Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Suffer Little Children: Nigeria - Hoards of dirty children comb the streets of Kano in tattered clothes, holding begging bowls

Soaring food prices have forced families to send their hungry children – some as young as four - from rural areas in northern Nigeria into Kano and other northern cities in search of food, say officials.

“It is quite frightening,” Bala Muhammad, head of a Kano State government agency known as the Societal Reorientation Directorate, told IRIN. “We have observed a disturbing increase in the rate of child beggars in the city in recent months.”

Hoards of dirty children comb the streets of Kano in tattered clothes, holding begging bowls, weaving through traffic in the heat and dust.

Officials say the influx is highest in Kano, the largest city is the north, but all towns and cities in the north are affected.

“The number has risen sharply here in the last few months," said Salihu Muhammad, of the Islamic NGO, the National Council for the Welfare of Destitutes, which is based in Kaduna, another city in the north. "Anybody moving around any of the major cities in the north can observe the prevalence of child beggars,” he added.

A tradition gone array

Salihu Muhammad said that parents in rural areas are finding it increasingly difficult to feed their children so they are taking desperate measures, “bringing them to the city [ostensibly] to learn the Koran”, he said.

For generations, parents from the countryside have sent their children to the city to learn from Islamic teachers, but what is happening now is different, he said. “Parents use the Koran as an excuse… their real intent is to shed the burden of feeding the children because they don’t have enough to give them.”

According to Auwalu Danbala, an Islamic teacher who runs one of the Islamic schools in Kano, known in Hausa as a ‘makarantar allo’, says the number of intakes there has skyrocketed. “In the last five years I have not received as many pupils as I have these three months,” he told IRIN.

“Parents just bring their children to us and never care to even visit or send food and money for their upkeep,” he said. “This leaves us with no option but to send them out to beg.”

Why now?

Rural families could generally feed their families until recently, said Sabo Nanono, head of the Kano chapter of All Farmers Association of Nigeria. “For generations, farmers have grown enough food to last them and their families the whole year and they were able to sell the surplus to get some cash for other needs.”

But farmers in the region recorded very poor crop yields last season,” Nanono said. The rains usually fall for four months between May and August but only fell for less than three months last season and came later than usual. Those crops that did survive the rains were then destroyed by locusts, he added.

“People have neither enough food to feed their families nor money to buy high priced food in the markets,” Nanono said.

With local and international food shortage, merchants in Kano’s Dawanau grain market, the largest in West Africa, have hiked their prices. The price of a 50kg bag of maize has doubled since September from US$21 to US$42 and a bag of millet rose from US$29 to US$42, according to Magaji Ahmad, one of the merchants. Cowpeas, which sold at US$58 is now US$100, he added.

No end in sight

Child beggars not only hover around restaurants and supermarkets in Kano they go from house to house. “The number knocking on my door has greatly increased in the last two months,” said housewife Zainab Ali

Another woman Aisha Balogun told IRIN she took in two beggar boys from neighbouring Jigawa state, a four-year old and his six year brother, who had been living in the streets in Kano for the last three months.

“When the two came to my house to beg I saw Abba [the four-year old] had recently been circumcised and his penis was swollen and dripping with a foul discharge,” Balogun said.

Officials say the children can fall prey to pedophilia, drug addiction and sometimes ritual murder. They will eventually become a social menace, said Kano resident Bashir Ibrahim: “With time their hunger can turn into anger.”

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.

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