Lantana was 13 years old when her stepmother pulled her out of school to hawk for money. On the street in Nigeria, older men taunted and threatened her as she collected money for her family. One day, a man, Isa, stood by her as her protector. But then he lured her into a dark alley and took all of the money she had earned.
Lantana's story is an illustration of what is too often the reality for girls in Nigeria, and is a story callers might hear if they dial into a new hotline created to give Nigerian girls advice.
Nearly 50% of children out of school worldwide are Nigerian, and many of those are girls forced to beg for money instead of going to school. An estimated 15 million children under 14 years old work as street vendors, beggars, car washers, shoe shiners and other jobs, UNICEF reported.
To help empower and engage with these girls, an organization called Girls Connect set up a toll-free number for girls in Nigeria to call for advice. Thousands of Nigerian girls are calling, listening to stories like Lantana’s, and receiving advice for their own situations.
“Being a girl in Nigeria is challenged, from limited education to early marriage, because of the fear that if you give girls too much information she will not know what to do with it and she makes bad choices, which will bring shame to the family,” Hadeeza Haruna Ausie, Senior Manager at Girls Effect, told TIME.
Girls Connect partnered with Girls Effect and ISON, one of Africa’s largest IT companies, to put this project together. Girls Connect is an international organization dedicated to challenging social norms that hold girls back by empowering girls around the world. The organization was previously funded by the NIKE Foundation but became an independent organization in 2015.
When a girl calls the free number, she chooses one of four stories to listen to that relate to different problems girls face in Nigeria. After listening to the story, the girl is connected with a specially-trained agent called a “role model” who helps her work through problems she is facing or may face in the future.
Each of the 13 role models, all women employees of iSON, receive about 230 calls each day. Although their cubicles in southeastern Nigeria are far removed from the streets where many of the girl callers hawk for money, the role models understand the importance of their advice and the girls they speak to each day take comfort of knowing there is someone to talk to about the problems they face, according to TIME.
The four stories girl callers can listen to each have 3-4 chapters and last approximately 2-3 minutes. They are performed by professional radio actors so as to be as engaging as possible. Some of the callers enjoy the stories so much they listen to them repetitively. Among the four stories, Lantana’s story is the most popular.
Street hawking is the most common form of child labor in Nigeria. Hawkers, often street vendors who draw attention to their merchandise by loud cries or chants, make up part of the growing number of children forced to work in the country.
Girls and early adolescents (10-13 years old) are more likely than males and teenagers to engage in hawking, making them even more vulnerable to the risks associated with the practice, including abuse, assault, and car accidents.
Last year, Nigeria outlawed hawking, making it punishable with at $300 fine or up to 6 months in jail. Supporters say arresting hawkers, even children hawkers, is the only solution to end child hawking while opponents say the law only condemns them to criminality.
By providing advice and support for girls growing up in Nigeria, Girls Connect’s program provides an alternative to arresting child hawkers by instead educating and empowering them.
CHIME FOR CHANGE is a global campaign founded by Gucci in 2013 to convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for girls and women around the world. The campaign uses innovative approaches to promote gender equality. Co-founded by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Salma Hayek Pinault, CHIME FOR CHANGE works with a coalition of partner organizations, including the Kering Foundation, Facebook, and Hearst Magazines.