By Job Osazuwa
Only a few persons might have given a thought to how thousands of children in orphanages across Nigeria are coping with life.
Beyond their control, unkind fate kicked the storm against these babies who found themselves in various homes and centres across the country.
While many parents are projecting a bright future for their children and sending them to the best schools, these less-fortunate children eat, clothe, attend school and receive other basic necessities of life by sheer providence. The future looks bleak for many of them, except the narrative changes.
As Nigeria is bedevilled with diverse socio-economic challenges, Nigerians, who, hitherto, extended some resources out of their pool of abundance to orphans, are now grappling with the difficulties of providing for their own families. Therefore, the crumbs that used to fall from the master’s table, as it were, have considerably reduced, if not vanished, to the detriment of orphans and other abandoned children.
In other words, as things get tougher for regular families, it affects them too. People’s purchasing power is shrinking. Many breadwinners have lost their jobs in recent times, joining the already saturated unemployment market. Virtually everyone needs help now.
For operators of orphanages, it has been loud lamentations over lack or shortage of finance and other materials to properly take care of the abandoned children. Over the years, it was learnt, not much attention has been paid to orphanages in Nigeria, leaving their operators to struggle and most times go cap in hand to beg for funds to pay salaries, provide health care, pay school fees and maintain their facilities, among others.
The national president of the Association of Orphanages and Homes Operators in Nigeria (ASOHON), Mr. Gabriel Oyediji, told Daily Sun that the problems confronting the vulnerable children were multifaceted and disturbing.
He, therefore, called for efforts in addressing the traumatic and unhealthy development so that the children’s future could be guaranteed.
“Some time ago, school owners used to flog children from my home for owing or not paying school fees. But I would always go to the school and beg and asked them to flog me instead of flogging the innocent children. It was not the fault of the children that their school fees payment was delayed. We suffered that until we were able to build our own school, although paying the teachers and other staff is also a huge challenge.
“Whenever there is power outage, you need to see how the children will be crying at night because of the heat. They wouldn’t sleep and none of the staff would sleep while their crying lasts. We have a generator but the cost of fuelling it is beyond our reach.”
At an event in Lagos, Oyediji raised the alarm that the Nigerian child has never been so vulnerable and so insecure in the history of Nigeria. He stressed that never before has the psyche of the Nigerian child been so badly affected by insecurity and horrific scenes he or she sees every day.
He stated that not only is a Nigerian child orphaned when his or her parents are kidnapped for ransom, attacked and killed by career criminals, children in orphanages have also become the primary target of blood-thirsty criminals.
He pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari, state governors as well as all the country’s security agencies to wake up and save Nigerian children, saying that they are the country’s future who must be protected and not exposed violence or forced to grow in an atmosphere of fear.
“Kidnappers have now included orphanages and homes in their checklist of terror. They now raid orphanages and abduct children for ransom. This is a new cancer, a horrible phenomenon threatening the future of Nigerian orphans. This is traumatizing our children. It needs an urgent cure before it begins to spread like wildfire.
“For instance, two babies were stolen from the Jehovah Jireh Orphanage, Orlu, Imo State, in 2019. In 2020, another orphanage was robbed in Ibadan, Oyo State. When the robbers couldn’t get the age grade of the children they wanted, they went on rampage, destroying things, attacking staff members. This year, another orphanage, Rachael Home and Orphanage, in Abuja, was raided at gunpoint at midnight, and seven children were kidnapped.
“In some of these cases, it was so easy for the robbers and kidnappers to raid the referenced facilities because most orphanages lack the adequate funding to provide well-fortified structures for the safety of the children and prevent crime. The disturbing situation is sending fearful signals to homes across the country as they are porous and vulnerable to attack,” Oyediji lamented.
He linked the child-theft phenomenon to the fact that many people wishing to adopt children from homes and orphanages in Nigeria get frustrated by the legal hurdles and the cumbersome processes they have to scale before achieving their dream. According to him, this has stoked serious crisis of adoptable children and prompted child-theft in orphanages.
Apart from insecurity plaguing orphanages, he decried the poor attention being paid to social services in Nigeria.
On funding, he submitted that “95 per cent of orphans in the country live in privately-run homes. Yet, none of the orphanages has any regular source of funding.”
“They don’t have any solid means of funding to engage professional security staff or acquire CCTV to protect the children. Where CCTV is available, there is no electricity to power it,” he said.
Other forms of insecurity threatening the survival of children in orphanages, according to Oyediji, include health, food, education and effects of COVID-19.
“Health security aims to guarantee maximum protection from diseases and infections. Major causes of death in many homes are typhoid fever, malaria and chest infection. The threat to health security is usually one of the biggest challenges we face. Many homes can’t afford the cost of standard treatment required to save the life of the sick child.
“Worse still, there is no clinic or department in any government hospital devoted to orphans and vulnerable children. When they eventually see the doctor and return to the orphanage, to get the money to purchase the recommended high-priced drugs is a daunting task because so many expenses compete for the meagre funds available for the home.
“However, we give kudos to the Lagos State Government, which recently introduced a health insurance scheme for social care institutions, both private and public. Overall, orphans are an integral part of this nation.
“Achieving food or nutritional security continues to be a challenge in orphanages and homes throughout the country. Young infants have no access to breast milk and can’t take adult foods. Infant formulas are very expensive and sometimes unaffordable. Consequently, many orphans face the challenge of malnutrition and lack of solid immunity to fight diseases.
“Most orphanages depend on foodstuffs donated by public-spirited visitors but the food items come in trickles. Yet, food security has the potential to influence the health and nutritional status of the children under our social care.
“We also suffer education insecurity. Good education paves the way for a glorious tomorrow for the children. It promotes appreciable exit from poverty-ridden life.
“The Child Rights Act compels education for all children. However, it is not so easy for orphans under the social care of orphanages and homes in Nigeria to access sound educational institutions owing to lack of funds. And we are all aware of the gross inconsistencies in public school services.
“There is no concerted effort by government and its relevant arms to give serious attention to preventing COVID-19 infections among children in our orphanages and homes. There is no free COVID-19 test in the homes. No testing facility has been established in any of our homes across the nation,” he said.
Oyediji appealed to corporate organisations to increase the social intervention services to orphanages and homes. He urged government to consider monthly grants for operators of orphanages to enable them meet their obligations and improve their care services to the orphans.
“We unite strongly against child trafficking, child abuse, child labour, oppression against vulnerable children, fake orphanages, and such other problems that militate against the proper development of the child,” he said.
On the way out, the deputy president of ASOHON, who is also the founder of Sough After Children Orphanage, Mrs. Carol Silver-Onaide, said the process of clearing children for adoption by the states’ supervising ministries, family courts, juvenile centres and other investigative organs should be purged of all unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks. She demanded that the process of adoption be simplified: “Government must act urgently on these with a view to accelerating the adoption process, removing unnecessary hurdles and delays in releasing children to adoptable families. This will reduce, if not totally eliminate, incidents of child theft and kidnapping in orphanages.
“Adoption laws and processes should be decentralised to allow applicants the opportunity of adopting children in any part of the country using a single approval. People should be able to use a duly processed legal paper in one state to adopt a child in another state. Starting all over again in another state where a couple sees adoptable child could be traumatising,” she said.