Human Rights

Child Alms Begging: The Carefree Illegality Perpetrated In The 21st Century

ABSTRACT

The world has moved away from the ugly phase of subjecting a child to barbaric and unpleasant situations. If it can be reminisced that children are gifts from God, and the assurance of the future, then, their overall dispositions should be of utmost concern to all. In Nigeria, Africa, and the world at large, the sight of ill-dressed, neglected, and numb-looking children chasing cars and passers-by, in search of food, money, or attention is pitiable, regrettable, and an ode worthy of global permutation. Child alms begging is very denigrating, degrading, and dehumanizing, not just to the child in question, but to society. Children are entitled to security and a decent upbringing and must be treated with utmost care and respect; they represent the next generation of professionals and non-professionals; lawyers, doctors, teachers, presidents, senators, leaders, parents, business owners etc. In social protection policy, they constitute the most vulnerable population worldwide and are naturally powerless at enforcing their rights. This vista blazes through international, regional, and national laws on the protection of children against alms begging. Child alms begging is another salient but neglected aspect of human rights in Africa and the world at large. Therefore, this discourse shall comparatively examine these societal enigmas and proffer viable recommendations accordingly.

Keywords: Child alms begging, Child rights, forced labour, human rights.

INTRODUCTION

The escalating prevalence of child alms beggars in Nigeria’s major cities, across many African nations and globally has evolved into a dangerous social problem. The Nigerian government has taken multiple measures to combat child abuse and violence within the country. On the regional and international fronts, Nigeria has signed significant treaties dedicated to  protecting children from violence, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2000) and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000).[1] At the national level, Nigeria enacted and adopted the Child Rights Act (CRA) in 2003 to domesticate the Convention of the Rights of the Child. There is also the National Priority Agenda (NPA) for Vulnerable Children in Nigeria (2013-2020), which is the follow-up to the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (2006-2010). The Nigerian Government have also made frantic efforts in the bid to protect the child. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, 2015, contains copious provisions and sanctions for forms of violence against children, including female genital mutilation/cutting, trafficking, and child marriage. 

Federal Government of Nigeria within the years have also engaged state and non – actors as a means of partnership for the protection of children.

Specifically, the Child Rights Act, 2003[2] prohibits any person from subjecting any child to any forced or exploitative labour. The Act further prohibits the use of any child for the purpose of begging for alms or guiding beggars.

Sadly, notwithstanding the provisions of the Child Rights Act, of 2003, no serious action whether in the form of prosecution of persons who engage in this criminal activity or campaigns against child alms begging by relevant stakeholders has gained significant momentum.

This article therefore seeks to interrogate the illegality of child alms begging, the need for the prosecution of offenders, and the dangers that child alms begging poses to children and society. This article is a clarion call to relevant stakeholders to intensify the campaign against child alms begging in Nigeria and provides recommendations to militate against the rising trend of child alms begging in Nigeria. The discourse shall focus more on the Child Rights Act, of 2003, being the primary legislation governing the protection of the child.

THE CHILD RIGHTS ACT, 2003: A BREVI MANU

The universal agreement on the need to protect the rights of children was first demonstrated by the United Nations General Assembly on the 20th day of November 1989 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child otherwise known as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).[3]  Nigeria signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991.[4] The domestication of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Nigeria began with the Child Rights Bill passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the then-president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.[5] That bill birthed the Child Rights Act, of 2003. So far, 34 out of 36 states have domesticated the Act as laws.[6]

It is important to state, that the Child Rights Act, 2003 as a legal document stipulates the rights and responsibilities of a child in Nigeria and provides for a system of child justice administration. Simply put, the Act is a national compendium on the rights and responsibilities of children and specifies the duties and obligations of government, parents, organizations, and other authorities regarding child rights. The Act is made up of 278 sections, 24 parts, and 11 schedules.

WHO IS A CHILD?

Childhood is a social construct, there is no shared legal definition.[7] Irrespective of the many international and regional treaties on the rights of a child, only the Convention on the Rights of Child defines who a child is.[8] The article defines a child as a human being who is below the age of 18 years.[9]

For purposes of conclusiveness, Articles 2, 3, and 6, are salient pointers to identify who a child is. Let’s replicate them verbatim and literatim:

Article 2

Every human being under the age of 18 years must be recognised as a child, without discrimination based on any attribute of the child or parent. Importantly, the definition of childhood must extend equally to all genders without discrimination.

