WHEN the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, said school children should have Fridays as free days to work in producing items such as matchbox, toothpick and sanitary pads, just as they do in China, she probably hasn’t reckoned with the amount of backlash her suggestion would receive.
She made the suggestion at the Anambra Investment Summit last week. She said it would create new source of income for families as the items would be sold in local markets, thereby reducing handouts from the government.
Some say China is not a good example as a country that violates labour laws and why should the minister advocate ‘child labour’ in violation of international laws?
Besides, in this era of innovation and high tech, why should she even think of that, and on and on?
Anyway, it seems that some people want to close their eyes and pretend that they are not living on planet earth, and therefore not aware of the reality on ground, but under the grand illusion of living in some magical world.
After all, who would pretend that there are no child hawkers, where these self-righteous people buy groundnut and banana from or employ them as house-helps?
I watched a feature on a national television recently on out-of-school children in the South East. Many of them said they were hawking to help their parents or to pay school fees when they gather the money.
From time to time, people are apprehended at motor parks with many children suspected to be trafficked as house-helps.
One woman told me that why some people send their daughters to work as house helps is that after the farming season, they don’t have anything to do since they don’t go to school. They want to remove those that have started growing up especially, from boys or boyfriends.
“They just roam about with nothing to do,” she said.
Who knows if skills are introduced early, some parents may be more encouraged to put their children in school? And all the unskilled youth in the North that become redundant after the farming season would have learnt something.
Instead, they go to the South and ride achaba or okada, work as gatemen or become shoe shiners, nail cutters and hundreds of such menial jobs that don’t pay much and don’t add much to the economy.
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In those days, school girls were taught needle work in some primary schools. Some would make pillow cases with flowers, some were taught knitting, though not in a larger scale.
Some however equate learning of skills as not for the brilliant, which is probably why some are very sceptical of the minister. It would be as if she was discouraging children from learning and want to derogate them to learning skills or handiwork.
It is because of this mindset that one woman said she didn’t like her son to make shoes. He was a graduate, but he was interested in making shoes. She said she felt that that type of skills was meant for the physically challenged!
In any event, unless we also want to pretend, how many small boys have we seen with mechanics, tailors and so on as apprentices? Some even organise some sort of graduation ceremonies they call ‘freedom’, which means you have learned enough to be on your own. Some of them don’t go to school.
I don’t know how the minister should have put it but apparently the situation in the country is so dire that no sugar-coating would do. Some things have to be done.
While those that are not happy with what she said may be comfortable with child-mechanics, child-tailors, child-hawkers and child-nannies, among many, their grouse may be that the minister wanted to make it formal.
Whatever the case may be, even if we are aiming for the stars in terms of high tech, we should not disregard that there are many unskilled and redundant people that need to be engaged and for them to get some money as well. And starting early is not a bad idea.