The depth of the problem was under-scored the other day when the Lagos State police command rescued 11 children being used for begging near a church in the suburbs of Ikorodu. This came only days after the interception of two other children begging on the streets and the arrest of a female “evangelist” within another church premises in the same Ikorodu who, as the story went, was the brain behind this scheme in which the children were nothing more than commercial items, either for sale or for use as money procurement agents. These cases not only illustrate the desperation into which poverty has driven many, they also advertise how such has robbed many of their humanity.
Lagos State has a law banning child begging. The law is to enable children in the state to be in school at the right time and grow into responsible citizens. Besides, their presence on the streets as beggars or hawkers has often naturally led to such other moral vices as prostitution and destitution even as they fall victim of child trafficking and rape.
A child is a human person between the age of one and 17 and a child in this age bracket who is exposed to a certain degree of physical exertion not commensurate with his or her age is deemed violated.
There are more consequences of this vice: sexual abuse, for instance can lead to unwanted pregnancies and cases of child mothers, which, in turn is responsible for millions of out-of-school children.
In recent times, this most inhuman act has become an organised trans-border business with underground routes and connections. And with poverty a weapon to lure, most parents and relations of children are actively involved .
Girls in this connection are used as domestic servants or prostitutes while the boys are used as scavengers, beggars, car cleaners, bus conductors, drug peddlers and farm labourers in most locations.
This, certainly, is where poverty is breeding ground for man’s inhumanity to man. And that is why the law of Lagos State and the Child Rights Act should be used too as a weapon to curb the menace. Where man is allowed to rule, this criminality will continue. So the law must rule.
Therefore, the economic considerations that fuel this menace are the real reasons for the government at all levels to act. Time is fast running out on the 2016 budget and yet, there has been nothing concrete about a poverty reduction strategic framework. 2017 must therefore be different.
The vulnerable segment of the Nigerian population is in the rural and undeveloped economies without the protection of government and workers’ organisations or labour unions. That is why only good governance and far-reaching oversight functions of the government can redress this ill in the society. Besides, a well-structured human development scheme should be a fundamental objective which government at all levels should pursue with missionary zeal.
At the core of this should be a commitment to funding mass education at all levels of government. In this regard, parents too should be ready to assist in mass enrolment of children in school. Where law is required to regulate this as has been done in a few states including Kaduna, it should be enforced. The guiding philosophy here is that if most children have the requisite education and knowledge, it would be difficult for them to fall prey to all these dehumanizing influences. This is the essence of the message of Henry Peter Brougham who noted long ago that: “Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive, easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.”
And so, if governments at all levels ignore the importance of basic education and quality of tertiary education that drive human development, then there is no future for Nigeria. Therefore, every parent, every adult must be interested in the foundation of Nigeria’s children. If that foundation is destroyed with children being sent to the streets to beg, sell cheap articles, serve the greedy elite or become prostitutes, the future would hold nothing for the country and Nigeria’s today and tomorrow would be diminished.