Article 3

The best interests principle must be applied to every child up to the age of 18 years.

Article 6

The right to life, survival, and development must be recognised for every child under the age of 18 years.

At the regional level, it is only Article 2 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990),[10] that defined a child.  The Charter states that for its purposes, ‘a child means every human being below the age of 18 years.’[11]

In Nigeria, section 277 of the Child Rights Act, of 2003 defines “a child as a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years”. From the above, it is clear that the Act protects children between 0-17 years, 9 months, and some days as the case may be. The issue of age should be laid to rest.

THE ILLEGALITY OF CHILD ALMS BEGGING IN NIGERIA:  X – RAYING THE LAW

Child arms begging is prohibited and sanctions are enforceable against perpetrators or syndicates of the same. The major legislation dealing with child alms begging in Nigeria, is the Child Rights Act, 2003. The Act is emphatic on the prohibition of so many engagements or circumstances that a child should be involved in.

Section 28(1)(a) of the Child Rights Act, 2003 prohibits any person from subjecting any child to forced or exploitative labour. Section 28(3) states that a person convicted of the offence mentioned in section 28(1)(a) of the Act, is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand naira or imprisonment for a term of five years or to both such fine and imprisonment. Section 28(4) states that where the offence was committed by a body corporate, any person who at the time of the commission of the offence was a proprietor, director, general manager, or other similar officer or servant of the body corporate shall be deemed to have jointly and severally committed the offence and may be liable on conviction to a fine of two hundred and fifty thousand naira.

Section 30(1)(a) of the Act, criminalizes child alms begging and the use of a child for the purpose of guiding a beggar. The punishment for the offence of child alms begging is contained in section 30(3) of the Act which states that a person who commits the offence is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of ten years. It is important to state, that the Act, in section 50(1) empowers certain persons such as a child development officer, a police officer or any other person authorized by the Minister to bring children in need to care and protection before a court in certain cases. These cases include when the child is found begging or receiving alms, accompanies any person when that person is begging or receiving alms whether or not there is any pretence of singing, playing, performing or offering anything for sale, or otherwise. See section 50(1)(h)(f).

Notwithstanding the above provisions of the law, there is little or no reported cases on the prosecution and convictions of offenders. There is therefore a lack of enforcement of the law.  

SPATES OF CHILDS ALMS BEGGING IN NIGERIA: A CALL FOR PROSECUTION

Child alms begging in Nigeria has gained momentum as a result of total abandonment, failure of government and bad leadership. This is why  we  have been concerned about it’s uprising in Nigeria.

Recently, the Lagos State Government restated its ban on street begging, particularly the use of babies and children for alms on the streets of Lagos, is still in place.

Herbert Macaulay, a woman residing in the area of Ebute-Metta indulging in the habit of using different babies for alms taking, was arrested, charged and sentenced for two months imprisonment and fine by the Yaba Magistrate  Court V.[12] In FCT, Abuja some human trafficking gangs now specialise in trafficking children and hiring them out for exploitative purposes, including begging for alms. This was reveal some months ago by Ms Waziri-Azi  after a routine undercover operation by operatives of the Rapid Response Unit of the agency around the Abuja – Nyanya corridors. It was discovered that some mothers were renting out their children less than a year to traffickers to beg for alms for N3,000 a day for each child rented out. Up to three babies were rescued by the NAPTIP team.[13]

It may interest you to know that, the age of this children being used ranges from at least 3 months and above. This children are expose to security risk, harsh weather, starvation and dehumanization in the face of vehicular movements. Many a times, people go hard on them because  they don’t know who is who, and the intents behind begging for the money.

Anxious about how this criminal activity is being committed, it was discovered that the children are being brought from various remote areas and  ointment is being robbed on their protruded stomach of the children in the early hours of the day, to commence the business of begging. Some suspects were however arrested in Lagos.[14] Another genre of child’s alms begging the increasing phenomenon of street children aiding visually challenged beggars and the risk factors involved in such activity is of much concern to social workers in Nigeria. With low investment in social protection for vulnerable children, a large number of children are constantly involved in income-generating activities on the street.[15] The high point of this societal enigma happens in the Northern region of the state. Many reports across major cities like kaduna, Kano, and references to the Almajiri is a challenge that the Northern leaders must rise up to.[16]

