The growing population of street children in Cross River State has worsened, with primary and secondary school dropouts joining the league.
Some of these street children left their homes at a very tender age, ranging from six to 12 and have never seen the four walls of a classroom.
These children popularly known as “skolombo” are seen mostly at Marian axis, Cultural Centre and other areas along the Muritala Muhammad Highway, where nightlife activities and fast food joints are located.
These children in their vulnerability face all forms of abuse including sexual assaults, intimidation, molestation and child labour, while others fall into the hands of ritualists.
Majority of these children have never seen a doctor or taking medicines, as they depend on mere luck to survive.
It was supported that 85 per cent of these children ended up in the streets on account of being branded witchcraft.
In the past, religious organisations, public-spirited individuals and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have tried to rehabilitate them without success.
One of the street children, an eight-year-old Donald Bassey, who sometimes survived on the streets by selling metal scrap, said he lives in a big gutter among others, whom, he considered as a family at Bogobiri, close to the Cultural Centre in Calabar South local government area of the state.
Basse, an orphan, told The Guardian that he scavenged for scraps, which he sells for peanuts.
“ I don’t have parents. My only relative is in Lagos. These boys are the only family I have in Calabar. I have to sell iron and plastics to feed. Sometimes, people give us food and we also beg for food or money,” he said.For 17-year-old David Umoh, who had lived on the streets for over 10 years, said the street offers him more comfort and freedom than living with his father and siblings.
He said: “I have been on the street since 2011, because my father did not enrol me in school. I feel comfortable here in the street, but I do go home sometimes to see my father and sister. I scavenge for iron and sell them to survive.”
However, experts fear that neglect and abuse of children could have a dangerous effect on the future generation and the society if concerned stakeholders do not rise up to their responsibility.
According to an Education Psychologist, Dr Blessing Ntamu, it is pitiable that children in Nigeria have been neglected by the society that is supposed to protect them.
She argued that their right to education is being taken away by caregivers, guardians, parents and the government.
Ntamu, a lecturer at the University of Calabar said: “My first encounter with street kids was when I was children coordinator in House on the Rock Church. I had about 15 to 20 of them, who came to church every Sunday. We clothed, fed and rehabilitated them. I heard some of them got back to their parents; some actually ran away from home. They were facing maltreatment from either stepmother, step fathers or aunties and uncles they lived with.”
The educationist warned that the security situation in the country will get worse if government, parents and other relevant stakeholders fail to rise up to their responsibility toward children.
Also, Cross River State Chairman, Child Protection Network (CPN) Mr Kebe Ikpi, has condemned the abuse and neglect of children.
According to him, their vulnerability has made them a soft target in society.