Both girls smiled shyly at me. One, was carrying a basket full of packets of tissue papers. The other, held firmly to the hem of her dress.
I called them to come nearer.
Girl 1: Buy tissue?
Me: Sure. Is she your little sister?
Girl 1: Yes.
The girls were barely 9. Yet there they were on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, selling packets of tissue papers. For a moment, I wondered why were they not in school, where were their parents, where do they live. However, due to language limitations, they were not able to divulge much details. The hardship that they face each day seemed to fade away when we shared a few moments together.
The memories I have of my childhood were mostly filled with playtime, reading and watching cartoons. Thus I often find it difficult to understand how children in some parts of the world can be subjected to child labour. At such a young age, these children have to grow beyond their years and take on the responsibility of contributing towards the livelihood of the family.
As much as I want to believe that the girls, like other child labourers, do not have a choice in this matter, and that they have been driven to be in the trade due to circumstances, their sheer innocence, oblivious to the potential danger that may fall upon them, stifled me.
The last few minutes of our encounter were spent on a couple of photography sessions. The girls loved seeing their faces on the camera, and they giggled at their own pictures. After having their fill of laughs, they both said their thanks and goodbyes.
And with a heavy heart, I let them walk away.
11.08am, Malaysian Time