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF CHILD BEGGING IN OTHER CLIMES

  1. THE UNITED KINGDOM

Generally, the UK has an extensive and effective welfare system which is intended to provide for those who can’t provide for themselves. Begging is seen as undesirable against this context, as it can be intimidating for those they approach. In addition, it is dangerous, damaging and humiliating to those who beg and traps them in a cycle of poverty and deprivation.[17] For instance, the Vagrancy Act, 1824 (section 3), enables the arrest of anybody who is begging. It is a recordable offence and carries a level 3 fine (currently £1,000).[18]

As regards children, the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933 prohibits any form of child begging by whatsoever means. Specifically, section 4 provides that:

“If any person causes or procures any child or young person under the age of sixteen years or, having responsibility for such a child or young person, allows him to be in any street, premises, or place to beg or receive alms, or of inducing the giving of alms (whether or not there is any pretence of singing, playing, performing, offering anything for sale, or otherwise) he shall, on summary conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale, or alternatively, . . .  or in addition thereto, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three months.”

(2) If a person having responsibility for a child or young person is charged with an offence under this section, and it is proved that the child or young person was in any street, premises, or place for any such purpose as aforesaid, and that the person charged allowed the child or young person to be in the street, premises, or place, he shall be presumed to have allowed him to be in the street, premises, or place for that purpose unless the contrary is proved.[19]

  • SENEGAL

Senegal’s original 1965 Penal Code outlines the illegality of begging unless it is performed as part of a religious activity. This code was updated in 2005 as part of a law against trafficking and forced child labour (Law No. 2005-06) that outlaws child begging even for religious purposes. Senegal is a signatory to all major UN and Africa Union protocols on human rights and children’s rights. Enforcing these laws and protocols has proved challenging for Senegal despite two presidential-level attempts since 2010 to identify and prosecute Serignes Daara that force talibés to beg. In both cases, Serignes Daara were arrested but never convicted.[20]

In 2012, a legal case was brought against the GOS at the Africa Union’s African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) for the GOS’s inability to protect talibés and prosecute their handlers. The ACERWC found that the government was in violation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; however, little change has occurred since the 2015 ruling.[21] A more recent presidential initiative since 2016 does not prosecute Serignes Daara but collects talibés found begging on the street and places them in holding centers. This approach has not had any long-term impact on reducing forced child begging. The GOS’s ability to apply the Senegalese legal framework remains weak.[22] Earlier this month, a report by the NGO found that there are more than 200,000 talibes and 2,000 daaras in Dakar alone which collectively rake in an estimated £7.3 million per year from forced begging – a criminal offence in Senegal, for which very few people are prosecuted. There are thousands more daaras spread out across the country.[23]

Samba Mbaye, one of the beggars testified about his ordeal, thus; “I was in the daara from the age of eight to 13,” he says. “There were more than one hundred boys at the school. We slept on the floor in tiny rooms, packed together like sardines. The master beat me. I had to leave.”[24]

  • GHANA

The Children’s Act of Ghana, 1998 defines a child to be a human being below 18 years of age. Child alms  begging, although not widespread in Ghana, occurs in specific contexts and communities in some parts of Northern Ghana. The Northern Region of Ghana is dominated by Muslims with a high incidence of poverty.[25]

The government of Ghana has enacted many legislations beginning from pre – independence to stop the act of begging and child begging. These efforts have proven unsuccessful. Despite the legal position on child labour and begging in Ghana, studies have been done in relation to street children, begging, and child abuse. For example, reveals that some of the beggars in the capital of Ghana, Accra, are susceptible to abuse. In the Northern region of Ghana, research shows that children are involved in begging either directly where they beg or indirectly where they act as guides to adult beggars.

Child begging is a problem in Africa especially, as it concerns the widespread of the Muslim Talibes as studied in most West African states.[26]

IMPACTS OF CHILD ALMS BEGGING

The impacts of child alms begging are numerous, and portend dangers to the society. These impacts which are dangers are classified into two categories, viz:

  • Private Dangers: These are personal dangers a child exposed to child alms begging would likely suffer as a result of that exposure. They include; emotional and psychological abuse, kidnapping, child neglect, physical abuse, molestation, and sexual abuse.
  • Public Dangers: These are dangers members of the society would likely suffer as a result of the involvement of a child in child alms begging.  These public dangers include the following; public nuisance through constant harassment by child beggars, possible recruitment of child alms beggars into bad gangs, possible recruitment into prostitution, and increase in the number of out of school children.

