Begging for alms with babies in Lagos
Begging for alms in Lagos and some other cities in Nigeria has assumed a dangerous and inhumane dimension. Some mothers now loan out their babies to ‘professional beggars’ to elicit sympathy from fellow citizens and raise money therefrom. Also, some so-called orphanages are in this criminal activity. They ‘loan’ out babies to vendors without the consent of their parents to seek for financial assistance at strategic locations in the city. Sadly, no serious action has been taken against persons who engage in this criminal activity, in spite of the Child’s Rights Act enacted in 2003 by the National Assembly.
The modus operandi of the culprits is similar. Hard-pressed mothers give out their babies to commercial beggars. At the end of the day, the ‘income’ is shared. Sometimes, the beggars hire three kids and give them uniform dressing like triplets in order to elicit public sympathy. They sit on pedestrian bridges and in strategic spots in the city. They then display the hired babies clad in similar costumes. Pedestrians or passersby are often moved by the sight of a mother who is unable to feed her triplets. They then leave some money in a bowl provided for that purpose. At the end of the day, the ‘takings’ are shared between the commercial beggars and the mothers of the hapless babies.
To say the least, this is inhumane. It is a criminal act that must be prosecuted by the authorities concerned with vigour. Under the Child’s Rights Act, it is an offence to subject a child to the indignity and punishment, which these professional beggars do. No one ever really knows what ultimately happens to the vulnerable kids in question. Besides, there is a law prohibiting begging in Lagos State. Section 168 of the Criminal Code of Lagos State (2015) categorically prohibits street begging. Therefore, what the nation suffers from currently is lack of enforcement of the law. It is true that some persons had been arrested in the past. However, that the practice still continues in the open shows that the arrest and prosecution arm of the law is very weak.
The bond between a child and mother ought to be deep, profound, almost spiritual. The umbilical cord, which connects mother and child, creates an eternal bond between mother and child. Furthermore, mothers are by nature very protective of their children. They, therefore, do not or should not exploit their offspring for pecuniary gains. It is only mothers who have lost their humaneness that traffic their children in the manner being discovered lately. The inherent cultural and moral values of Nigerians of all cultures and shades abhor this practice. The people must, therefore, return to those values. They must return to the values, which stressed for Africans as their brothers’ keepers. Where did Nigeria get it wrong? What moral depravity entered the consciousness of some mothers that they would rather trade with their vulnerable babies than do menial jobs or petty trading in order to survive?
Some people have argued that it is poverty that has driven some mothers into this obnoxious practice. This is unacceptable. It is sheer wickedness and laziness. There are other forms of labour that can sustain mothers and their kids. Besides, there are a couple of organizations that provide help for the really indigent. The really indigent families often get succour from extended kith and kin. Also, there are mothers who have remained within the confines of social decency, involved in petty trades to keep body and soul together. Any mother who trades off and uses her child for begging is wanting in moral decency.
Having made the points above, the states and the Federal Government should ensure that the current hardship occasioned by the economic recession comes to an end. Although it is no excuse to get involved in criminality, it is an established fact that there are quite a number of persons who fall into criminality as a result of economic hardship. The welfare system, which was present in most traditional societies has disappeared owing to the spirit of individualism that has taken hold of the world.
The point needs be reiterated that begging for alms with kids in any guise is unacceptable. It is morally reprehensible. As our neighbours’ keepers in consonance with the age-old wisdom of African progenitors, all such cases should be reported by the public. Any reported case should be prosecuted in the law courts to serve as a deterrent to others.