KOBO WISE: THE DISECONOMIES OF CHILD LABOUR

By S. O. Egwurube II
The most profound statement from Mother Nature in my opinion is: “there is time for everything.” A child first learns to crawl, then stand, then takes his first step and in due time begins to run. A seed planted, first decomposes, begins to germinate, grows to maturity and then begins to bear fruits, and in due season; harvest time.

In the business world every product goes through what is called the product life cycle; every product is expected to go through five phases: development phase, introductory phase, growth phase, maturity phase and decline phase. The first three phases in every product requires huge investment and support in other to yield good return on investment at the fourth and fifth phase at which the product is self sufficient and requires little or no support. If a business does not support a product at the growth phase but rather, drastically cuts investments or completely stop investing in the product, chances are that the product’s sales will decline at the maturity stage or the product will completely fail leading to loss on investment in the long run. This simple analysis can be said and applied to the life of an individual.

For the purpose of this analysis, let’s consider the time of conception to delivery as the development phase, age 0 to 7 introductory phase, age 8 to 21 growth phase, age 22 to 55 maturity phase and age 56 and above as decline phase.

At the introduction phase a child like a product requires huge investment- care and attention at all times, good nutrition and protection in other to properly ascend to the next phase, at the growth phase a child gradually becomes less dependent and does not require full attention like in the previous phase. At this phase a child, like a product begins to make little contributions to the family but still requires huge investments- schooling, clothing, feeding, physical, social and emotional support, protection etc. As analysed above, if a business cuts investment and begins to maximize profit at this phase, there is a high risk of product failure and low return on investment in the long run. This is just the same with a child. When a child at this phase begins to labour to cater for the family rather than be in school to pursue self development, though it may seem kobo wise, his chances of succeeding in life becomes slimmer. As a result of losing competitive advantage, he will be bound to diminish in return in the long run.

Emmanuel, a young and energetic boy I encountered during an Easter holiday in Otukpo, Benue state, came top of his Primary 1 class in it’s 2nd term; this was out of a class of 52 students. This result he holds proudly and endears it to his heart as a mark of achievement. The result looked quite impressive and showed great signs of prospects for Emmanuel, his family and Nigeria.

Our shooting star Emmanuel was born to a young girl; Ijeoma who was barely 17 years as at the time of delivery. She conceived Emmanuel while in SS1 at Ewulo College, Otukpo and dropped out of school as a result of the pregnancy but eventually returned to complete her secondary education after 2 years.

Ijeoma popularly known as “Mama Emma” lives with her mother Nkechi a petty trader who sells a locally baked snack known as “Agidi”. Nkechi uses the proceeds from the trade to cater for her daughter Ijeoma and Emmanuel her grandson.

At age Six, Emmanuel was introduced into the trade and immediately began street hawking in other to help increase sales and income of the family. Significantly, it was surprising to learn that Ijeoma does not partake in the sales or production of this merchandise; she sits at home while her six year old son hawks to raise funds to support the family. Ijeoma held that she stayed at home to take care of the house.

Every day Emmanuel sets out early in the morning to hawk the merchandise which sold for five Naira (N5) each, his daily sales was within the range 500 to 700 Naira. Amidst the dangers posed to this young lad by engaging in street hawking at such a tender age, Emmanuel in other to make good sales travels an average of 30km daily on foot within the town of Otukpo, Benue State, Nigeria.

At age 7 he was enrolled into Saint Peter primary school, Otukpo, in his words “that was the best time of my life” as he lets his head down in perhaps what can be regarded as a moment of swift contemplation. His grandma possibly had unconsciously done what is demanded at the growth phase, be it a product or human, which in this case is investing in education. Soon enough, the decision proved promising as Emmanuel came out 1st position in the class 52 in two consecutive terms in primary 1. These remarkable achievements were attained under the most difficult circumstances as Emmanuel had to hawk before going to school, during break time in school and after school with little or no time to study. In response to my question; where you given time to play? He replied “I used to play when I sell all my “Agidi” and don’t go home immediately or sometimes I will just keep it one side and play with my friends.”

In Primary 2, our shining star Emmanuel begins to dim as he gradually succumbs to the pressure of combining school and street hawking to provide for the family. His performance deteriorates and before long he was expelled for theft while in Primary 2 and just 8 years. This event saw an end to Emmanuel’s education.

Emmanuel today is so battered and heated like a volcano waiting to erupt at the slightest irritation. His future seems bleak resulting in diseconomies for his mother, grandmother, the immediate community and Nigeria. If this shining star was given the needed support and investment during his growth phase, he perhaps would have produced a high rate on return on investment.
The decision to use children as an income generating tool in the long run is Kobo Wise and Naira foolish because though the child is bringing in meagre income as in the case of Emmanuel, he will diminish in return in the long run losing competitive advantage among his peers.

Egwurube Samuel, is a human rights and child protection activist, a business management graduate and a skilled photographer, with interests in writing and public speaking.

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