Street Connected Children: A life on the streets

Children end up on the streets for a variety of reasons – the poverty, violence and witchcraft accusations mean that for some children, they see it as a better option. But what's it actually like for a child on the street?

Gangs

For children who live on the streets, it’s scary, threatening and hazardous. They experience things that no child should to go through.

Many are there because they faced such terrible violence and abuse at home, but sadly, this usually continues on the street. Criminal gangs, known as ‘cults’ in Nigeria – are very common and street children often end up joining them. Some choose to do this because they think it will provide them with protection and because they just want to belong, to something. These children are hugely excluded from the rest of society, so being part of a community – even a criminal and violent oneat that - might seems more appealing than being on their own.

Others don’t make a choice, they are are forced. On a visit to Nigeria several years ago, our Programme Manager met one boy who was made to join a gang on threat of death, and then forced to commit extremely violent acts – again under threat of being killed.

Once a child has pledged their allegiance to a particular gang, they have to do whatever the gang wants – stealing, violence and drug dealing are all common. This in turn leads to even more marginalization from wider society. Street children are associated with gangs, violence and crime - whether they are actually involved with it or not is largely irrelevant.

Trafficking

For the children who don’t live on the street, such as those who have to ‘hawk’ (sell) goods because their family lives in such poverty, but do have a home to go back to, spending this time on the streets still means they are vulnerable to danger and abuse.

Our partners have told us about children being kidnapped, and murdered for body parts. Child trafficking is also a huge problem. It’s far too easy for people to just take children from the streets –after all, who cares what happens to street children?

But what does happen to trafficked street children includes forced prostitution, effective slavery and ‘baby-farming’. This practice involves young girls being imprisoned, forcibly made pregnant and then carrying and delivering the baby, only for it then to be taken away and sold for a huge sum, to people who want to adopt a child. The girls have no choices at any stage of the process and many will go through this more than once.

Resilience

Despite the many horrors that street children face, they can be incredibly determined and resilient. The children at our Emergency Safehouse Shelter in Calabar, have aspirations to be lawyers and doctors – and with them doing so well in school this is a real possibility.

We must never write these children off, or abandon them to their fate. Sometimes the tiniest thing can help turn a child’s life around – paying their exam fees or buying them shoes so they can continue with school. What we in the UK, USA or Australia might spend on a cinema ticket, or a couple of drinks after work, could make the difference between a child having a life of danger and fear, or being safe, happy and able to look forward to the future.

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