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Rising cases of abandoned street children

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(Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

The incidents of abandoned street children in our towns and cities are on the rise. It is a frightening phenomenon that calls for deliberate policy framework by the government and its social welfare agencies to provide succor to the unfortunate kids.

Within the last decade, it has been observed that many disgruntled and irresponsible parents have formed the habit of throwing their kids unto the streets and disappearing. Most of the affected children are under age five.

The parents usually drop these children at night to die or be picked up by good spirited persons. The abandoned children, usually, clad in rags are left to roam about without food, water or shelter. They go through untold hardship. They suffer the worst form of neglect at the tender age without parental care. They suffer psychological trauma and other forms of abuse.

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Like many ills that creep into our society and take root, the practice of abandoning children on the streets is fast gaining ground. The situation calls for attention by government to plan for this emerging anti-social behavior.

Before now, attention has been focused on child labour. These include, engaging children as house helps, child apprenticeship and child hawking on the streets, among others. Government frowns at these practices because they deny the affected children the chance of going to school. However, many successful men and women in our society today passed through child labour.

Many top class businessmen and women we know today were once apprentices under one master or another. Many women have got good husbands in the course of being house helps. Some of the house helps have received formal education under their master more than they would have received under their parents. It depends on the master. This seeming positive side, notwithstanding, child abuse is still rampant and condemned by the society.

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The traditional child apprenticeship is different from the emerging practice, where a man or woman, for whatever reason, decides to throw his or her children out on the street. This is a criminal behavior. There is nothing else to say than to conclude that we are in for a big trouble. What is the future of a child who is abandoned on the street and left to fate? What type of society would emerge when these unloved children become adults?

It is important to stress that child abuse is a characteristic of underdevelopment. Nigeria’s level of underdevelopment makes child abuse a component feature. Every undeveloped society shares in this ugly culture. In Nigeria, sending children out to be engaged in all kinds of child labour is an age long practice. The only solution is total transformation of the society from the present level of underdevelopment to a developed society. Underdevelopment goes with poverty and poverty goes with enslavement in different forms. The poor suffer the brunt of underdevelopment more than the rich in the same society.

In a way, parents who throw away their kids are probably the ones who never received parental care. A closer scrutiny would reveal the gap in their lives. They must have been severely abused, rejected and uncared for. The abuse suffered by these persons is in turn transferred to their own children. I don’t believe that poverty alone is responsible for the dastardly behavior of throwing away ones child because even animals in the forest don’t abandon their kids. When they are attacked, they struggle to safeguard their kids. Viewed from this angle, the perpetrators of the heinous crime of child abandonment are depraved sub-humans.

What are the causes of this ugly behavior? There is a general misconception that poverty is at the root of child abandonment. While this may be true to some extent, there are other factors that are responsible for this practice.

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First, indiscipline is the principal factor in this malaise. A disciplined man or woman, whether single or married would know how to conduct him or herself. Part of the indiscipline manifests in living a loose life, drunkenness and immorality.

Having indiscriminate extramarital affairs without adequate plan for the child is a major factor. Many irresponsible adults produce children they cannot cater for. Some are deceived into having affairs that have no foundation and are bound to hit the nock. Indiscretion and lust leads to the production of unloved children.

Second is problem of broken marriages leading to broken homes forces either the father or mother under whose care the burden of caring for the children rests to decide to throw some of the children away. In the traditional African society, the problem of broken marriages and divorce is uncommon. No child is thrown away under the traditional African culture, including those born out of wedlock. It is not known from where this culture came.

Third is single parenthood, which is now rampant among the females. Single parenthood is un-African. It is a Western lifestyle that has been imported into our culture. But the Western society made provision for children born out of wedlock. There are social safety nets in place in Western societies to cater for everyone. That is why there are no abandoned babies or street children in those developed societies.

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Fourth is poverty, which is presumed to be the major cause of child abandonment in Africa. The overwhelming mass poverty among the populace causes social dislocation. Lack of social safety nets, unemployment, inflation and homelessness characterize most African societies. Majority of the citizenry have no means of livelihood. They live in abject poverty. These are people who live from hand to mouth but can’t do without producing children. It is people who find themselves in this state of utter hopelessness that are tempted to throw away their children as a way of reliving burden. This is more where there is no free education for the children and parents have to struggle to send their children to school.

Child abandonment is an international problem. Many countries in Africa are faced with the challenge. In East Africa, particularly Kenya, thousands of street children roam about in the streets of Nairobi. The homeless kids manifest all forms of anti-social behavior. They constitute an eyesore in cities like Nairobi, which is a major tourist destination. Somehow, the awful sight of these children is in itself a tourist attraction. This is because, many tourists from the developed countries who have never seen such, are bewildered at the sight of several under-aged kids roaming about the streets in tatters. It is an oddity to behold. The problem is not yet pronounced in Nigeria as it is in Kenya. The time to tackle the problem before it gets out of hand is now. I must stress, at this point, that it is needless calling on the people involved in this anti-social behavior to stop it. Such call must be followed with a well-articulated social security plan for the poor, otherwise it won’t work.

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But since Nigeria has no social safety nets at present, this problem is bound to worsen in the near future. In normal circumstances, every individual has a family where he or she belongs. But if a child has been abandoned on the street, it is the duty of government to assume full responsibility in catering for such children. What this means is that government should begin to plan for abandoned children. There should be a policy framework to address this problem. The responsibility should be a state/local government affair.

Except such a policy is put in place, the street children will grow to become very violent anti-social elements. There are no abandoned children on the streets of New York, London, Tokyo or any other city in the developed work. This has nothing to do with moral rectitude but with governance. Those societies have made provision for even the abandoned children. If Nigeria wants to be among the league of the developed nations by 2030, street children and child abuse are among the problems that would have to be tackled by the government squarely.

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