Rethinking the street children phenomena

Throughout the world there are children whose habitation is on the streets and since theydomicile in the streets they are generally referred to as street children.

Childrenare supposed to enjoy love, care and overall protection from parents, but thisis not the case with the street children. These children are denied their basicrights and are exposed to physical, sexual and all sorts of harm and abuses andalso live in inhumane and deleterious conditions. United Nations Children Education Fund(UNICEF) distinguishes between two different groups of street children based ontheir family situations but have a common characteristic in that they spendtheir lives in the street. The first category is of children “on” the street.These are children who work and maintain regular relationships with theirfamilies.

The second category is of children “of” the street and they considerthe street their home. The streets are where they eat, sleep, play and makefriends. Children in both of the categories have much in common; they haveunstable emotional relationships with the adult world, a negative self image,social stigma, violence, exploitation and uncertain futures. The streetchildren have historically been labeled and considered as: delinquents, vagrants,juveniles exposed to delinquency, street urchins, Almajiris. Some of thesechildren are neglected and abandoned to fend for themselves and learn tosurvive. Some missed their way and couldn’t find their way back home; some weredriven from home because of maltreatment from mothers, step mothers, father,and step father, as a result of death of either of their parent or as a resultof broken homes. Some left home due to harsh situations at home or due tomisunderstanding with parents or peer influence.

The main activities of thesevulnerable children are selling goods along the street, hawking in the market,motor parks, under the bridges and some even loiter the streets or motorparks, doing odd jobs, fighting, playing, stealing and pockets picking. It hasalso been established that juvenile delinquency and violence is a mirrorreflection of what happens in the life of street children from theirmistreatment at home and how they are abused by their peers in the streets.   

In Nigeria, the prevalence of street childrenin urban centres has been a growing concern as rehabilitation efforts bygovernment agencies and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) evidently has notachieved much. In the light of this reality and general insecurity in thecountry, it has become necessary to tackle this problem from the family angle toprevent children from coming out or running away to the street in the firstplace.

One would be happy to see the recent national security summit held inthe country yield a positive result. But the reality is that withoutinstitutional framework and commitment to eliminate those factors thatpredispose children onto the streets, government efforts might amount tothrowing money into the ocean to appease gods for fortune one has not workedfor.  It is important while striving to freeour nation from the menace of street children to understand where we are comingfrom and what we are currently doing so as to be viably armed with possiblesolutions of overcoming the street children phenomenon. Unlike in the past,parental role in child upbringing has nose-dived. Common mistake in many homestoday is that of dysfunctional relationships between parents and children.

Ourvalue system has been traded away. Parents expect schools to do it all alonefor them. The strong point here is that most of the problems we expectgovernments and others to solve for us will never be solved if at the homefront we refuse to buckle-up. On thegovernment side, employment opportunities as pledged in government manifestosshould be created so as to overcome poverty. At all tiers of government it mustbe seen to be committed to enforcement of child rights act and provision ofsocial welfare that guaranteed the protection and safety of every child,particularly the rights of the vulnerable, such as street children in questionas well as trafficked children, children with disabilities. A lot of NGOs are already working inthe area of returning the street children back home.

We need more of thiseffort rather than labeling and tagging of the children. We should know thatsome of these are innocent and vulnerable children who need love, affection andcare. These children are supposed to be reached and given special attention. 

Rasak Musbau

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