STREET CHILDREN IN THE NORTH EAST OF NIGERIA A big challenge for the government

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When we see children living on the streets the first question that comes to mind is “why?” UNICEF recently gave the sum of $1m to the Borno state Government to help assuage the plight of these children. What is the government doing about this issue?

It is no longer a contentious fact Maiduguri is the northeast city with the highest number of  broken families, and lately internally displaced children. The issue of street children is considered a global social problem. The United Nations is concerned with many issues affecting children, including child labor, child trafficking, and street children; however, they consider child protection to be of the upmost concern, especially when viewed through the lens of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This UN binding agreement has become the most utilized document in establishing a framework for issues, such as street children or child labor. UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is an agency within the United Nations (UNDPI, 2011), mandated by the UN and created specifically to work towards protecting the most disadvantaged of children and promoting the rights of the child. It is a non-partisan agency very much aligned with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a UN document guiding agencies and members towards a more just world for children (UN, 2013).

 

Street Children02

According to human rights watch, the term “street children” refers to children to whom the street, more than their family has become their real home. It includes children who might not necessarily be homeless or without families, but who live in situation, where there is no protection, supervision or direction from responsible adults.

Street Children03 According to UNICEF, street living children are children to whom may have lost their families through war or illness, or had been abandoned because they had become too much of a burden, or else ran away from their abusive, dysfunction ,poverty-stinking families and now live alone on the streets. These children work, living and sleeping in the streets, often lacking any contact with their families. They are also at the risk of murder, constant abuse by pedophiles, and inhuman treatment.

Street Children04 The reason why the situation of the street children in Maiduguri is pathetic is because unlike what is obtained in Yola, Bauchi and other neighboring towns where the average  street children are 10years old, the street children found in Maiduguri are children whose age is between 4 and 8. This age group dominates the lot. While it is wrong to see children engaged as sachet water hawkers, dish washers in restaurants and the rest because child labor is like an illegal phenomenon that is in violation of international treaties and convention which Nigeria has ratified, it is not frown at because those children who engage in it are usually up to 10. Because of the degrading level of poverty people are thinking child labor is an acceptable phenomenon and a large proportion of people in the MMC and the entire northern parts of the country see nothing wrong it.

But a situation whereby children of age 4-8 have became versatile in the use of all kind of entreaties to solicit for arms, beg for food, savage refuse dump and roam about for long distances on a daily basis is very unfortunate. “I lost my father two year ago in Bama,” said seven years old Babagana Aji. “Since then I have been struggling to earn a living my mum is unemployed so I go around the city begging for food and money,” he further added. There are other children like Babagana in their thousands loitering and walking up and down the MMC.

 

S/N CAUSES OF THE PROBLEM CHARACTERISTIC OF STREET CHILDREN
1. Dysfunction families They do not have supervision or guidance from any responsible adult
2. Poverty-stricken families They do not go any school to comply with the mandatory UBE directive
3. No access to school They move about helter skater with bowls in hands.
4. Boko Haram insurgency They usually appear in filthy clothing or rags.
5. Misconception about formal education  They fend for themselves

 

SURVIVAL

To survive, every street child has to work very hard and in many ways they are threatened with various forms of violence. Many such children develop physical complication related to their hazardous work and unhygienic living conditions. As a result, they become apathetic to social norms and values.

But what can the street child do? He or she has to survive. Thus the reason why they roam about begging, scavenging or act as a hawkers and domestic help.

THE UNICEF INTERVENTION

Policy and Programmatic Interventions – The Social Worker’s Role

 

There are many ways to approach the issue of children living and working on the streets if we as an international community agree that it is indeed a problem to eradicate. As social workers and as part of our training, we should identify successful programming that addresses the root causes of this issue. As we work with street children, it is also imperative that we consider the ethical dilemmas of working with this population. The foremost agency for protecting and ensuring children’s rights, UNICEF states very clearly how to proceed in protecting children:

Street Children05 Building a protective environment for children that will help prevent and respond to violence, abuse and exploitation involves eight essential components: strengthening government commitment and capacity to fulfill children’s right to protection; promoting the establishment and enforcement of adequate legislation; addressing harmful attitudes, customs and practices; encouraging open discussion of child protection issues that includes media and civil society partners; developing children’s life skills, knowledge and participation; building capacity of families and communities; providing essential services for prevention, recovery and reintegration, including basic health, education and protection; and establishing and implementing ongoing and effective monitoring, reporting and oversight (UNICEF info. Sheet, 2013, p.1).

Micro credit and micro financing schemes are other successful and popular preventative approaches when addressing issues of poverty as a whole. These programs usually target the women in the household, with the idea that if a woman is empowered to become financially self-dependent and capable, she then will go on to empower her entire family. This seems like a very appropriate preventative approach when looking at the issue of street children, though, from a less obvious perspective.

