Street children problem is a global phenomenon. Both in well developed cities and in developing and/or less developed cities of the world, there are children and persons who live on the streets. Though, the magnitude and cause differ from place to place. In mega cities, there are fewer persons on the street than in our own part of the world, and of course the cause also is different. This work is concerned about Uyo and Akwa Ibom society because that is where affects us.
Street children problem in Uyo and Akwa Ibom in general have over the last few years generated a lot of attentions and reactions both locally and internationally. These attentions and reactions stem primarily from its cause and the reason why it persists. There have been wide claims and conclusions locally and globally including by UNICEF that the primary cause and reason why the problem persists is because of the child-witch labeling and stigmatization of children which result in either killing of such branded child, merciless beating and throwing out.
According to UNICEF report on the Wikipedia, “In the Nigerian states of Akwa Ibom and Cross River about 15,000 children were branded as witches and most of them end up abandoned and abused on the streets. A documentary aired on Channel 4 and BBC, Saving Africa’s Witch Children, shows the work of Gary Foxcroft and Stepping Stones Nigeria in addressing these abuses”.
There are other online reports that have claimed that out of every four children accused of witchcraft in Africa one of them is from Akwa Ibom and that out of every two children accused of witchcraft in Nigeria, one is from Akwa Ibom. These claims and submissions though may not necessarily be objective truth. Chief Godswill Akpabio in a 2010 interview granted to CNN said that some of these claims were over exaggerated arguing that the problem of his people is not witchcraft but poverty.
Poverty no doubt is a problem in Akwa Ibom State like every other Nigerian State and it contributes to the child-street problem. It is also very possible that reports were over exaggerated. But one truth stands out. Many abandoned children are suffering and wasting away on the streets in our dear State of Akwa Ibom for several reasons including that of witchcraft branding and rejection. Many of them I have encountered told me that they were branded witches and chased out of the home. Some live in refuse pits and feed from refuse pits and dumps like these ones below. About 30 of them have been living and feeding from the refuse pit on barracks road Uyo for the past seven months. Rolif team have been working on them for the past seven weeks. We have just rented a 3-bedroom flat last week so that we can pull some of them out of the pit to work thouroughly on them.
There are many other groups like these ones in different parts of Uyo and the State in general which our Rolif team have been reaching out to over the time. But one trend we continue to notice is that day after day, many children continue to come out as we continue to see different faces. For instance, the barracks road refuse pit group were about 10 in number when we started reaching out to them, but within one month, they had grown to about 30. Looking at the trend, it is dangerous to continue to neglect them. As they grow to form their own community of the abandoned, rejected and unwanted, if nothing is done urgently to help them and attend to them by the government and the general public, I am afraid because soon and very soon, they will pose a serious danger to the society because they have to eat and of course they have to find a way of getting back at the society that has rejected them and refused to help them. Very soon they may become strong enough to resist even the army and the society will pay the penalty for neglecting them. If care is not taking, another version of the Skolombo boys may rise up in Uyo and Uyo will be terrorized like Calabar.
As a matter of urgency, I pray the State Government of our beloved Akwa Ibom to establish a rehabilitation center for street children and a system that will fight the child-with branding and labeling to a halt. We are ready to be part of the system. I have been speaking on this on local radios and TV. We need a rehabilitation center for street children in Akwa Ibom State that will be holistic, inclusive and integrative. This kind of center and system will help to holistically address the problem of child-witch branding to its root cause. A problem neglected cannot solve itself. The children on the streets need to be helped, rehabilitated, reorientated and possibly be reintegrated into families and society. The cause of the problem needs also to be faught against. We need a system and a structure to work from. We are ready to fight the problem and for the children but we need assistance. The government, the corporate communities and the general public should rise up and let us say no to child’s stigmatization and dehumanization in Akwa Ibom. We do not want more children being thrown out. This ugly trend needs to stop and must be stopped. Every child in Akwa Ibom and elsewhere has a right to good life and good care.
Frankline Onuawuchi Maduka is an Anthropologist, Evangelist, a Social Engineer and the founder of Reach Out Life International Foundation (ROLIF), an NGO that advocates for the rights of street children and concentrates on rehabilitation of street children in Uyo Akwa Ibom State. You can contact ROLIF via facebook.com/rolif, twitter@RolifUyo, www.rolif.org