Liberian children are on their own in the streets

By Kai Toteh/ | February 5, 2014

Liberian Children selling in the streets
Children selling in the streets of Monrovia

According to an official report, 59 percent of Liberia’s population comprises children ages 10 and 15, and most of these children take on responsibilities of breadwinners. While some sell in the streets and others beg and prostitute, a local NGO said in its mission statement.  

Even as young as five years old are seeing moving between vehicles looking for money by selling cold water and other commodities for little or nothing. Some of these children are used by their parents or guardians to sell in the streets, and they are forced to stay in the streets until whatever they are selling is finished.

Some of the children when asked why they are in the streets as young as they are, said they are in the streets to supplement their parents or guardians’ meager incomes. Some said their parents or guardians are not employed, or only one parent is earning some little income.

Besides, most of the children who are selling in the streets are not in school. When asked if they are in school, most of those asked said no. The reason they are not in school, according to them, is lack of money or support. They only sell in the streets to eat.

Seeing these children move between vehicles every morning, afternoon and evening to sell little things is mind-blowing, sympathetic and disgracing. It is amazing how a dignity of a nation is being compromised ignorantly, and yet some people take pride in flamboyant lifestyle at the expense of people we once used to call precious jewels of the nation and whom we refer to as future leaders of the nation.

Liberians, including government authorities, church leaders, political leaders, among others, watch children as young as five years old move between vehicles to support themselves. We sit and shamelessly watch children come instead of papa come.

We adopt the culture of lip service—which means we talk but don’t do what we talk. We are fond of making empty promises and our agreements are not supported by real conviction or action. The compulsory education we promised to provide for the children was a mere rhetoric and deception.  The cost of education is rising every year. Even substandard schools charge exorbitantly amid high employment rate.

We ignore the risk that accompanies children in the streets selling at night. We also ignore the risk of children not being in school. We continue to close our eyes on what it means to have children exposed to danger and what they would turn out to be if they grow in the streets.

We [the privilege and powerful] pretend we don’t know how our nation’s image would be tainted each time foreign dignitaries visit Monrovia and see children as young as five year old in the streets selling some kind of merchandise to survive. We ride expensive cars, send our own children to expensive schools; go for medical checkups for headaches, using taxpayers’ money while other children go in the streets to sell  before they can eat.

We adopt the belief that insofar we and our families are fine; there is nothing wrong with the society. We forgot what happened yesterday in Liberia. We forgot the abandoned children were drugged, armed and instructed to kill and destroy. They were used to kill and destroy, because they did not know better and were vulnerable, and they are still vulnerable. A nation of a bunch of vulnerable people is not safe for anyone including the haves, have-nots and the corrupt. 

In case we have forgotten, this is the reality. Our children are too many in the streets and are vulnerable. It is time to invest in the future of this country. Let us stop the selfishness and insensitivity in this country. Let us stop pretending that our nation’s image is restored. No, our nation’s image is going through a trial.

The silence of guns for 10 years does not mean the country has good image.  Two elections without trouble does not mean good image. There are too many things that must work together to make a good image. One of those things is taking good care of the future leaders by first taking them from the streets and providing them with quality and equitable education. The good image of any country depends on how organized that country is socially, economically, politically, and how well it takes care of its citizens, especially children.  

If we ignore these warnings, our nation’s security is on the line and we could return to a failed state. Let us be reminded that war is not the only thing that makes a nation a failed state. Lawlessness, lack of organization, selective justice among others can reduce a nation to a failed state. Allowing our children to roam the streets to sell and feed themselves does not make a country look good. Those who have traveled to other countries don’t see children five years old left to fend for themselves.