Spoken Word: Leave no child behind, by Barrister Hannatu Musawa

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“-Akin is a 5-year-old orphan from Oyo state born on the 1st of January. He never knew his mother; she died from loss of blood bearing him on the dirty floor of their one-room apartment. After her death, his father moved the family to Lagos. When Akin was 2, his father died in an accident leaving him and his 9-year-old brother. Ladja, Akins’ brother, managed to support them by patrolling parking spaces and demanding fees from motorists. When Ladja became involved with a group of area boys and was killed while participating in an armed robbery operation… Akin was adopted as one of the area boys’ own to raise!”

“-Shamsiya is a 5-year-old girl from Katsina state born on the 1st of January. Her father is a mail guard with four wives, two concubines, and 29 children. From his wages, Shamsiyas’ father can only afford to feed a third of his family. Shamsiya and her sisters don’t go to school, instead, they hawk groundnuts on the streets. Mallam Ado, a shoe shiner 58 years older than Shamsiya, is her biggest customer and has recently taken a pervasive interest in eating groundnut… but only if an underage Shamsiya is selling it!”

“-Gladys is a 5-year-old mixed-race girl from Edo state born on 1 January. She no longer sees her mother and never knew her father. Her mother only met him once. He lives somewhere in an Italian suburb oblivious of his offspring, forgetful of that one night he ventured to solicit the tall black lady with the red high heel boots in the Red-Light district on the streets of Milan, Italy. Gladys lives with her elderly grandmother, a woman too frail to notice the goodness of her grandchild. Unfortunately Diezel, the local, sick-minded mechanic noticed Gladys’ beauty and was always determined to show the young lady just how much. From the age of three, Gladys has been sexually molested by Diezel and he has commenced arrangements for a passport for her so that she could travel with him and 6 other young and abused trafficked slave girls in a shipping container… on a one way trip to Italy!”

“-Chukwudi is a 5-year-old boy from Anambra born on the 1st of January. Being 14 years older than him, his brother was lucky enough to gain an education and admission into a university. Unfortunately for Chukwudi times were hard and the family couldn’t afford to educate another child, so he and his twin sisters assisted their parents in their kiosk. Away in university, his brother became involved with a deadly cult. The cult leaders gave him a house to move his family into and without waste of time they did. In their joy Chukwudi’s family failed to notice… the house they moved into was situated near a shrine!”

The implication of these accounts may seem severe, but in reality, millions of children all over Nigeria are abused, molested, sold like goods, violated, forced to lead immoral lives, kidnapped, and killed. If we look in every corner of every state in Nigeria, one common theme we will witness is malnourished, uneducated, and impoverished children living in a very poor state of health and filth. And regardless of where they are from these children are all victims of the existing decline of our country. Every one of us must understand that no child can be left behind and we have to take responsibility for the safety of the children of this country.

Arguably we are all guilty for exhibiting a poor attitude toward their welfare. We are guilty of inaction because we witness daily the employment of very young children as domestic servants, the growing rage of the system of Almajiranci, area boys, and the marriage of very young girls without challenging the institutions and people that encourage these trends.

Unless we create an initiative to stop the exploitation of children then we face a grim future. If we don’t take a stand then children like Akin, Shamsiya, Chukwudi, and Gladys become part of that vicious circle, and 20 years down the line we have a “scenario A” situation where…

“-Akin grew up learning the ropes from his area boy idols and on many occasions would assist them. Alas, in order for Akin to reach an ultimate high, he began to take drugs. It started with the occasional marijuana but later turned into a need for something much harder. He was eventually thrown out of the gang for sluggishness due to the drugs and started living under a Lagos bridge. His drug use became so desperate that on one night when he couldn’t get the drugs, he cut off his little finger in order to quantify his intense craving and need for the drugs. Akin lived this way for many years until his lonely death on the 31st December… a day before his 25th birthday!”

