PROFILING AND REHABILITATION OF STREET CHILDREN IN CALABAR, CROSS RIVER STATE
We recently signed a partnership agreement with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) to carry out a survey on the street children phenomenon which has bedeviled Calabar in the last few years. The study is designed to collect data on the number of street children in Calabar and their profile, which will be relevant to government policy makers and development partners working in the child protection sector in the state.
Calabar is the capital of Cross River State, one of the 36 States of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The city has an estimated population of about four hundred and sixty-six thousand, eight hundred people (466,800). Calabar is made up of Calabar south and Calabar Municipality. The Efiks and the Ejaghams make up the major ethnic groups of the city. The city is considered the tourism centre of Nigeria. It is bound by Akpabuyo Local Government Area bound it to the East, by Odukpani Local Government to the North and to the Cross River to the West. The city is also priced as the cleanest city in Nigeria.
In recent times, there has been a rise in the number of street children. This has, in turn, led to a rise in the rate of crime in the city centre; situation many security experts attribute to street children menace.
There are an estimated 100 million children living in the streets in the world today. Children living on the streets are especially vulnerable to victimization, exploitation, and the abuse of their civil and economic rights. International indifference to the problem has led to continual neglect and abuse of these children.
All over Nigeria, it is a common sight to find children along the streets at all times of the day. These children, some of whom, were forced to the street from abusive homes, survive in the street struggling every day with the hostilities the street presents.
In the past, the presence of children in the street was very minimal. The end of civil war, in 1970, aggravated the problem. The Civil War left tales of untold hardship by children who were separated through death of their parents or divorce. Many parents due to loss of the means of survival could not provide for their children who had no option but to take to the streets. Recently, with the emergence of the economic meltdown, children hawking, trading or loitering have become the order of the day. UNICEF (2006) divided these children into two co- exiting categories: Children on the Street and Children of the Street. UNICEF further states that children on the Street go there to trade or hawk goods for some hours during the day either for their parents, guidance or as hired hawkers. For most of these children, they may have a home to return to at night while others simply keep some links with their families. Children of the Street on the other hand, are those who actually live and survive on the Street on their own. For this category, the Street is by all intent and purpose, a home for them. These children usually devise survival strategies which include stealing, use of violence, lying, cheating, among other anti – social activities. They loiter on the streets, motor parks and filling stations doing odd jobs, often fighting or pilfering other peoples’ possessions. They are most vulnerable victims of drug abuse, sexual exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking.
Many governments, nongovernmental organizations, and members of civil society around the world have increased their attention on homeless and street children as the number of these volunerable population continues to grow geometrically. There is no corresponding response from State actors towards reversing the situation.
On a local and regional level, initiatives have been taken to assist street children, often through shelters. Many shelters have programs designed to provide safety, healthcare, counselling, education, vocational training, legal aid, and other social services. Some shelters also provide regular individual contact, offering much-needed but limited love and care.
BRCI, in the cause of implementing her programmes, has in the past 8 years been working with children in the street of Calabar. We have within this period documented 206 street children and have followed-up 56 of them. Our records show that 70 documented street children where branded witches by their parents. 85 where branded by their guardians and sent out of their home. 20 ran away from home due to continues abuse meted on them by their parents/guardian and 25 strayed away from home following influence from other street children around their neighbourhood and weak family support system.
Objectives of the Project
- Undertake a census of street children in Calabar
- Understand the social, economic, educational and family background of street children
- Understand the reasons (causes) for children being on the streets
- Understand the challenges faced by children on the street and their future aspirations
- Develop an up-to-date database of street children in Calabar that will be useful for planning and policy making purposes by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs)
- Attempt to rehabilitate identified street children by equipping them with vocational skills that
- Attempt to reunite street children with family (where family members can be traced) or place them with foster families in the absence of living direct relatives
Our Plan of Action
Within 3 months, we will conduct a survey and profile street children in Calabar South and Calabar Municipality. This is aimed at securing a valid data of street children in Calabar and their various concerns. These concerns will be independently verified. This we hope to achieve within two months. The outcome of this investigation will inform our precise rehabilitation plan. For instance, a street child who narrowly escaped death from home because of witchcraft dubbing will not immediately be reunited with the same family because to do so may amount to a death sentence for the child.
In this case, other alternative care such as foster care will be sought. In matching foster carers, attention will be paid to, willingness of extended family members to foster the child and the child’s preferences. We shall strengthen our foster care network by organizing regular meetings and training of foster carers on child safeguarding.
We shall also strengthen our legal team with the aim of carrying out Court room advocacy aimed at securing the rights of children who are at the verge of slipping into the street due to parental neglect and hostilities at home.
The legal team will be responsible for providing free legal services to street children in conflict with the law.
We shall also identify and collaborate with organisations and institutions to meet the rehabilitation needs of these children to reduce recidivism (in cases of children in conflict with the law) for a more efficient and effective outcome.
We will collaborate with relevant state actors, community leaders, teachers and religious bodies for training on positive parenting. Our strategies will include debates, seminar, radio jingles and theatre performances.