While their mates are in school, a growing number of teenage boys struggle with life inside a busy Lagos market, OLALEYE ALUKO reports
The venue was the Ojurin Market at Pen Cinema, Agege area of Lagos. The time was about 10am. The cynosure of traders and buyers in the market was a fighting scene among a group of teenage boys.
The fight, which saw the hungry-looking boys hurling punches at one another, lasted for several minutes while some passers-by who cared to intervene only succeeded in adding to the cacophony of noise in the market.
The lads were fighting over some take-away plates of rice.
Apart from the fact that these children, whose ages range between 13 and 16 years, are supposed to be in school by that time, they are also dressed in tattered clothes, which suggest they have long left their homes.
Though they looked haggard, a closer interaction with our correspondent showed that these lads are not beggars. According to the boys, some of them come from broken homes; while others have lost either or both parents and so are in custody of their relatives.
Fifteen-year-old Akinsiku David says he used to stay with his divorced mother on Ezebuka Street, Akinola area, Iyana Ipaja, before he came to the market about a month ago. He adds that he dropped out of secondary school in JSS2. His parents had separated in court and his jobless father had packed out of the house.
Efforts to reach David’s mother on the mobile line which the boy supplied did not yield any result as of the time of this report. Also, David adds that his mother does not come home until late at night.
Wasiu Segun, 16, who finished primary education in Ansar-u-Deen Primary School, Ilaro, Ogun State, but dropped out of school in JSS3, explains what they usually do in the market.
“We normally hang around with the beggars. When ‘the good people’ bring food or money for them, they drop for us too. Sometimes, we push trucks and carry loads for marketers. Some of us have also started learning phone repairs,” he says.
For Aduragbemi Adeiga, 14, who once stayed with his mother on Ifelodun Street, Oko Oba area, Agege, a different reason led to his taking refuge in the market.
“I was attending a private secondary school in Alakuko, and I was in JSS3 when I stopped going. My father is no longer living with my mum, and my mother cannot afford the schools in this area because they are expensive. For me, I still want to return to school. I also love to become a footballer,” he says with a smile on his face.
As if they are going to receive honorarium for granting the interview, the boys, numbering about 12, struggle to relay their different accounts to this correspondent.
But a middle-aged man, Mr. Yemi Ojeniyi, who acts as the ‘patron’ of these market boys, has this to say about them.
Ojeniyi says, “Sir, I don’t trust any of them. As you see them, some usually smoke cigarettes and Indian hemp. I caught them red-handed. Most of them steal in the market. There is hardly any of them who has not once been reported.
“Actually, one or two of them have parents who even come here to ask about them, but they simply just refuse to return home. It may be because they are idle at home since they are not in school.”
He, however, clarifies that the boys are not into any sexual escapades as much as he knows.
As the discussion lingered, a woman with a child strapped to her back was about taking one of the boys away. The woman, who later identified herself as Mrs. Adebiyi Esther and a mother of one of the boys, told our correspondent that her son, 14-year-old Olusegun, just decided to flee from home.
“Yes, it is true that his father and I have separated. But I try as much as I can to keep him from wandering. I am a petty trader. But he has a secondary school which he has just decided to ignore. Please help me on how to tame him,” she pleads.
However, realising that she was being interviewed, she quickly withdrew and left the scene.
Meanwhile, an official of the National Union of Road Transport Workers at Ojurin Park, who simply identified himself as Olawale, urged the state government to assist in rehabilitating the youngsters who roam the market.
“They should all be packed away to a rehabilitation centre, where they can learn a trade or be placed in school,” he suggests.
At a recent conference on Child Rights Protection in Lagos, the deputy governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, had promised that the state would be more proactive in the enforcement of the rights of children.
In a speech read by her representative, Orelope-Adefulire said, “Since the passage of the Child’s Rights Law in 2007, tremendous efforts have been made to enforce child rights protection in the state. This includes the introduction of the yellow card to create widespread awareness.”
According to the yellow card, every child must be in school, as basic education is free and compulsory in the state.
It further warns parents and guardians to comply or face prosecution.
The enforcement of these rights is directly under the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation in Lagos State.
An educationist, Dr. Ijeoma Unachukwu, who warns of the dire consequences of teenage dropouts, advises the government to intensify enlightenment programmes for their parents.
“These kids are readily available tools for hooliganism and all forms of societal violence. There will be gradual increase in juvenile crimes, sexual abuses, theft and armed robbery. Illiterate parents hardly care if their children drop out and roam the streets.
“The solution is continuous enlightenment. Imagine all these children growing into manhood without any education. This is a whole lot of dangerous consequences,” she explains.
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