Sex in the market place
Stories and experiences of sexual abuse of child street vendors in Enugu, Southeast Nigeria
The ever-increasing visibility and labour contributions of majority of world’s children towards family sustenance offer insights into their childhoods and attest to children’s knowledge and awareness of their status in society. Based on original research from extensive participant observation and in-depth interviews of child street vendors in Enugu, Southeast Nigeria, this paper explores specifically the everyday lives of six young itinerant female vendors, aged 10-16, their experiences of sex and sexual abuse in marketplaces, their resilience and coping strategies, and relationships with adult members of the vending community who controlled the markets, and had oversight function for their protection and safety. Their accounts illustrate not only the risks that children and young women face, but the ordinariness of sexual harassment and taken-for-granted attitude of society towards the sexualisation of working children. Findings revealed that children were ambivalent about their experiences in the markets. However, they were aware that vending was hard, unpleasant and dangerous. There was a pervasive sense of hopelessness, fear and distrust against adults who threatened, abused, traumatised and sabotaged their efforts. This paper calls for greater surveillance and safeguards in marketplaces, provision of emotional support to children and their families, enforceable chid protection policies and increased penal sanctions against abusers.