By D Kaihenneh Sengbeh

Some Liberian children selling cold water in the heart of the capital - Broad Street
Some Liberian children selling cold water in the heart of the capital - Broad Street

Investigation conducted by this writer indicates that many Liberian children are still out of school and selling in the streets and market halls on orders of their parents or guardians despite the government’s pronounced free and compulsory primary education.

Instead of being in class rooms learning for the future, many school age children are rather seen in the streets of Monrovia and markets in rural parts of the country, selling cold-water, biscuits , vegetables and other food stuff and wares to win bread for their homes.

Many of the children interviewed told this writer that their parents or guardians including step mothers, aunts, uncles and foster parents or other relatives with whom they stay they forced them to sell by. According to many of them, they were threatened to be kicked out of their homes if they refused to sell and bring monies home on a daily basis.

The situation is observably compromising the affected children’s education and future, and a gross disregard to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s mandate of September 2007 that no more should Liberian children of school-going-age be seen selling in the streets and market places during school hours.

Another Liberian child selling cheese balls in Monrovia to feed his home instead of being in class to prepare for the future. "They promise to register me, but they' aint do it so i not going to school... they say nesx year I will go
Another Liberian child selling cheese balls in Monrovia to feed his home instead of being in class to prepare for the future.

The President had gone to launch a program under the Liberia Education Trust Fund, a donor driven program that supports female education in the country, when she passed the mandate.

She said children were the future leaders of the country and noted that those seen selling in the streets and market places during school hours would be caught, taken to their parents who would face fines for sending their kids in the streets instead of the class rooms.

Since then, more than a year now, hundreds of Liberian children are still obviously seen on major streets of Monrovia and in crowded market places around the capital while their colleagues are in school.

Presidential Press Secretary Cyrus Badio, when quizzed recently, said it is the statutory responsibility of the Ministry of Education to enforce any educational policy or mandate, while the Education Ministry has noted that there are more schools to support the free compulsory primary education.

Some of the street selling children told this paper that they make hundreds of Liberian dollars, but their parents or guardians use them for food and other purposes instead of sending them to school. Several of them said they are always promised about being sent to school during vacation periods, but unfortunately, they are not registered when their colleagues are registered for school.

However, other said they sell during the morning hours and attend afternoon school, with little or no time left for them to study after school, because they continue the selling spree as a means of their parents getting money to pay their school fees and tuition.

Parents who spoke to this paper said there are not enough schools in the country to hold the children, if they all go to school, while others said they have limited resources to cater to other school materials.

Several Liberians have in the meantime criticized the government for not implementing the much pronounced free and compulsory primary education. They said though there was free primary education in the country, it has not been made compulsory; as a result children were still in the streets rather than the class room.

When Information Minister Laurence Bropleh Wednesday appeared on air to recount achievements the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-led government has made during its 1,000 days in office, callers claimed that the government has not put into place any mechanism that will make primary education compulsory.

Two of the callers said if the government meant business, it must have carved out policies the make primary education really compulsory and pronounced.

Dr. Bropleh in response blamed parent for the ugly situation – children selling in the streets. According to the Information Minister, “there are more free primary schools in the country but parent are not wise enough to send their children to these schools,” clarifying, “I am not castigating our parents.”

He said instead of taking advantage of the opportunity provided for their children to learn, parents were using this children as bread winners.

Education is a major component of the Liberian Government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) otherwise known as “Lift Liberia”.  It falls under pilar four crowned Rehabilitating Infrastructure and Delivering Basic Services.

Under the PRS, the Government among other things promises to provide quality education at all level with no less emphasis placed on primary education following years of war which seriously affected the sector.

Liberia’s education system was seriously undermined by the war. More than 30% of public and 24% of community schools were totally destroyed, and a further 16 % of public and community schools experienced major damage.

Desks, chairs, and other basic supplies disappeared. Enrolment rates plummeted as a whole generation of children missed the opportunity to go to school. Almost 35 % of the population has never attended school, including nearly 44 % of females. Further, about 56 percent of Liberians are considered functionally illiterate, including a staggering 59%of females, statistics in the PRS document states.

Today only 45 % of classrooms in the public sector are in good condition while only 22 % of public and community schools have seats, and only one-third of public and community schools have functioning pit latrines or flush toilets.

Textbooks are scarce – there is just one for every 27 students. Teacher salaries are low, making retention difficult, and only 24 percent of primary teachers in the public school system possess the minimum primary school teaching certificate.

There is a major challenge, but observers say these challenges do not give sufficient justification to parents for failing to send their children to school, especially when class rooms yearn for students at the primary level. Their action is a threat to Liberian meeting deliverables of the Millennium Development Goals or working to reduce poverty under the PRS.