recover. The disadvantage of this for those that were pregnant because of their confusion, they begin to transfer the aggression and hatred to the child.

For many of them, the guy that impregnated the lady is nowhere to be found so the anger is most of the time transferred to the child.  By the time she is fully back on her feet, maybe in her 20s, she has already raised a child that perceives her in a confused state, who thinks his or her mother is a bad person because of what he or she has gone through.

The repercussion in this is that the child won’t like the kind of life his mother is leading and may eventually end up blaming the mother.  It is really not a good place for one to be. It has a propelling effect and helps them to grow fast.”

He further stated looking at some young people that were successful, excluding those born into privileged homes; it was because they were responsible since they were young even before they became teenagers. He added:

“It can have a propelling or a devastating effect depending on many factors, especially on the person. That resolution to change whatever happens is the will to succeed. They will reason, ‘I know that I have messed up but it’s not over yet.”

On how therapy could help such a category of children, he said,

“Therapy tries to get to the root of the problem.  A teenage mother whose baby daddy ran away and left her with the responsibility of taking care of the child may be mad at the guy and also the baby. Usually, some new mums have postpartum depression and when someone is going through that and there is no man around her to ease her up or encourage her, they go into serious depression and look for ways to suppress the feeling.

They might go into drugs because they want to forget the feeling and each time, they begin to increase the dosage and gradually become addicts. They keep raising the bar with each encounter with devastating feelings. One thing we do is to get to the root of the pain. Why are they feeling the pain? Why are they sad?

By the time we get to the root of the problem, we begin to help the patient. In therapy, we say something like nothing means anything except the meaning that one gives to it. Most times, our problems are created by the interpretation of events around us.

For someone who has lost their parents at a tender age, they’ll be angry and start lamenting if God hates them. Many people like that are angry so therapy tries to change that mentality from them. This is because it is our thoughts that produce our beliefs, it’s our beliefs that create our actions and our actions determine our result . Therapy helps them change the narrative they are telling themselves.”

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