Tomorrow is International Street Children’s Day. It is no longer in doubt that most countries of the world signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on Rights of the child and have a legal obligation to work towards ensuring that all children’s rights are integrated into national law but regrettable many government policies and practices still do not include street children. Across the world, most of these children are denied education, entertainment and opportunity for proper human development.
Street children include children living on the streets with no home at all, children spending most of their time on the streets without opportunities for education and care and child workers who, daily, face pains, abuse by adults, low life expectancy and are unable to explore their potential.
According to the UNICEF, one hundred and fifty-eight million children across the world are engaged in child labour, representing one in every six children, with Asia and Africa having the lion share; while seventy-three million of the children are less than ten years old.
In Asia, forty-four million children are engaged in child labour, out of which twenty-five million are illegally employed by rug factories. In the Sub-Saharan Africa, sixty-nine million children are said to be engaged in one form of child labour or the other, which means that one in every three children is a victim.
Some of these children work with pesticides and chemicals in the agriculture sector, while others work with dangerous machineries that endanger their lives and UNICEF statistics show that twenty-two thousand of these children die in work related accidents every year.
In a similar vein, millions of children, engaged as domestic servants, are always over burdened and most of them, especially the girls, are frequently sexually harassed, abused and exploited. Most of these children live in rural communities and urban slums where the poverty level is rather high with little opportunity of breaking the shackle of poor standard of living.
In Nigeria, communities in most states in the Northern part of the country are the worst hit, resulting to the challenge of the “Almajeri” syndrome, with many of them becoming ready tools for violence and bloodletting. Ebonyi and some other states in the South-South zone also have high figures of child labour.
In some communities in Anambra State, such as Anambra East and West, Ayamelum, Ogbaru, Orumba North and South, child labour has almost become part of the accepted way of daily living. Child labour is also prominent in some of the urban and semi-urban towns of Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi, Ekwulobia and Ihiala, where children, instead of being sent to school, are engaged in forced labour to generate income for their families, either by hawking wares on major highways with the risk of being run down by moving vehicles or by assisting their parents to sell in shops and markets. Some of them, who are less fortunate, are daily exposed to the harsh and degenerated life of begging for alms by parents and guardians.
Children, as hope for future survival of the society, should be properly equipped and empowered to confront the challenges of life and living without going through dehumanizing and harrowing experience of forced labour. There should be more proactive measures in enforcing the child Rights Law to protect them from abuse and exploitation.
Stakeholders should sustain efforts in ensuring that children receive quality education that will positively change their mind sets and perception of life and equip them with necessary knowledge and skills to attain their full potentials in life. Government at all levels, churches, civil society groups, schools, youth and women organizations as well as the media should sustain the campaign against oppression of children and save them from the traumatic effects and evil of child labour, homelessness and street life.