Nigerian children choose streets over abuse

By Temaitayo Olofinlua  |  Nov. 12, 2012 at 4:55 PM
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LAGOS, Nigeria (GPI)-- Tad, 18, left his home in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria, when he was 13 to live on the streets. Tad, who goes by this nickname on the streets, was living with his dad and stepmother, but his dad traveled often for work. He got along with his stepmother at first, but Tad says she soon began to resent him. “My stepmom did not have a child, so she started maltreating me,” Tad says. She ridiculed him in public and abused him at home. “She would hang me up on the fan and flog me,” he says. “She would put pepper in my private part, pull my ears. It was punishment upon punishment. She had different styles.” To get away, Tad entered an academic competition in Surulere, a suburb of Lagos, which offered a scholarship for further schooling. When he reached the finals, he was required to bring passport photographs, which he didn’t have money to buy. So Tad took some of his stepmother’s money that she had left on top of the TV. But when his friend needed photos too, Tad spent more than he had planned – the equivalent of $1.30. "I knew I was going to suffer for it,” Tad says. “She would tell me to count, ‘How many 5 [naira] is in 200 [naira]?’ That's the beating I will take.” He reveals a mark on his hand from one of the beatings. “Look at my hand,” he says. “This is a natural tattoo.” His stepmother stormed his school to confront him about the money. "She came to embarrass me in front of my teachers,” he says. While the teachers were arguing, he left. Tad calculated the beating he would take. “I will hang on fan,” he says he told himself. “She will hang me by my hand. She will call her brothers to help. I calculated it: hanging, pepper on my buttocks.” He says he also recalled another technique she had used that involved putting him in a large metal container and pouring water on him for about 10 minutes, creating a drowning effect. He opted to flee. “I took my sandals and ran,” he says. Tad was at Kuramo Beach, a popular beach on Lagos Island, when a representative from Street Child Care and Welfare Initiative, a home for former street children, found him. He lives there today. Children live on the streets in Nigeria because of varying problems at home, including poverty, abuse and lack of emotional attachment with family. But they face other hazards on the street ranging from sexual violence to drug exposure. Rehabilitation centers assist street children with their basic needs, promote education and reconnect them with their families. But workers say the children will return to the streets unless the community changes its mentality about street children and strengthens the institution of family. There are no official statistics available on how many street children there are in Lagos state, said Sunday J. Ichedi, head of the public affairs and international relation unit of the National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria, in a phone interview. Oyeyemi Oyewale, the in-house counselor at the Street Child Care and Welfare Initiative, says that many children end up on the streets as a result of broken homes and a lack of emotional attachment to their families. He says that was also his experience as a 10-year-old. “It has to do with when you don't have any emotional fulfillment,” he explains. “Nobody knew that I was on the streets. It took the intervention of my mum, who went to school only to find out that I'd been missing classes.”

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