By Chioma Obinna & Emmanuel Elebeke
At the tender age of eight, Lekan Suleiman was already independent. He was on his own because he lived on his own. He was just one of the estimated 100,000 street children in Lagos and the 30 million in Africa, Lekan spends his days and nights on the streets, precisely, at the Kuramo Beach.
He was barely 10 when he and an accomplice ran away from home. “I never imagined I would leave my parents at the tender age of eight, but I was forced to do so due to hardship.” Lekan narrated. jumped at his friend’s offer to leave Ibadan for Lagos when his parents could no longer cater for needs and that of his siblings.
In Lagos, Lekan along with hundreds of other children, lived at the Kuramo Beach. It wasn’t an easy life, he confessed. “My typical day depended how what I had on hand. When we had enough money to eat we did not not bother going to look for a job or beg for alms. We preferred to stay in groups discussing or gambling. Some people would be smoking and others played cards.”
Lekan falls among the estimated 12 million child labourers in Nigeria, according to UNICEF’s Progress of Nations Report. On a good day, he earned N500 to N1000 a day. From this sum, he fed, bought o buy drink out it. Some of us who like women also visit hotels. But I don’t smoke and I don’t go after women.”
To survive, Lekan recounted: “I carry load for people and I also beg for alms”.
The pathetic aspect of the teenager’s existence was the complete absence of a roof over his head. Rain or shine, Lekan and his friends had nowhere to sleep. They had their siesta under the hot sun and retired at night on the open sand at the beach.
“We practically do not know other life apart from the one at the beach. Old and young, we all sleep on the sand. At Kuramo, every one is on his own.
“Today, I am grateful because I am now among the children rescued from the street by the Child- To -Child Network. Lekan is currently living in Home, Change -A- Life located at Ikorodu, Lagos.
Presently, he is in JSS II at Kema Balogun Junior College, Ikorodu courtesy of the NGO.
Lekan is no doubt lucky to have been rescued from the streets, but what is the fate of others still out there?
Every June 16 is marked as the Day of the African Child. It is a day set aside to remember and honour thousands of South African children who sacrificed their lives to protest inferior quality of their education. The day draws attention to the lives of African children in general.
This year, the Day focused on the plight of the 30 million street children in Africa . With the theme; “All Together for Urgent Actions in Favour of Street Children,” the Day was for sober reflection.
In Nigeria today, street children such as Lekan face challenges which ranges from poor quality education, hunger, poverty, all forms of abuse and exploitation, among others.
Nigeria is signatory to the Convention on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Child Advocate and UNICEF Consultant, Barrister Taiwo Akinlami says the true worth of the African child will come only when the four baskets of the child’s rights are implemented. These are participation, development, survival and education.
He noted that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights-civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. “It spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.”
At the formal presentation of six films produced by a group of abandoned children at the Kuramo Beach, UNICEF’s Assistant Country Representative and Chief of Lagos Office, Mrs. Sara Nyanti said all concerned interest groups should see the occasion to ponder over the plight of the street children, as a serious social problem that needs every attention.
According to Nyanti, the film was meant to tell the story of street children, not just in Lagos but all over the country. “It tells us that a street child lacks care and has a problem the society needs to solve. They are there not because they want to be there but because many of them were pushed to the street either by their parents or their guardians.
“In fact, so many reasons are responsible for them being on the streets, when their peers are in the class rooms learning. What UNICEF is trying to do as a sponsor of this film is to help government achieve the target of reducing the suffering of these children by implementing the Child Rights Act.