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Liberian Children Used As Beggars to Aid Families in Economic Turmoil


Monrovia — Vivian Tarr, 11, sits on the pavement and stares at the small pile of tied pea nuts and mint in front of her. People pass by, but no one glances down at what she’s selling.

Report by Bettie K. Johnson Mbayo, [email protected]

Vivian’s dress is dirty. She hasn’t changed it in days. Her cracked, dry lips revealed that she hasn’t eaten all day, and she had little hope for a meal this evening.

Schools are opened, but Vivian’s family can’t afford to send her. So she sells pea nuts and pepper mint.

 “My mother said that I should help her sell the ground pea [pea nuts] so she will get money to pay my school fees,” she says.

Life on the street is hard. There is often harassment from men and bullying, too.

On a good day, Vivian earns up to L$300, which is less than US$5, but that does not come by easily.

The economic climate here, which has gotten so desperate that the government is addressing a cash shortage by issuing promises, is now leading parents to augment their bread wining strength by using their children as vendors.

Growing unemployment in Liberia, the result of deteriorating economic, social and political climates, is part of a massive decline in investment and weak export performance.

Accordingly, half of all children between the ages of 5 and 17 were engaged in child labor, and 55 percent of these children lived in households where the head earned between $1 and less than $100 per month.

That number of children engaged in economic activities represents an 8 percent increase since 2011, according to reports from the U.S Labor Organization survey

Theories abound as to why Liberia’s economy is in such turmoil, but many analysts point to government policies such as those that wrested land and businesses from people who weren’t indigenous Liberians.

A disabled mother carrying babies is also seen between cars in the traffic in Monrovia as she moves from one car to another begging.

At the same time parents also use kids to beg between cars for their families

Liberia’s child rights law protects children from economic exploitation, but the current economic environment makes it impossible for people to survive, says Sandra Williams, projects coordinator for Justice for Children, a local advocacy organization.

Williams says there is need for a multi-sectorial approach to deal with the problem of child street vendors and beggars.

The government alone cannot solve the problem, she says. 

But without more recent and accurate data, it is hard to coordinate a meaningful response to the problem, she says.

 “The lack of meaningful research is a challenge because if there are going to be interventions, there is need for statistics so as to know how to strategize and invest into the interventions. Liberia has done so well in terms of qualitative research, but has a long way to go in terms of quantitative research,” she says. 

Recently The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in collaboration with the Child Protection Network and the Liberia Children Representative Forum, launched an intensive sensitization and awareness project on the removal of street selling children in urban cities, particularly Monrovia.

The two-week rigorous sensitization and awareness project under the banner “Get Them Off The Streets Campaign” was intended to conduct a baseline survey and engage community members as well as media practitioners in deriving at a concept that will serve as a child protection framework in supporting the removal of street selling children.

The Ministry Gender said it observed a dramatic increase in the number of children engaged in street selling, particularly in urban cities.

“The effect of children selling in the streets has actually claimed the attention of national government, considering that a child selling in the street is tantamount to hazardous child labor,” the Ministry.”

According to humanium data provided 21% of Liberian children are still exposed to dangerous working conditions.

Vivian’s mother, Memory Kanneh, holds her 20-month-old twins as she describes her family’s situation. She has four children. Vivian is the oldest.

 “Vivian has to sell so that we raise money to buy food,” she says.

Kanneh says her family’s financial situation deteriorated when her husband, the family’s breadwinner, died in 2006 after a protracted illness.

They were evicted from their home in 2009 and haven’t had a permanent place to live since.

Kanneh says she knows Vivian faces hardship and abuse, but adds that they have no other choice. 

And Vivian is not alone. Perseverance Michael, a 12-year-old boy, says he is in a similar problem. He begs at the intersection of Carey and Gurley Streets. He was kicked out of school earlier this year because he didn’t pay his fees, he says.

“I come here to beg because I want to get money for school fees and for food,” he says.

Perseverance says he sells from morning and leaves the street by 9:00 pm every day, and on a good day goes home with between L$400.00 and 600.00. Sometimes his mother, who doesn’t have a job, begs with him on the street.