ADA (not her real name) is a twelve year old girl, leaving all alone, without parental care, in Benin City. Like so many other young children, hers is a case of abandonment. About three years ago, her mother, rented a room and left her there to fend for herself.  She was still in primary school. It is alleged that her mother now resides at the popular Ugbague Street, off Mission road as a commercial sex worker. The landlord unable to bear the burden any longer has since evicted this child who now sleeps in the streets with Hausa traders. With no viable means of livelihood nor skill set, the child was lured into sexual immorality in order to feed. Recently, she was said to have been pregnant and some members of the street facilitated an abortion for her. She is currently still roaming around the street, haven dropped out of school and is gradually being incorporated into prostitution.
For some of us, this story may seem fabulous and unreal. For others, who have become accustomed to such cases, it is no longer surprising. But, this is the current reality of many children in our society. Countless children are being abandoned daily and are flooding the streets at an alarming rate. Most of the children affected are as young as five years old. They have been forced to grow up and be responsible for themselves. But as children who are incapable of doing so, they have become easy prey for unscrupulous elements in the society. Most are victims of repeated abuse. Easily influenced, they often end up in social vices like prostitution, robbery and hooliganism. All of them have been abandoned.
It may be easy to conclude that all children without obvious parental guidance have been intentionally abandoned by their parents. But this is not true. Some of these kids may have run away from home. Some may have been chased out of the house by guardians who would have brought them from villages or other cities to stay with them, leaving these kids with nowhere to go. For these class of children, my heart goes out to them. But I am sincerely enraged at parents like Ada’s mother who knowingly abandon their children without consideration for their welfare.  You may not have noticed. There is an evil invading our society. Like cancer,  its growth rate is alarming, its effect devastating.  Prevalent amongst single parents in Benin City and other major cities in Nigeria, this new face of evil is willful abandonment of children by their parents. This is the crux of the matter we are looking at today.  I am perturbed by this development and can’t help but wonder, what will make parents abandon their children?
Speculations surrounding most of these cases suggests that many of these children were abandoned when the quest for financial gain and security became greater than the parental love such parents have for their children. Like in Ada’s case, her mother chose to chase after material things and it must have been difficult to practice her trade while the child was with her, therefore she opted for abandonment.
Another notable factor influencing this trend is remarriage. In African culture, a woman who has a child out of wedlock is viewed with contempt. She is often referred to as “secondhand” and is very unattractive to suitors. This rejection and contempt may tempt some of these women to lie about their status and even go to any length to hide the truth. Blinded by the need for social security, they lose their motherly instinct and turn their backs on their kids.  In years gone by, these women hid their status by shipping the kids off to boarding schools. But this new generation of women have lost all sensibility and simply just leave the kids on their own.
One of such women is Cynthia (not her real name). She rented an apartment for her three children at the Okhoro axis of Benin City and left in order to get married. Although she is still responsible for their upkeep and comes around once in a while to drop stipend for the kids, she can be said to be absent from their lives. The children have been living on their own, without parental guidance, for the past eight years.  These children have now grown up to be wild and out of control. The oldest of the three is currently a single mother, while the second has become a professional sex worker, going out every night to hawk her body. The last boy is gradually getting involved in wild acts. But their mother is oblivious of this. She is enjoying what seems to be a blissful marriage and new life, while her kids suffer. It is apparent that her husband is unaware of these kids. On the contrary, if he is aware, he may have been the influencer of Cynthia’s behavior. In all, the children have become victims of their parent’s decisions, paying dearly for the sins they did not commit.
Whatever the excuse, this evil should not be allowed to prevail because the effect of abandonment on children is damning. Without parental care and protection, they fall into wrong hands. It is a known fact that unscrupulous elements continually scout the streets of major cities in Nigeria, looking for new recruits into their gang. They lure these unsuspecting children into criminal acts under the guise of helping them. As one victim testified, it starts with provision of shelter.
In his case, the shelter was a motor park. He roamed about the park by day and slept at night in the park chairman’s house. Soon he noticed that the chairman always had somewhere to go late at night and only to come back early in the morning. One fateful day, the chairman went on his usual outing and left instruction not to lock the door. Unusual of him, this little boy did not sleep deep and was fully conscious of his environment when “chair mo”, as he was often called, came back. That was the day he discovered that he was in the den of robbers. The next morning he simply wandered away from the park and never came back.
He was one of the few lucky ones. Many are not so lucky like him. Many end up with such gangs becoming robbers, rapists, kidnappers or killers. For the girls, they are forced into prostitution and often brutalized, kept under bondage by these evil street lords. In addition to this, they are often used as street intelligence to gather information which these gangs act upon. Many die in the hands of ritualists. Many end up being single mothers who may likely abandon their children just like they were abandoned thereby further entrenching this menace into our societal fabric.
This generational evil must be stopped. But how do we solve this problem? There is only one way of permanently getting rid of this problem. That is by collective effort. No other method will work effectively if you and I, who can easily reach these children, do not assist relevant agencies tasked with this issue. One of such agency is the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. Working in collaboration with the the Nigerian Police Force, civil society organizations and NAPTIP, they have been successful to some extent but have not been able to cure this scourge. But they cannot do so much without the cooperation of the public because they usually act on information volunteered. Therefore, a permanent cure should begin with us watching out for such cases in our neighborhood. It starts with showing concern for that little boy or girl, who is always roaming around, apparently without adult guidance. If we do notice any such things, please report to relevant organizations working on the issue. This call especially goes out to landlords who notice that children in their houses are often left unsupervised for weeks or months.
Walk into any of state offices of Ministry of Women affairs and Social Development, child care services department or the nearest non-governmental organisation working on child related issues to lay a complaint. If the child in question is suspected to have been violated or is involved with unscrupulous elements, it will also be wise to alert the police. If the whereabouts of the parent of such a child is known, then the police must be brought in. Such parent should not be allowed to go scot free.
Some of us have the wherewithal to care for these children. If you are in such position, please be moved with compassion to adopt such kids off the streets. This can be done by legally filing of adoption of such a child if the parents are unknown or by offering to provide a foster home until they can be reconnected to their parents or family members. The process is not as cumbersome as many assume. You can find out the procedure from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development closest to you. But, a crucial note of warning here. Never hand over these children to anyone, under the guise of humanitarian service, without approval of the relevant government agencies. Many children have been enslaved by human traffickers through such means.
It is easy for some of us may feel less concerned about this trend thinking that you are not directly affected. But you must realize that, that child you refused to show concern for today, may become the violent gang member that robs you, rapes your daughter and kills your son tomorrow. That little girl you refused to help may end up being the eye of your child’s kidnappers. She may even become the corrupter of your precious little girl, luring her into prostitution or to her death in the hands of ritual killers. So, this is a call to all to be our neighbour’s keeper. For what affects one, affects all. Please, lets join hands to rid our society of this menace. Lets protect our children from corrupting influences by putting an end to child abandonment. A safer future begins with you.

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