Converting children into beggars is not strange to our society. Several efforts had been made to rid the streets of these children. In some places, raids are introduced by the government to achieve this result. We have witnessed some of the children repatriated to their home states. Sadly, the current realities point to the failure of such efforts to reduce the menace. Using children for alms-begging has become a profession. Some of these children after begging for alms, return at the end of each day’s business to render account to their employers, who seem to prefer begging to other decent jobs available in the state. Some of them contribute to the survival of their families with the proceeds of alms begging. It is also a common sight for adults who are destitute or physically challenged to use children as their compass.
It’s a national concern
While child begging is viewed majorly as a concern in the northern part of the country with a higher concentration of such children on the streets, this does not foreclose the possibility of the social menace in the southern part of the country. With headlines such as “Child beggars on the rise in Lagos” by Business Day newspaper on 16th June 2019, and “Street-begging, nuisance to Osun residents” in New Telegraph in October 2022 among others, child begging is a growing concern unsettling the minds of well-meaning, development-minded citizens.
In Anambra State, Ify Obinabo, the Commissioner for Women and Social Welfare, said in a recent interview that arrangements have reached an advanced stage to begin periodic raids of locations where child beggars are found.
“We are planning to do some kind of raiding there (referring to a new location for beggars including children in Awka, the state capital). You agree with me that the parents of those children are not handicapped. They just see it as their own way of working.”
The Commissioner pointed out the possibility that most of the beggars are not from the state. “They troop in from so many states. In the name of begging, the adult beggars are abusing the children. We are planning to remove all of them from there.
“We will start by carrying out sensitization first so that when we come out to enforce the law and repatriate the persons back to their states, people will not start shouting that we are pursuing non-indigenes or fellow Igbos”.
“If we keep quiet, honestly, we are cutting trouble for ourselves in the future. We are grooming the next set of unknown gunmen. So we must do something for the sake of the next generation. Give me just two weeks, and you won’t see them there again,” the women’s affairs commissioner assured.
For many analysts, sustained raiding is the secret of success. One-off raiding as witnessed in the past had failed to achieve the intended result. Anambra State commissioner also speaks on that.
“We will make the raid constant to give no opportunity for anyone to go back there. We will raid and give them the opportunity either to go back to their states or find something meaningful to do here. There are some many things one can do here and still get food on the table.
“If you decide to go back to it with the mindset that you don’t suffer and you get enough, then you go to prison. We will open a social diary for this purpose. So, when you appear there more than two times, then you face whatever consequences,” she said.
Child begging and the law
Among the laws protecting the rights of the child in the country is the Child Rights Act (2003). It is believed to have among other things reechoed the human rights bestowed on citizens by Nigeria’s 1999 constitution (as amended). Section 50, sub-section 1 (h) and (i) of the document views a child who is found begging is considered to be in need of care and protection, and the competent authority is obliged to bring him or her before a juvenile court to determine the measures of protection required.
Happily, 34 of the 36 states of the federation have enacted child rights laws. The disclosure was made five months ago by Pauline Tallen, the Minister of Women Affairs, during the 59th edition of the Ministerial Media Briefing organized by the Presidential Communications Team.
However, the 34 states which have the laws in place have not reaped their full benefits. It seems then that the urge for enactment was merely for peer review purposes as most of the states have done nothing tangible in terms of enforcement since the laws were enacted. Inquiries have revealed that tradition and religion also militate against the implementation of the law because some of its provisions are found to be at loggerheads with established cultural norms, which many of our communities are not ready to abolish.