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Project Background

One of the most disturbing phenomena in urban areas of developing countries is the ever growing street-children drop out situation. The circumstances in Nigeria are no different, and the situation in Lagos, one of Africa's largest cities, is particularly serious. There are no reliable numbers regarding their numbers, and most probably the figure fluctuates from time to time. Some estimates place the number of street-children drop out in Lagos by as high as two hundred thousand. Admittedly, however, census surveys consistently miscount the population because the children avoid authorities at all costs due to mistrust. Part of the problem also lies in defining what makes a street child. There are basically three groups of categories: first children who both reside and make their living on the streets without any contact with family, the second group are children who make their living on the city streets but have a home and family to return to in the evenings and finally, those who are drop outs of formal education. What remains constant is the severe poverty and under-class status of this most vulnerable segment of out society.

Poverty in the rural areas is particularly rife, and the rural-urban migration constantly augments the city's street-children population. At the same time, in the urban area, unemployment, a shortage of housing and lack of social welfare aggravates the economic pressures. It is often the children the children who suffer most in this cycle of poverty and family disintegration. They are left to their own devices and sent out on to the streets to work, beg and steal. Parents, struggling to survive themselves, often have very little interest in the fate of their children. The street-children are lured by armed robbers to join their ranks, or they themselves from street gangs to protect one another and counter their loneliness. They steal to survive or work as drug runners, sometimes with international links, while the girls resort to prostitution and sometimes end up with early pregnancies or, even worse, HIV infection.

Many of these children live in and around public markets, where it is easy to scavenge food. A few work shining shoes, cleaning windshields, or selling anything from candy to their bodies, but most beg or to steal to survive. In some areas these small hungry thieves and their criminal activities drive customers away from local businesses.