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63 APRIL 2004
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street work

Nigeria: Help for street children

Andrew Ahiante

They are all over, in the markets, at bus stops, car parks, garages, street corners, under the bridges and other public places across the nation's major cities. The sight of the street children sometimes infuriates and frightens, but their plight invokes sympathy and compassion. Inclusive in this group are those of them, who are daily seen helping to raise funds for their families through hawking, begging and simply loafing around.

Growing concern for the plight of these children, may have informed the recent decision of Mrs. Adetokunbo Abimbola to establish “The Precious Childcare Foundation” to educate and empower the abandoned and neglected Nigerian child. On the Foundation's list to care for are street children, child slaves, under privileged children, and under privileged mothers. It is to highlight the social and health problems facing the groups with a view to finding solutions to them. Last week, it organised an interactive session on rehabilitation and reintegration of street children and HIV/AIDS orphans, where it equally presented a play on the plight of street children across the major cities of the country.

The occasion, which was well attended by top government functionaries and other NGOs working on child care and protection, offered an opportunity for the groups to draw attention to vulnerable children across the nation. Speaking at the occasion, Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos State challenged Nigerians on the plight of vulnerable children across the major cities of the nation. Tinubu, who emphasised the need to offer positive guidance that will enable such children improve on their patterns of behaviour, especially in the face of the present socio-economic realities, confronting the nation, declared: “As we all know, these young ones constitute potential forces, whose energies must be harnessed and directed towards meaningful development in the society. Though, they might have been involved in one form of misdemeanor or the other, we owe it as a social responsibility to offer positive guidance that will enable them to improve on their patterns of behaviour, especially within the context of our socio-economic situation”, he stated.

He said the Foundation like all others could not have come at a better time against the backdrop of reported cases of youth restiveness and juveniles' involvement in crime across the nation. “With the focus of your Foundation and the calibre of personalities on the Board of Trustees, I have no doubt in my mind that your efforts are going to be complementary to the existing youth and social development programmes of the Lagos State Government”, he declared, while calling for better public/private sector partnership to give the nation's children a new lease of life.

Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Bukhari Bello, on his part, urged governments to put structures in place to promote and protect the fundamental human rights of children and in particular, the rights of those most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

“The need for better legal protection for street children cannot be overemphasised, as the street in most countries is the place where children are least protected”, he said, hoping that the domestication of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Nigeria would facilitate a multi-sector implementation approach to the problems by all stakeholders so as to effectively tackle this human rights and developmental problem.

He noted that in recent years, street children have been receiving international and national attention because of the attendant social, economic and health problems of the children, namely poverty, denial of education, involvement in societal crimes and violence, HIV/AIDS, prostitution and drug abuse.

Commenting on the play, Executive Director of the group, Mrs. Adetokunbo Abimbola, stated that it focused on some social menace rampant today, explaining that it was meant to awake the moral conscience in any given society on the plights of street children, especially those ranging btween ages five and 8 , who engage in street hawking, touting and a retinue of other social vices. “Our focus is on youth sex-hawkers, HIV/AIDS orphans, drug addicts, scavengers, among others and the apparent danger of the continued negligence on these children, the economic development as well as the political image of the country, among the respected nations of the world”, she summarised, while calling for support from individuals and corporate institutions to enable her build a home for the rehabilitation of such children. The foundation, Mrs Abimbola, also said, would as well frown at worst forms of child labour, including sales and trafficking of children, debt bondage, serfdom, child prostitution and pornography or procurement of children for illegal activities, all other forms of slavery and any thing, which may harm the health and well being of the children due to their vulnerability and immaturity in the Nigerian society.

“Precious Childcare Foudation in conjunction with stakeholders intend to build a better society devoid of street children, and child slavery, among others, and provide a future for Nigerian children through sustainable development, and good governance, which can only be achieved through transparency, honesty, hard work, equity, social justice and fair play in our body polity”, she declared.

Efforts , she said, were in top gear at the Foundation to conduct research into the problems of the unfortunate street child, child labour, child slavery and other under privileged children, suffering from child abuse in various ways and also to provide adequate legislation for their meaningful development in the Nigerian society.

She said the Foundation also planned to arrange health programmes for the children and conduct various enlightenment programmes on major health problems affecting the children, especially reproductive health (such as unwanted pregnancies, and HIV/AIDS infections.

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