By Isaac Asabor
As gathered from an online encyclopedia, “Wikipedia”, “Children’s Day is celebrated on 27 May in Nigeria. It was established as a holiday in 1964. It is a public holiday for Primary and Secondary school children. Due to the large size of the country, only a few groups of children (schools or other organizations) are selected to march past in a parade. The children are usually given treats such as an outing or doing jobs that adults would normally do. In some situations, primary and secondary school children compete in military parades format for a prize which will be given at the end of the competition. Religious groups in Nigeria also celebrate children’s day in grand style. Many private and public organizations usually put together children’s party for privileged and less privileged children in a bid to give them a sense of belonging. It is also a day media organizations analyze the plight of children in the society and efforts government and nongovernment agencies make to better a lot of children”.
Despite the philosophy behind its conceptualization of the special day, it is obvious that the plight of street children is not in any way been put into consideration in Nigeria, yet our leaders kept celebrating it every year with tongue-in-cheek promises and rhetoric just like today being May 27. It is not an exaggeration to say that street children or urchins are a creation of rapid urbanization and its concomitant aberrations.
Without any scintilla of hyperbole, it is expedient to opine in this context that that with the growing spatial inequities, dwindling farmlands, physical exertion required in peasant farming and the glamour of cities that millions of Nigerians in rural areas are daily migrating in droves into urban spaces, and in the process radically redefining the geo-sociological nature of cities and continue to pose formidable challenges to planners and policy makers. Against the foregoing backdrop, it is salient in this context to recall that the UN in 2015 projects world population to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, driven by growth in developing countries. Despite the prediction, it appears policy makers in Nigeria are less concerned, and there is a major subtext to this story that youth will account for a large proportion in this demographic transition. This “demographic bulge” is seen both as a potential problem as well as a future resource.
To put it in an understandable perspective, street children follows the widely accepted conceptualization by UNICEF, which is: “Boys and girls aged under 18 for whom “the street” (including unoccupied dwellings and wasteland) has become home and/or their source of livelihood, and who are inadequately protected or supervised.” The increasing number of street children is also an expression of the negative impact of globalization on the poorest of the poor. In fact, globalization fosters urbanization, including the promises of a better life in the cities with less hardship than in the countryside.
In fact, the loss of traditional family values and the adoption of individually shaped urban life often create a desire for “Streetism”. The subculture of the street can in some cases become a substitute for community life for children. The street can be a place of exclusion and marginalization but also a place for socialization and integration. As Nigeria marks Children Day today, it is only appropriate that we spare a thought for these children that are unarguably lost on the streets of Kaduna, Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Benin and other cities.
It is so sad that most Nigerians despise these children by each passing day and walk right passed them without even sparing a thought on how they can be helped. In most cases, we don’t even give them a second thought let alone the actual issue of homelessness as a whole. Becoming homeless can happen rather quickly, and paradoxically takes longer to be reintegrated back into the society. Living on the streets is tough for either a man or a woman not to talk of vulnerable children. They get kicked, beaten, laughed and jeered at.
It is salient to correct the erroneous impression that only the government should be responsible in helping these children on the streets. Given the plethora of NGOs, religious bodies, and manufacturers of children products and providers of pediatric services, it is not an act of ingratitude to say that Nigeria is yet to be supported enough in tackling street children related challenges so that they can have equal opportunities in accessing education like other children at home with their parents or guardians. In fact, there is an urgent need to help these children on the streets as it is very obvious that they have much lower chances of being able to attend school.
The main problem is simple: in Nigeria, primary schools are free, but you must pay for secondary or higher education, the fees of which are too high for many underprivileged children. As a result, the future obviously looks bleak for this children on the streets even as they equally pose as threat to the country’s future security architecture. However, the challenges they are faced with can be nipped in the bud if they are assisted.
To Lagosians that are conversant with Oshodi/Mushin/Isolo axis, they will agree with this writer that street urchins can be classified under two major categories; depending on how much time they spend on the streets.
The first category of children lives at home and they are on the streets to earn for their livings and support their families. They are often forced by their parents to do everything they can to earn money and such children do any possible job requiring minimum skills or knowledge. They are engaged in all kinds of menial jobs, begging, sometimes in prostitution or into other illegal activities connected with menial income.
Children in the second category accept the streets as their homes and the only place for living, because they sleep and live on the streets. These children usually do not have any ties with their families and siblings. They sun away from their homes for various reasons. In most cases, conflicts with parents or family members force them to go to the streets.
At this juncture, it is expedient to appeal to the government and NGOs that street children should be assisted to become part of us. Today, being Children Day should be set aside to think about their plight. In fact, it is expedient to note that street children are a worldwide phenomenon, and it is not peculiar to Nigeria. It suffices to say that a number of these children has been increasing. These are the runaway children who struggle for their survival. It is not an exaggeration to say that the situation is by each passing day becoming grimmer. So, there is a need of conducting study on their status, and also the role of media in this regard. It is not enough for children to be observing Children Day’s holiday every year without anything being done for them. They are Nigerians as well. We should spare a thought on their plight.
Isaac Asabor is a Public Affairs Analyst.