Tough city life forces kids to labour

Weekender

By REBECCA KUKU
The increasing prices of goods and services in Port Moresby has hit some families hard with many children dropping out of school to help their parents make money for survival.
Thomas Peter (not his real name), 14, from a mixed parentage of Southern Highlands and Enga comes from one such family. Little Thomas is a familiar face along the streets of Boroko. Small for his age, he looks like a nine-year-old kid and you will often find him with a carton of cold drinks on the street sides.
He sells cold drinks to support his siblings who are in school. Thomas’s father who is a driver for a local security company has three wives, Thomas’ mother is the second wife. His mother and his other two step mothers sell food at the new Boroko Market.
They buy food from Central villagers and resell them at the market for a profit. He and his two brother sell cold drinks on the streets and their two sisters sells meri blouses and bilums at the Boroko Craft Market. Thomas has eight brothers and four sisters.
Thomas says the five of them support their parents to earn the money needed to keep the other seven siblings in school.
“Our oldest brother is now doing his third year at the University of Papua New Guinea, so all the profit we make from the cold drinks goes to him for his texts books and bus fare to attend classes.
“We have to support him so that when he graduates and work, he will take care of us and send us back to school.”
“The profits from my two sisters’ sales is for the other six, two boys in Grade 10, and one in Grade 9 and one doing Grade 8 and our two sisters who are very pretty, they both are in Grade 7.”
Thomas said that his parents decided to send the other two girls to school because they were pretty and would fetch a big bride price each if they were also educated.
He said that the profit made from his three mother’s sales goes to paying the rent and putting food on the table. He doesn’t know what happens to his father’s salary but his dad is not always home and would come in once in a while to beat his wives and ask them for money.
“He probably has married another new wife already,” he laughs.
Thomas says when he grows up, he wants become a soldier.
“I want to go to school too but I know that we have to work as a family. You see, there’s a promise between me and my siblings; the five of us support the other eight in school now and when the complete their education and work, they’ll support us to go to school.
“So even when the sun is hot, and I feel so tired I know my siblings are counting on me so I have to keep doing what I do.
“The police chased me a couples of times and beat me twice for selling cold drinks on the roadsides but I continue doing so because it’s to help my brothers and sisters.”
Thomas’ story, is a familiar one, especially in the big cities, where some parents are using their children to beg from strangers or sell food, drinks and goods on the roadside to support the family unit.
It’s a form of child abuse and child labor and it just goes against human principles where we are supposed to love our children and provide for them.
Thomas and his friends on the roadsides have never enjoyed the carefree happiness that a child should always have.
Parliament recently introduced the Lukautim Pikinini Act but this laws are not been fully implemented.
The number of child beggars and children selling on the road side have increased; we need to do something to help these children.

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