Will street children ever become a thing of the past?
Nigerian Forum on Rehabilitation of Street Children, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), recently claimed that no fewer than 13 million children across the country live and survive on the streets.
The organisation called on policy makers, other non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders, to urgently formulate a national policy on street children.
In the same vein, concerned citizens express concern about the rising number of street children and its implications, observing that Nigeria is one of the countries with large number of street children.
Street children are the children who experience homelessness and, therefore, live on the streets of a city, town or village.
Sociologists opine that children rove the streets for a number of reasons including family instability and poverty.
Worried about the rising number of street children in the country, stakeholders at a recent conference in Abuja, therefore, proffered solutions on how to solve the challenge.
According to them, since street children are not the cause of their problems, the government ought to address the problem.
They observed that the conference with its theme as: “The Plights of Street Children in Nigeria’’, presented a platform for effective collaboration with states on the need to address the problem.
In the light of this, Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, said that the House Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development would address the problems through appropriate intervention.
Represented by Rep. Stella Ngwu, the Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development, he assured the stakeholders that the house would provide legislative framework that would discourage activities that result in having street children.
She said that her committee would soon engage chairmen of women affairs and social development committees in the houses of assembly across the country to work out modalities for domestication of the Child Rights Act.
Rep. Ngwu said that her committee was partnering a gender-based NGO — Women’s Aid Collective — to drive the implementation of the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act and the Child Rights Act.
Also, Hajia Aisha Alhassan, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, said her ministry would collaborate with relevant stakeholders to reduce the number of street children.
According to her, the ministry will also work towards eliminating destitute and child abandonment by strengthening child justice administration and make child care issues a priority of government.
Represented by Mrs Georgette Azuogu, Director, Child Development Department in the ministry, she explained that the ministry would provide policy direction and ensure adequate implementation of the existing policies such as the Child Rights Act, National Priority Agenda and the National Response on Violence Against Children.
In his view, Sen. Magnus Abe, opined that the issue should be taken beyond the domestication of the Act to proper action, insisting that without a law, Nigerians knew what was good for the children.
“The focus on which states have passed and which states have not domesticated the Child Rights Act is important, but not the most important issue in dealing with rights of children in this country.
“I think the first thing is for the nationals where the law has been passed and states that have domesticated the law to begin proper implementation of the law so that it begins to have positive effects on the lives of the children.
“Currently, there is no real difference in the lives of children in the states that have passed the law and those that have not passed it,’’ he observed.
Chief Ikechukwu Nwonu, the National Coordinator of Iykon Global Foundation, organisers of the programme, said the aim of the conference was to sensitise governments, care givers and stakeholders on the need to evolve a national policy on reclaiming and rehabilitating street children.
He said the foundation would partner state governments to establish reclamation centre for street children across the country.
He pointed out that the foundation would soon ascertain the number of street children state by state through a nation-wide survey.
“We are targeting two categories of street children; those who are on the street but might have very poor parents and go home after their vending for the day and those children who don’t have parents and even where to go after vending.
“So, we intend to reclaim them, cater and rehabilitate them. But you know as NGO we have our limitations; ours is to facilitate and drive the process. We expect state governments to get well involved.
“We are also working out how to get the reclaimed children properly engaged in agricultural activities,’’ he said.
In his paper entitled: “The vulnerability of street children and its effects on national development’’, Prof. Franklin Nwagbara, stressed the need to address the problems of street children.
“The human race, especially Nigerians, should see that street children did not choose to live and fend for themselves on the streets, rather circumstances have handed them this inhumane life experience.
“Children living and/or working in the streets cannot be considered as a social problem, but instead as human beings with full potential to contribute to society and as positive agents for change.’’
“Every child is entitled to a meaningful childhood. Sadly, many children do not have that opportunity.
“On the streets, children lose their rights to emotional, physical and social development; they lack quality healthcare, sound education and positive uplifting recreation.
“Without the security and comfort of a home, they are exposed to cruelty, abuse and exploitation,’’ he said.
Nwagbara said that Nigeria needed to do something urgently to tackle the challenges of street children, including those in Internally Displaced Persons camps due to insurgency in the north eastern part of the country.
He said the problem of street children could be addressed through correctional model, rehabilitation model, outreach strategy and preventive approach.
According to him, correctional model is primarily used by governments and the police, rehabilitation model supported by churches and NGOs, while outreach strategy is supported by street teachers, faith-based organisations and NGOs.
“They see street children as oppressed individuals and aim to empower them by providing outreach education and training to support the children.
“Preventive approach supported by NGOs, focuses on the problems that cause street children by targeting parents’ unemployment and campaign for children’s rights.
“The combination of the models and strategies will go a long way to reduce the high number of street children in the country,’’ he said.
By and large, participants at the conference observe that street children are not nuisance after all but victims of poverty, family instability and insurgency, among others.
They insist that the society owes it as a duty to provide and care for them to complement efforts of other stakeholders at addressing the problem of street children.(NANFeatures)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria