Several factors affect the way children express their social skills and emotional strength. One such factor is the unsupportive and aggressive relationship between parents and children (especially foster parents). It is not news in this part of the country that street children (nicknamed Skolombo) are a serious security threat. These are children rejected by family because they are branded “witches and wizards” or have absconded from home because they committed offences and have bonded themselves into gangs.
I met with one and chatted. His real name is Daniel and he hails from Abak Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. His street name is “Udord” meaning Slime. I usually see Daniel in the morning picking out empty plastic bottles from the dust bin as I dispose of refuse. He would greet me and ask for plastic bottles; he is friendly but scavenges alone unlike others that are in pairs or groups of more.
One day, we exchanged greetings but I didn’t leave immediately, so he asked slowly in pidgin ‘Mumsy, you wan send me, abi you get job for me?’ I smiled at him and answered “I wan ask you something” ‘Ok’ he said and this is how our chat went in Ibibio.
Me: What is your name and where are you from? My name is Eka
Daniel: ‘Udord’, from Abak.
Me: Udord? What does that mean? It is not a popular Ibibio name.
Daniel: (Chuckled) My real name is Daniel ‘Udord” is my nickname.
Me: Why are you called so?
Daniel: (He laughed) Mumsy I don’t know may be I am slime or I make people slip. I don’t know.
Me: How should I address you Daniel or Udord?
Daniel: Mumsy call me what makes you comfortable.
Me: OK I will call you “Udord”. So Udord, I see you collect empty plastic bottle but you don’t look like other scavengers. What do you do with the plastic bottles?
Daniel: I sell the plastic bottle to market women
Me: How much do you make on average daily from the sales?
Daniel: On a good day I make up to N700, sometime I get as low as N300.
We talked for a few more minutes but I could not stand the stench from the dustbin so I asked him whether I could buy him breakfast. With delight, he said “Yes!” We walked a few steps from the dustbin and he stacked his sacks of plastic containers and bottles under a tree.
At the “buka” we talked about recycling plastic and scrap metal. I was moved by his intelligence and confidence, I asked, “Daniel, how did you get to be on the street?” His face dropped and it seemed I had asked a difficult question. He drank some water, thanked me and got up slowly. I apologised for overstepping and thanked him for the time we had to talk. I started to walk away and he called, “Mumsy may be one day you may wish to help me get back to school”.
Daniel is 19 years old and has lost both parents. A relative took him in and not only refused to take him to school, but made him do hard chores including hawking wares. Depressed by the family maltreatment, he ran from home (Akwa Ibom State) in 2014 to Calabar with the hope of getting a job but ended up as a scavenger. He refused to bond with other street children for fear of being roped into crimes and so prefers to be alone. He sweeps bus stations sometimes and sleeps in buses or in abandoned cars in garages. His refusal to be like other street boys earned him the nickname “Slime”. His sad story went on.
Maybe Slime did not tell the whole truth as to why he is on the street but family abuse, neglect and abandonment clearly affects a child’s behaviour. I do not think all street children are gang members or criminals but that bad family environment creates substantial risk to the physical and mental health of a child evidenced by emotional damage, severe anxiety, withdrawal or aggressive behaviour. There is need for a wide spread awareness not only on child’s rights, but also supportive family relationship for healthy mental development of the child.
Ekaette Udo Ekong