On October 6th 1946, the Lagos Daily Service published an unsigned letter from one of its readers who wrote in to complain about a controversial new Lagos Township ordinance, the [...]
For almost two decades between the close of the Second World War and Nigerian independence in 1960, the British colonial state which faced a crisis of legitimacy in Lagos upheld city ordinances that made itinerant trading by young children in Lagos a punishable status offense. Although anti-trading regulations were gender-neutral in their language, girls were disproportionately sanctioned for engaging in street trading and related activities. In defending their concentration on girl sellers over boy sellers, colonial welfare officials painted a picture of the urban context as an inherently dangerous context and of girls as being particularly at risk of violent assault in the city, making them particularly in need of protection from town life. Sources which show that parents generally resisted or ignored the street trading regulations and continued permitting their daughters to sell despite entreaties, warnings, or fines from colonial officials, suggest that African parents and British colonial officials may have had conflicting views on the inherent danger of the city, on what constituted child endangerment, and on the gendered nature of childhood. This article argues that the girl saving campaigns of development era Lagos were as much about the legitimization of a colonial state facing a crisis of legitimacy as they were about debates between African parents and colonial welfare officials in Lagos concerning ideas of children and childhood and the dangers of street trading by African girls.