Giving Nigeria’s Street Children a Voice

By Nzubechukwu Okeke 

The United Nations‘ International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are about 100 million street children in the world, however it may be impossible to tell how many children are on the streets across Nigeria. There is no data anywhere not even estimates by UNICEF.

Street children are visible in the major cities in Nigeria but their voices are never heard.

Street children are boys and girls who live and/or maintain their livelihood on the street. The biggest problem for these children is lack of support that exposes them to drugs and leaves them vulnerable to sexual abuse, exploitation and deprivation.

Young people end up on the street for so many reasons. The causes are often related to domestic, economic, or social disruption including, but not limited to, poverty; breakdown of homes and/or families; political unrest; acculturation; child trafficking; sexual, physical or emotional abuse; domestic violence; or being lured away by pimps or begging syndicates.

So these children become detached from their families, school and their communities as such losing the social networks which are supposed to provide support in difficult times. However, no matter how comprehensive the social network is, there are children who fall through the safety net.

The attitudes towards street children all over the world are consistent. Community attitudes towards them tend to be on quite the negative side. People are still afraid of young people on the street. They see them as criminals, hoodlums, gangsters and drug users. However, some individuals tend to feel more sensitive and much more sorry for these young people and see them as victims and hopeless.

The International Day for Street Children was marked on Tuesday the 12th of April 2016 but is not yet an official United Nation’s day though we hope that it will be, however it is a day whether recognized by the U.N. or not that entire organizations supporting street children have the opportunity to raise issues.

The day has come and gone but how willing are we to support the objectives. The aim was to give a voice to children who live and work on the street.

This year was about identity. Without legal identification documents, street children are denied access to education and healthcare. More importantly, the way the society treats street children affects how they construct their own personal identity. They are perceived negatively and this makes them feel alienated, isolated and worsens their health and well-being.

An unidentified girl walks past a bus station in Nigeria, apparently on her way to school. Photo/Newsbeat.ng

This is quite a difficult situation, but the amazing thing is that these young people are really resourceful, resilient and responsive, brave and strong to be on the street and survive on the street.

Despite their situation, we ought to see them as children full of potential waiting to be harnessed. We should support them to enable them to realize their potential. They are responsive to opportunities; the trouble is that there are a myriad number of obstacles stopping them from getting education.  In Nigeria, if they are supporting themselves through school, they need to work, (school clothing, supplies, exams, etc all come at a cost) and school tends to work when they are working.

There are various organizations all over the world supporting street children but the biggest potential change this year is the general comments that have been fashioned by the United Nations, which will start to recognize that these young people have rights. They have the right to be on the street as well, which is always difficult for people to understand.

Children are the future of every nation; therefore every effort made towards empowering them to make better decisions that will impact them positively, and lead them to engage in transformative activities in society for the benefit of others should be our target. How we shape these children today will determine how progressive the future of our nation will be.

Nzubechukwu Okeke is an Academic Associate at the Cardiff School of Health Sciences at Cardiff Metropolitan University. He wrote this piece exclusively for Nigerianreporter.com.