In a bid to commemorate the International Children’s Day, a non- profit organisation, We The People (WTP), has called on the government of Cross River State to address the issue of children living on the streets of Calabar.
The executive director of WTP, Ken Henshaw, said this in a statement on Monday.
The World Children’s Day is celebrated annually on November 20 to promote togetherness and improve children’s welfare across the world.
A PREMIUM TIMES investigation in 2016 showed how the street children, popularly known as Skolombo boys and Lacasera girls, troubled residents on the streets of Calabar.
WTP said that in reality, the street children are kids who the society with its laws, institutions, cultures and religion, have left behind.
“They have been hardened by suffering, abuses and narcotics to loathe the society that has failed them and left them no future,” the statement said.
The children are usually abandoned by their families and are pronounced witches or wizard before being thrown out, it said, adding that they are sometimes of accused of being criminals by families.
“In Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, a brand of Pentecostal Christianity mixed with traditional practices and spiritualism is the main culprit in the phenomena,” it said.
“The high points of this variety of Christianity include belief in the power of witchcraft and demons to possess human bodies and through them, bring misfortune to loved ones and family members.
“The other is that those possessed can be ‘saved’ through extreme exorcism which most times involves physical torture including flogging, branding with hot metals, burning, starvation, restraint through chaining, exposure to extreme weather, denial of sleep and prolonged incarceration.”
The group said that it is common practice for these churches to pronounce people witches and wizards, adding that children are the largest victims.
“The reason is because these are the weak and vulnerable who cannot defend themselves,” it said.
“It is held that about 15,000 children have been branded witches and wizards in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. Survey revealed that in some areas, up to 85% of street children were out of their homes on account of witchcraft branding.”
The issue of children neglect has been on for decades in Akwa Ibom and Cross River state, but the Cross River state government established a child right act to mitigate the issue.
Unfortunately, the group said, it is yet to implement its own law.
The group argued that the responses of the government have mostly been punitive, the key one being the formation of ‘Operation Skolombo’.
It said: “These approaches do not take into consideration the deeper and more far reaching issues including how the kids got on the street in the first place, and what needs to be done to reverse the trend.”
According to the statement, the group in its new publication ‘Left to Die: Forgotten Street Kids of Calabar’ proffered recommendations to the government.
“The government must establish frameworks to ensure the full implementation of the state’s Child Rights Law. Implementation should include creating the institutions necessary to ensure that children enjoy the rights contained in the law, as well as prosecuting violators of those rights,” it said.
“The government must establish centres for the rehabilitation of street children. These centres should include counselling services as well as drug recovery and rehabilitation services.
“The government must ensure that it takes punitive actions against religious bodies and traditional institutions that promote the labeling and stigmatization of children.”
The group noted that only the government can effect the changes required to address the problem in a far-reaching manner.