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International Day of the African Child

‘Protecting children from violence’

In 1976 during a protest march against been taught in language other than their native tongue, thousands of young boys and girls were injured and a hundred were shot dead in Soweto, South Africa. 15 years after, the International day of Children was initiated by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to examine progress in issues relating to the African child. Unlike the Nigeria Children’s Day the 2006 commemoration has a theme “Protecting Children from Violence” to enable us focus on how well the African child has been protected from violence. Though dictated from the top everyone, everywhere is to analyze this theme as it affects you. But if you think it doesn’t affect you because you don’t determine the budgets that accrue to children come with me into the Willows Mirror.

The traffic light goes red and vehicles come to a halt. Within the split of a second, coming from another direction where the traffic is obeying the rule of green, almost run over by a vehicle she comes running into the road. Standing on tip toe she stretches her slim neck into the vehicle revealing her pale eyes, scruffy hair, dripping nose through the window. A wry smile crosses her lips expecting you to see through her want. Not embarrassed by your feigned ignorance she stretches her skinny hand with dirty fingers to reach out for you, looking at you with a lure that could bring result. Still no action from you, she speaks or sings appealing to your sense of pity “I fine like you, you and me be the same colour, find me money make I chop.”

The traffic light goes red and vehicles come to a halt. From nowhere he appears dripping of sweat, looking hungry and haggard holding a long foam brush and a plastic bottle containing liquid detergent. Without permission, not mindful of whether it is clean or dirty, he begins to clean your screen with the long foam brush. At intervals, he wipes off the brush on his tattered covering until the job is done. He smiles at himself for a job well done oblivious of your sense of judgement. He walks towards the “oga or madam” in the vehicle expecting you to act. The traffic light will switch soon and that makes him agitated. He either waits for results or he pulls a fast one to pay himself; you may discover a missing tire cover, wiper or even mobile phone later on.

Above scenarios or similar ones – like a child beggar tugging at your clothes for alms or requesting for transport fare to an undisclosed destination – are not uncommon. In a country like Nigeria known for hospitality and charity, street children have become part of the city life.

At 6 a.m. when the day opens they are nowhere to be found. At 6 p.m. when the day draws to a close they are nowhere to be found but between 6am and 6pm they dot our streets like algae on the sea. Where do they come from? Where do they go? Who are they? They were christened but society has given them other names – urchins, orphans, waifs, brats, rascals, rogues…

Someone gave them suck and someone will bury them when the streets deal a deadly blow on them but in-between these extremes of birth and death, where lies there survival? Some may never procreate while others bring to birth at a so called wrong time or in a wrong situation but the question is how will those who cannot provide care partner with those who can sustain care in the best interest of the child?

As we celebrate or commemorate the African child we need to remember that a nation’s strength lies in the development of the youth yet we watch our growing generation waste in the streets devoid of opportunity. What will a street child – who defecates in the streets, cuts trees to make fire for warmth or cooking, pulls out bridge fenders to build a home – benefit from a street he has depleted? The street offers nothing and those who cruise the streets to their high ends either offer peanuts or are too far away enjoying the grace of opportunity to be concerned.

Every 24 hours the street child grows. If not mentally, he grows in urges, feelings and desires. To survive, the child on the street must live by the street rule – each man for himself, survival of the smartest. Immorality, pilfering and stealing is not a crime on the street; it is a way of life Sooner than later that way of life creeps into your high end as the street child lies in wait for your daughter on her way back from school, that street child becomes a night crawler who lures your son away from home, that street child becomes enlisted as a kill-and-take who finds their way into your beautiful home or commands possession of your car in broad daylight.

Even when there are only homes whose credibility can be questioned to effect proper adoption; our culture should redefine, support and promote adoption. I believe it is high time our government at the local, state and federal level looked at the issue of street children which is no less an environment which harbours violence against children.

Credible charity organizations should rise up to the challenge of saving our future from abortive development. Religious and private entities should organize programmes aimed at salvaging these souls. You and I must act now to save you and me from the effects of the existence of the school of street children.

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