Name: Alonge Temitope Oyindamola
A terrible error of society is an infamous haste to categorize every child found on the street as being of the street. Complex as that may appear, it portrays a simple rationality; because a careful attention to the underlying narrative for having these group of young people on the streets, as against the privileged who are not on the streets is only an object of misfortune and fortune.
The sore tales of street children have been documented as far back as 1848. Street children is a term for children experiencing poverty, homelessness or both, who are living on the streets of a city, town, or village. It could also be defined as “children who work or live on the streets.”
It is often thought that street children are only spectacles in undeveloped or developing countries, on the contrary, they are found everywhere, even in developed countries. Most young people living on the street are below the age of eighteen.
Street children may live permanently on the streets with or without their families because they have no home. They may be children who engage in menial jobs. Street children may spend a lot time in the streets, but sleep at home.
They are often subject to abuse, neglect, exploitation, or in extreme cases, murder by “clean-up squads” hired by local businesses or police. They can be found in large majority of the world’s cities, being more prevalent in densely populated urban hubs of developing or economically unstable regions, such as countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. Research has shown that more than hundred million children are growing up on streets around the world (UNICEF, 2010). The organization (UNICEF) also added that “the exact number of street children is impossible to quantify, but the figure almost certainly runs into tens of millions across the world. It is likely that the numbers are increasing.”
Children who live on the streets are unable to receive proper education or healthcare. Protection of street children is difficult, especially those found in the less developed countries, this makes them an easy target for exploitation.
More boys are found on the street than their female counterparts, the obvious reason; male children bear the greater responsibility of fending for themselves, and their families. The female child when on the streets, is immensely prone to trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation or other forms of child labour.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are three categories of street children:
- Child of the street
- Child on the street
- Child of a street family
- Child of the street: This category refers to children who have been abandoned by their family or orphaned. Some of them might have absconded from their families and live alone on the streets. They are solely responsible for their own survival. Hence, they must find shelter and food however they can.
- Child “on the street”: This category comprises of children who have family and are in regular contact with them. They spend most of their time on the street fending for themselves, and sometimes for their families, but return home on a regular basis. Many of them spend days on the streets in order to escape abuse (either physical or emotional), or due to overcrowding in their home.
- Child “of a street family”: This category lives on the street alongside their family. They are mostly victims of circumstances like poverty, war, natural disasters, or unemployment. They are mostly found wandering along the street with their possessions. The children often work on the streets with other members of their families.
Some children are found on the street due to a variety of reasons. Listed below are some of them:
- Family breakdown
- Natural and man-made disasters
- Physical and sexual abuse
- Religious factors
- Cultural factors
Children living on the street is a situation of grave concern in the world, particularly Nigeria. These children range from ages 5 – 17. They are involved in different types of hazardous ventures such as hawking, carrying of load, or even crime. Bridges, motor parks, market stalls serve as places of abode, with no healthy drinking water, proper healthcare, nutritious food, clean bathing water, and a lot more. They are more exposed to illnesses, malnourishment, accidents, crime, arrest and harassment by law enforcement agents, and could also be subject to trafficking.
Drug abuse is common among children on the street. They often use the drugs to desensitize the pain and deal with the hardships associated with street life. Studies have found that up to 90% of street children use psychoactive substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, medicines, heroin, cannabis, etc.
In Northern Nigeria, we can find the “Almajiri”. Originally, these children are sent to learn Quranic education in traditional way under the care of an Islamic scholar. Unfortunately, the system has been diverted from its original objective and these children are being used by their surrogate caregivers to earn money, by sending them out to beg in the streets and carry out other menial jobs, hence exposing them to various health, physical and physiological hazards.
Street children deserve a life. They are not criminals, and hence shouldn’t be regarded as such. Every child has a right to basic education, secure home, protection against violence, and access to proper healthcare. More importantly, their voices should be heard and their hopes and dreams should be taken with utmost seriousness.
Our resolve to act against the scourge of street children should not be merely an act of charity, but an expression of our very humanity.