RECOMMENDATIONS

There can be no keener revelations of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats children. The way children are treated reflects the level of development of a particular country. The need to tackle child alms begging has become inevitable given the consequent dangers that come from any neglect of this social problem. Therefore, the following recommendations are worthy of consideration:

  • An Improved Law Enforcement Mechanism:  Laws are effective when they are adequately implemented and enforced. The prosecution of persons who violate the provisions of the law must be backed with a strong political will; offenders must be made to face the full weight and rod of the law. Law enforcement agencies concern must increase their fecundity in the investigation and prosecution of offenders. The increasing rate of child begging in Nigeria goes a long to display the laxity of these agencies.
  • Awareness Campaigns: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Awareness campaigns should be encouraged in other to enlighten parents and guardians of the dangers of subjecting children to alms begging. Governments, non-governmental organizations, religious institutions and leaders, and traditional rulers must join hands to create the needed awareness. The activism and crusade must continue unabated to salvage the situation.
  • Poverty Reduction Initiatives: Poverty remains one of the major factor responsible for the increase of child alms beggars. Government and other relevant stakeholders must take steps towards the reduction of poverty. Genuinely, most of the child beggars indulge in begging due to excessive and uncontrollable poverty. They have no choice of living other than begging, the federal government is encouraged to redirect its poverty elevation programme to cater to these vulnerable sets of individuals in the society.
  • Good Governance: Elected officials must commit themselves to the service of their people. The antithesis of good governance is bad governance, and the by-products of bad governance are numerous and would form a discourse for other fora. The government must always deliver on its mandate to give families the necessary livelihood for continuous survival.
  • Implementation of Free and Compulsory Education: Government at all levels must ensure access to free and quality education. The right to education must be guaranteed by the government. If education is free and compulsory, there would be no child in the streets begging. This is by far the most visible and strategic recommendation open to the government in other to solve this menace.

CONCLUSION

Child alms begging remains a matter of profound concern for child rights activists and organizations dedicated to child welfare. It is a crucial aspect of human rights, considering that children, as one of the most vulnerable groups in society, deserve close attention and care. The current condition and well-being of a nation’s children significantly influence the future trajectory of that nation. This paper serves as a clarion call to leaders and governments across Nigeria, Africa, and the world to address the challenge posed by child alms begging, recognizing the sanctity of the bearers of future destinies. In the wise words of Helen Keller, “alone I can do nothing, but together we can do all.” All hands must be on deck to realize this shared commitment to the well-being and dignity of our children.

REFERENCES

Article 1: Definition of a Child.<https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-84647-3_40#:~:text=Article 1 defines the child, law, it is attained earlier.>accessed 11th November, 2023.

Begging.https://www.mylawyer.co.uk/begging-a-A76076D35097/#:~:text=People begging can be arrested,3 fine (currently £1,000)accessed 11th November, 2023.

Child begging, as a manifestation of child labour in Dagbon of Northern Ghana, the perspectives of mallams and parents>https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019074091931031X>accessed 11th November, 2023.

Child Rights Act in Nigeria.<https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_Rights_Act_in_Nigeria#:~:text=In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Nigeria’s 1999 constitution to children.>accessed 11th November, 2023

Child Rights Act, (CRA) 2003.

Children and Young Persons Act 1933.< https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/23-24/12/section/4>accessed 11th November, 2023.

Convention on the Rights of the Child.< https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child.accessed.> 11th November, 2023.

COUNTERING FORCED CHILD BEGGING IN SENEGAL, (Assessment February 2020).> https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00X3GM.pdf<accessed 11th November, 2023.

FG: 34 States Have Domesticated Child’s Rights Act.< https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2022/11/29/fg-34-states-have-domesticated-childs-rights-act?amp=1‘>accessed 11th November, 2023.

Lagos warns against street begging, 27th April 2023.< https://punchng.com/lagos-warns-against-street-begging/?amp>accessed 11th November, 2023.

Mothers rent out children to roadside alms beggars for N3,000 – NAPTIP.< https://www.vanguardngr.com/2023/03/mothers-rent-out-children-to-roadside-alms-beggars-for-n3000-naptip/amp/>accessed 11th November, 2023.

