Dorothy Moses, a 13-year-old girl, resides with her foster parents in Dei-dei, one of the satellite towns of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Dorothy relocated from a rural community in Nasarawa State to Dei-dei when she was three years’ old because of her parents’ death.
Living with her uncle, a poor farmer with two wives and seven children; has been a harrowing experience for Dorothy.
After attending school each day, she is bogged down with a lot of house chores and she usually goes to bed around 11 p.m.
Dorothy’s case typifies the experience of several children who live in foster homes, as such children are often victims of child abuse or child labour.
A content analysis of media reports often reveals instances of child abuse, child abandonment, sexual abuse, child neglect, vagrancy, kidnapping and hawking, as these constitute the most reported forms of child abuse and neglect.
In many instances, young girls and boys from rural areas are sent to families in cities, where they serve as housemaids and houseboys.
A study on house-helps and child fostering, conducted by the Child Protection Network in Nigeria in 2012, found that such hapless children had lower intelligence than those children who were well-nurtured.
The study attributed the development to the breakdown of the traditional foster culture, which had gradually transformed into child labour.
Observers say that children, who work as house-helps, may also be required to sell food, snacks and clothing, among other wares, on the streets.
They, therefore, wonder if there is a clear demarcation between child labour and child fostering in the Nigerian context.
The observers note that in spite of the existence of protective laws and regulations in the country, cases of child abuse and neglect have been on the increase.
Dr Oluwole Agbabiaka, a medical doctor, says that child fostering has been an ancient practice in many parts of the world.
He says that child fostering is particularly acceptable in many African countries because in the traditional African society, it is believed that children belong to the entire community, not only to their biological parents.
Agbabiaka says that parents and communities in the African setting are supposed to play significant and complementary roles in the children’s upbringing.
He, however, says that many individuals and families take undue advantage of the culture of child fostering by becoming perpetrators of child abuse.
Agbabiaka insists that in many instances, the children in foster homes do not receive any formal education, adding that instead, they are compelled to serve as domestic servants or street hawkers.
“These children sometimes engage in other activities that are harmful to them and the society, as they are also exposed to all sorts of vices,’’ he adds.
Nevertheless, Dr Joe Odumakin, a human rights activist, says that the importance of children in the society cannot be over-emphasised.
She underscores the need to make concerted efforts to treasure and look after children because they are the future leaders of the country.
“Children, therefore, need to be safeguarded; their rights to education, self-expression and freedom from exploitation need to be upheld.
“Many countries and societies in the developed world expend a lot of resources on child development; why is Nigeria different?
“Yet, it has been observed that many Nigerian children are being used for economic activities, whereas they ought to be properly nurtured, as specified in the Child’s Right Act,’’ Odumakin says.
Mrs Veronica Umar, the National Coordinator, Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation, says that sustained rural-urban migration and increasing level of poverty in the country promote child labour, particularly in foster homes.
She bemoans a situation in which rural people are getting poorer, while the country’s economy is not picking up.
Umar, nonetheless, stresses the need for states to pass or domesticate the Child Rights Act 2003 into law.
She emphasises that this would really go a long way in promoting the interests of the Nigerian child.
However, Prof. Christiana Okojie, of the University of Benin explains that 50 per cent of the children in developing nations, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa, live without rights.
“Children need to be recognised as citizens and human beings, with personal rights to protection against neglect, abuse and violence.
“Nigeria performs poorly on the international level when it comes to access to education and health care.
“Tangible attention needs to be paid to efforts to improve the lives of all children,’’ she says.
Mrs Beatrice Jedy-Agba, the Executive Secretary of National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters (NAPTIP), says that child abuse and child labour constitute a lot of danger to the society.
“We find that in spite of the passage of the Child Rights Act by some states in the country, millions of children are still out of school, working to support their families.
“Experience has shown that the abuse of our traditional and cultural values also fosters child trafficking and child abuse in our society.
“This is, no doubt, a major cause for concern, as it induces cyclical poverty, illiteracy and increase in the crime rate,’’ she adds.
Jedy-Agba stresses the need to adopt a robust and renewed intervention mechanism, which will lead to the enlightenment of the vulnerable sections of the population.
All the same, analysts insist that tangible efforts should be made to initiate community sensitisation campaigns on the adverse effects of child abuse and neglect on the child, the family and the society at large.
They also urge the government to strengthen institutions that are providing family welfare services, while improving on its family economic empowerment programmes.
This, they add, will enhance household incomes and prevent children from becoming victims of child abuse under inappropriate foster care systems.
Okeh writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).