His age was probably the attraction as I spotted him in a little corner behind the walls in his dirty clothes, sitting and waiting probably for any customer, while he waited, he giggled innocently with his other counterparts, which on a closer look would not be older than him with few years. His age was probably the attraction and just then the young mechanic stood up immediately at the sight of a car parking nearest to him.

After he has negotiated with the customer on what to do, he started struggling with almost everything he used. Meanwhile the customer took no note of this because to him it was normal, there are very many young guys in the job, in fact some have ascribed young people doing it better but in this case , this boy was just too young.

Many of these children could be seen carrying and selling wares on the major streets across the country, while others are seen scavenging in waste dump sites to make ends meet. Some may have lost their parents and are in the care of aunts and uncles who have subjected them to forced labour, among other corporal jobs. The latest one have children helping bus drivers as conductors, they have lost their image as a child because they have been exposed too early enough to a rough and hard life which makes most of then seeing nothing wrong with themselves even at a time when they are supposed to be in school.

These children, predominantly boys, are very determined to succeed in life despite their circumstance, and could be seen pushing and pulling carts. Others who are not serious join cliques and armed robbery gangs.

Girls on the other hand are mostly susceptible to teenage pregnancy, prostitution, and early marriage. Some are abused by young men who pretend to render them assistance.

These silent ugly experiences that these children are going through have a potential to put their future at stake, as most of them are not going to school and have resorted to petty crimes.

In most cases, these sad developments are meted on children whose parents (if they are alive) cannot afford to meet their needs. The case is more serious with those that have lost their parents.

Negligence on the part of both the government and the society to support and promote the well being of children has left many of them doing menial jobs to eke out a living.

On February 4, 2016, I wrote a piece, “Scary future for jobless youths”, about the time bomb waiting to explode if our huge youth population (18-35), now about 42 per cent of the total, is not trained or gainfully engaged to contribute meaningfully to societal development. But with what I witnessed in Oshodi, Lagos State, on Tuesday, our problems may be worse. I have noticed that the area houses a large number of teenagers who eke out a living as burden bearers or substitute/temporary conductors for public bus drivers. But on Tuesday, instead of teenagers, I saw children at the bus stop. One was engaged by a bus driver to call passengers to Mushin. The others hung around. Primary and secondary schools have resumed in Lagos but it was obvious these ones were not regular in school – if they were enrolled at all.

Their numbers soon sparked a discussion among commuters. “What business do these young boys have working as conductors?” Where are their parents?” “Why are they not in school?” One man suggested that the government clears them from the streets and charge their parents to court for child abuse. Another said the government should be blamed for not providing jobs for their parents to be able to cater for them. Who is really to blame? According to UNICEF, children under 15 account for 45 per cent of Nigeria’s population, while 4.7 million children have never being in school. Research states most of them are in the north. But from my experience, a sizeable number may now be in the south, so it is not just a ‘northern problem’.

How should we solve this problem? Well, I think the government needs to lead the effort. But the families of the children must be involved. I agree with the man who said government should not just clear them from the streets but get their parents involved. It is against the child rights law of Lagos State that children of school age roam the streets during school period. So, if children are on the streets, the first thing is to find out who their families are and the reason they are not being catered for. It may be because they come from large families with poor incomes that cannot support the number of dependents or that their parents have lost their jobs. It may also be that they are from broken homes where only one parent has to cater for them, or where they have been abandoned with uncaring relatives.

For children from large families without viable incomes, government needs to meet with their parents to counsel them on family planning. Parents should be encouraged to have only the number of children they can cater for. I often wonder why it is low income earners who have the most children. Even though their resources can support many mouths, rich families usually do not have as many children. As the government manages parents on one hand, it should begin to encourage the culture of adoption. There are some families with means who can cater for less privileged children just as there are childless couples whose homes can become joyful taking care of these ones. Whatever we do, we need to take them off the streets. If not, they would compound the problem we already have with our youth population.

By Anita Emegha