PROTECTING THE NIGERIAN CHILD FROM VIOLENCE (Building Blocks for Peace Foundation).https://bbforpeace.org/blog/2020/06/20/protecting-the-nigerian-child-from-violence/#:~:text=Section 277 of the Child,environment for learning and development>accessed 11th November, 2023.

Syndicate denies injecting child beggars, Lagos police hunt doctor.< https://punchng.com/syndicate-denies-injecting-child-beggars-lagos-police-hunt-doctor/?amp>accessed 11th November, 2023.

The NPA serves as a policy document which committed the Nigerian government to guarantee that all children will be safe from abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence.

The religious schools making millions out of child begging.< https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/religious-schools-making-millions-child-begging/>accessed 11th November, 2023.

The roaming threats: The security dimension of Almajiris’ mobility in Nigeria and its implications for Africa’s regional security< https://securityanddefence.pl/The-roaming-threats-The-security-dimension-of-Almajiris-mobility-in-Nigeria-and-its,134786,0,2.html>accessed 11th November, 2023.

Vučković-Šahović, N., Doek, J. E., & Zermatten, J. (2012). The rights of the child in international law: Rights of the child in a nutshell and in context: All about children’s rights. Stämpfli. Vulnerable children aiding visually challenged beggars in Nigeria: Need for social work interventionhttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/chso.12618accessed 11th November, 2023.


[1] PROTECTING THE NIGERIAN CHILD FROM VIOLENCE (Building Blocks for Peace Foundation).https://bbforpeace.org/blog/2020/06/20/protecting-the-nigerian-child-from-violence/#:~:text=Section 277 of the Child,environment for learning and development>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[2] Child Rights Act, (CRA) 2003.

[3] Convention on the Rights of the Child.< https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child.accessed.> 11th November, 2023.

[4] Child Rights Act in Nigeria.<https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_Rights_Act_in_Nigeria#:~:text=In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Nigeria’s 1999 constitution to children.>accessed 11th November, 2023

[5] Ibid

[6] FG: 34 States Have Domesticated Child’s Rights Act.< https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2022/11/29/fg-34-states-have-domesticated-childs-rights-act?amp=1‘>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[7] Vučković-Šahović, N., Doek, J. E., & Zermatten, J. (2012). The rights of the child in international law: Rights of the child in a nutshell and in context: All about children’s rights. Stämpfli.

[8] Article 1: Definition of a Child.<https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-84647-3_40#:~:text=Article 1 defines the child, law, it is attained earlier.>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[9] However note that under some domestic law, it might be below the age of 18.

[10] African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990).

[11] Ibid

[12] Lagos warns against street begging, 27th April 2023.< https://punchng.com/lagos-warns-against-street-begging/?amp>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[13] Mothers rent out children to roadside alms beggars for N3,000 – NAPTIP.< https://www.vanguardngr.com/2023/03/mothers-rent-out-children-to-roadside-alms-beggars-for-n3000-naptip/amp/>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[14] Syndicate denies injecting child beggars, Lagos police hunt doctor.< https://punchng.com/syndicate-denies-injecting-child-beggars-lagos-police-hunt-doctor/?amp>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[15] Vulnerable children aiding visually challenged beggars in Nigeria: Need for social work interventionhttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/chso.12618accessed 11th November, 2023.

[16] The roaming threats: The security dimension of Almajiris’ mobility in Nigeria and its implications for Africa’s regional security< https://securityanddefence.pl/The-roaming-threats-The-security-dimension-of-Almajiris-mobility-in-Nigeria-and-its,134786,0,2.html>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[17] Begging.https://www.mylawyer.co.uk/begging-a-A76076D35097/#:~:text=People begging can be arrested,3 fine (currently £1,000)accessed 11th November, 2023.

[18] Ibid

[19] Children and Young Persons Act 1933.< https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/23-24/12/section/4>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[20] COUNTERING FORCED CHILD BEGGING IN SENEGAL, (Assessment February 2020).> https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00X3GM.pdf<accessed 11th November, 2023.

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] The religious schools making millions out of child begging.< https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/religious-schools-making-millions-child-begging/>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[24] Ibid

[25] Child begging, as a manifestation of child labour in Dagbon of Northern Ghana, the perspectives of mallams and parents>https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019074091931031X>accessed 11th November, 2023.

[26] It should however be noted that according to a research discovery, the mallams, notes that the Quran does not encourage begging. See Mal -1, 2, and 3.