Tough conditions after rapid development make life difficult for children like this one.
A sprawling metropolis of some 10 million, Lagos, Nigeria, is one of Africa’s largest cities. Located on the Gulf of Guinea near the country’s western border with Benin, Lagos is the passage site for the some 2.2 million barrels of oil that Nigeria, making it a vital trading point not only for that country, Africa’s most populous, but in the global economy as well. Sometimes lost within the bustle and hubbub of Lagos is the city’s children, many of whom live in desperately squalid conditions.
The discovery of oil off the coast of Nigeria about 25 years ago dramatically reshaped the country; and no part of it more than Lagos. The city grew quintupled in size between 1970 and today. Much of this population explosion occurred unsustainably, as people flocked to the city to get jobs in oil industry, forcing the quick establishment of makeshift housing and slums. The effects of this are still being felt today, especially among the young.
UNICEF, which is paying close attention to the situation facing street children in Lagos acknowledges that it cannot gauge an exact number of children living on the street in Lagos, but it has described whatever that may be a “staggering.” It has partnered with local NGOs like the Child to Child Network to monitor these children’s activities and try to help them as they struggle from day to day, and to reunite these children with their families.
“What we try to do in child to child network is that knowing that the parents are not always there for the children is to empower the children to be able to survive whether their parents are there or not,” said UNICEF Lagos Field Office Chief Sara Beysolow Nyanti. “So what we start with is empowering them on their rights for them to know their rights and responsibilities.”
Lagos’s children have responded. Many are now cooperating with UNICEF and the Child to Child Network to stay in school, and on course to improve their lives in the future. 15 year old Damilola Onalaja, shared his dream of becoming a small business owner with UNICEF. “My dreams of future are to be a great printer and support the street children,” he said. “I feel like building my own hostel as in my own organization.”
As Lagos continues to grow and more and more stress is put on its vital infrastructure networks, it remains beset by challenges like large numbers of street children. UNICEF, along with the Child to Child Network, are fighting to help those children, and ensure that they too can share in the bounty of Nigeria’s development.