The idea of implementing policies and programs from a child-centered, human-rights framework has been increasing momentum. This approach is one in which social workers could really take the lead. If we demand that the training we receive in our universities includes real, hands-on practice in program design, planning, implementation, evaluation, and monitoring, we will most certainly be leading the way in this very vital area of social development.

The Global Agenda and Commitment to Action created by our international social work organizations, International Association of Schools of Social Work, International Federation of Social Workers, and International Council on Social Welfare, explicitly states their stance towards global social issues and their commitment to addressing these issues in order to eradicate extreme poverty, among other global social problems. They have proposed another way in which social workers can get involved: through global commitment and cooperation and collaboration, by way of promoting “strong inclusive communities that enable all members to participate and belong…promote policies aimed at social integration and cohesion as a means for achieving the economic and social wellbeing of all persons…”(IFSW, 2012, p. 4).

As social workers, surveys, interviews, focus groups, and participatory observation are all measurement tools with which to seek out information on the effectiveness of existing street children programs. It is essential to consider the ethical dilemmas within our work due to the very sensitive nature of the children’s environment and their circumstances, most likely in impoverished and underdeveloped surroundings. Psychosocial trauma and language interpreters add further barriers to this already difficult task, so it would be very valuable to speak in their mother tongue or train local social workers and aides to apply proper program implementation techniques.

Data collection and the analysis and publication of findings can be very beneficial in providing viable and successful models as potential solutions to difficult social problems. Conducting studies on such social problems can also be used as a way in which to seek and substantiate policy reforms and recommendations in trying to combat social ills within a given society and around the globe. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report (2012), “standard data collection and analysis fail to capture the full extent of…problems.” In other words, there is much room for improvement in overall research techniques in order “to improve understanding of the scale and nature of urban poverty and exclusion affecting children.” The report goes on to say that “this will entail not only sound statistical work – a hallmark of which must be greater disaggregation of urban data – but also solid research and evaluation of interventions intended to advance the rights of children to survival, health, development, sanitation, education and protection in urban areas” (pp. 3 & 8).

Community organizing may also serve as a grassroots and innovative approach to the social problem of children living and working on the streets. By mobilizing and collaborating to collectively provide solutions to community problems, this strategy ensures investment from a variety of stakeholders, thus leading to more sustainable and appropriate solutions.

Finally, I believe in order to continue growing and developing our academic discipline, especially in the areas of global social development, we must continue seeking the best and the brightest for our social work degree programs from entry level to the doctoral degree. This requires high-quality recruitment efforts and the commitment to present our findings to our peers and professional colleagues, to continue to spark their interest and professional passion. We also must learn how to talk about ourselves (i.e. ourselves as professionals and researchers within the field,as well asabout the field itself, in order to attract first rate minds to our profession, people who are dedicated to international social work and social development. Their participation in turn can lead to ideas for future research and much being invested towards the creation of frameworks and theories, all of which will guide our evidence-based practice.

Street Children06 FAILURE TO ERADICATE, REHABILITATE AND EDUCATE THE STREET CHILD

Of course, if the government continue to treat this delicate matter, Boko Haram terrorists will not stop recruiting them into their fold only that it will not be what is being termed “force recruitment” the street children will gladly run into the arms of Boko Haram terrorists who are willing and ready to provide direction, feeding, protection and a sense of purpose for the street children.

Furthermore, there can be no real development and progress without eliminating the street children menace.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the benefits that will accrue to the community would exceed costs by nearly seven times for any child that was sent to school. Each extra year of schooling stemming from universal education to the age of 14 results in an additional 11 percent of future earning per year for a young student who stays in school the ILO report.

Let us not forget that the fight against street children is to expand the frontiers of human dignity and independence in the long run.

CHILD RIGHTS IN ISLAM

In a three day workshop on child welfare in Borno State, organized by GTZ/NCWS, Professor Abubakar Mustapha said that Islam places heavy responsibility upon the shoulders of the percent community and government. According to him, considerations about the rights of the child does begin only with the arrival of the child, he said it, begins at the marriage of the prospective parents. He also said that after the birth of a child, the right child begins to manifest on a large scale in the following:

  • The right to life and existence

(b) He also said that it is the right of the child not only to exist but to be given good postnatal care. He made reference to the holy Book in which the prophet was reported to have said, “He who has no compassion for younger people and does not respect elders, does not belongs to us.”

While stressing the need for Islamic Education in Muslim homes, Professor Mustapha said that the enrollment of children into Islamic Education Institutions especially the tsangaya schools is neither regulated nor adequately recognized. He said that in Borno, the number of children enrolled into primary school yearly is significantly low, when compared with other states. The professor strongly recommended that the Child Right Act should be implemented but with minor amendment to the issue of inheritance and so on.

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