“-Shamsiya was married off to Malam Ado by the age of 12 as his 4th wife. By the time she was 14, she gave birth to the first of her six children. Malam Ado, her first husband, died 4 years into their marriage after which she begged on the streets with her children in order to survive. Shamsiya married two other men in her lifetime, the last one lasting only 4 months before her husband divorced her to marry a younger woman. Towards the end of her life, Shamsiya begged on the streets with some of her children, the others were sent to a Mallam in Maiduguri and are living as Almajirai. During a religious clash, her 11-year-old Almajiri son Inusa plunged a knife in her gut, ending her tortured life for reprimanding him for using the opportunity to loot shops and kill people. She died on 31 December… a day before her 25th birthday!”

“-Gladys didn’t get her passport and didn’t get to travel abroad till she was 24 because Diezel thought she would be more useful to him in the big Nigerian cities. For many years she was raped, beaten, and abused. By the time she was 24, Gladys managed to travel to America. With a sigh of relief a damaged Gladys, determined to start a new life, went to the doctor for necessary tests. A few days later Gladys stared with horror at the piece of paper in her hand which sealed her fate, the piece of paper that said “results of blood test”, the piece of paper that said “HIV and AIDS: positive”. For Gladys, it was not to be the start of her new life but the end of her journey because on New Year’s Eve a gun lay in her right hand and her lifeless body just lay in a pool of her own blood, victim to her own suicide…. she took her own life on the 31st of December… a day before her 25th birthday!”

“-Chukwudi and his family were barely making ends meet when his brother defied his cultist leaders. Had it been a minor crime, one sacrifice would have been adequate for the leaders of the cult, but this was an insulting offence that required nothing less than six sacrifices. On the night of 31 December, screams were heard from the direction of Chukwudis’ house. In the morning 6 burned bodies were discovered including that of the mutilated torso of a small boy with his arms, legs, and head hacked off. Chukwudi was not 25… he died on the 31st of December, a day before his 8th birthday!”

Be it life till 25 or 8, the need of all children is one and the same and their fate interconnected.

For Akin, Shamsiya, Chukwudi, and Gladys, four children who were never destined to meet but had more in common than they would ever know, their destiny could be changed if our attitude and laws were too.

In order to protect them from the exploitation and degrading treatment in “scenario A”, our government must enforce more laws that protect children; put a stop to child begging, hard labour, trafficking, establish organized rehabilitation centres, orphanages, provide primary healthcare, basic education, safe water, sanitation and enforce stringent sanctions to those who encourage these harmful practices.

Those of us who have the means should take it upon ourselves to sponsor the protection, empowerment, and education of strangers, albeit one. The populace must show care and humanity to the already displaced children living on the streets.

Granted, it may be an unreasonable expectation for all the above reforms to be simultaneously put in place but if only we could start with a couple, then we have a real likelihood of succeeding so that children like Akin, Shamsiya, Chukwudi, and Gladys have a chance of the life in “scenario B” some 20 years down the line where…

“-Akin went to an orphanage and excelled in school. Upon seeing his brilliance, a childless couple adopted him and groomed him to grow up into a fine, proud young man. He became a lawyer and dedicated his practice to speak for all unprivileged drug addicts living under bridges. His brother Ladja went into rehab and emerged a confident, rehabilitated businessman!”

“-Shamsiya benefited from the state-sponsored education in her town. She went on to get a scholarship and was able to eventually qualify as a teacher. Happily married with 6 children she speaks out against Almajiranchi, early marriage, hawking and writes against these practices in her native Fulani language. Her son Inusa wants to work as an accountant in a bank!”

“-Gladys was protected by the authorities and went ahead to study economics. Later in life, she won a beauty contest and used the platform to speak on the dangers of child abuse and trafficking. Now she travels the world and provides counselling and aid to HIV and AIDS patients!”

“-Chukwudi and his family were provided with a secure shelter and eventually relocated. Chukwudi became a doctor, entered into politics, and emerged as a senator representing his community. He introduced a bill in the Senate that tightened the law on cultism in Universities. His brother works with him!”

Our children are important and valued members of our society. We must at this point ask ourselves which of the above scenarios we prefer for our children; A or B?

For our children of destiny; Akin, Shamsiya, Gladys and Chukwudi, and every other Nigerian child, the answer must be B and one thing must be clear… we must leave no child behind!

Barrister Hannatu Musawa can be reached via Twitter and Instagram @hanneymusawa.

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