Child pictured struggling in a Cocoa farm

Yesterday, I had meeting with someone downtown. Not being sure of a parking space at the actual venue (which I wasn’t very conversant of), I drove into one of the streets where I could find space and trekked down to the venue – it turned out to be a long walk.

After the meeting I trekked to where I had parked, which incidentally was about 1.5km! Just right in front of a bank along the way, I saw a boy dropping off a black bag with a box shape. Then he hurried off backward with a quick move that alerted my senses to danger. The security men in the bank’s premises that night were just oblivious of what was happening in front of the bank as they kept chattering. I looked into the bag, which was open, and saw stacked nylon bottles. In this age of using kids to bomb places in Nigeria, I just couldn’t move on without looking back.

As I looked over my shoulder, while trying to proceed, I noticed that the boy was strenuously dragging a similar bag to the same spot he had dropped on the first one. When he got to the spot, he paused and tried to lift the two bags in an apparent move to continue to his destination. To my relief, this wasn’t a boy dropping off explosives – if anything, he was on the move to somewhere with the bottles which by now I knew contained water.

‘What more is there to care about since this wasn’t explosives?’ you might wonder. This brings me to an area that should concern most parents and guardians. As I noticed that the boy was dragging the two bags, I walked backward and asked him: “Can I assist you?” He replied with an innocent smile, “Yes sir, thanks.” I carried one the bags in one of my hands, while handling my own bag. The content of his bag was heavy, even for an adult like me who gyms with a 48-50 kg weight at times. To buttress this, he occasionally stopped and tried to either rest or adjusts the load on his chest, which he was using to support the lift. At a time he stopped and when I stopped too, he said: “Sir, don’t bother stopping, let me rest a bit and I’d catch up with you.” I sensed the boy was under strain. Of course I stopped and told him I’d wait for him to rest before we continued. Thereafter he asked me with a smile: “Sir, what is your name?” as if trying to know who on earth would want to give him this sort of attention - it was written all over his face. I smiled back and replied him, “my name is Mr. Eze.” “And what is your name?” I asked. “Sultan, my name is Sultan,” was his reply. The boy who I defined as smart went ahead to lecture me on the meaning and background of ‘Sultan’ when I asked, as we walked by.

“Do you know why I didn’t move ahead of you, even though you requested that I do?” I asked him. “No,” Sultan replied. “That’s because, it is safer for you if I walked by you, besides, I could run away with this load while ahead of you, and how will you catch me?” I asked smiling, trying to tweak his trusting mind. Sultan smiled and nodded his head in agreement. I got to find out that that his father had given him this difficult task by 9 – 10 pm on a road that was somewhat notorious. He insisted that the man in question was his biological father when, by my questionings, I wanted to know if he was living with someone as a house-help.

Soon we got to the street where I had parked earlier, and I asked him if he would want me to drop him off at his destination, which was just about 1.5km away. He agreed. Incidentally, there were no ready commuters to have carried him. Even if there was, he would need me to pay the fare, as his father hadn’t given him a dime to convey the heavy load! While we drove, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if this boy, who is only 11 years old, was in the company of a nefarious individual, perhaps, ritualist, kidnapper, child predators and molesters, etc. He could have been an easy prey, he was highly vulnerable – this boy could be anyone’s child with a high tendency of being another victim of careless parenting. “Sultan, do you know that you have to be careful with strangers who offer you help on the road?” I asked, still trying to spike his thinking to know that not all that glitters is gold. He paused, perhaps wondering if he had to be careful of me.

Eventually I gave him my direct phone number and asked him to hand it over to his father for a chat. I intend to ask the man some pertinent questions if he eventually calls. According to Sultan, his father wasn’t at home, but was working, so I couldn’t ask to meet him at home for a chat. He kept saying ‘thank you’ until I drove off after dropping him off at his stated designation.

Perhaps, someone might claim that this sort of training will only toughen the boy. But what kind of toughness will it be when a boy becomes an easy target that can even cost him his life? Though a child that ate with a silver spoon while growing up, there was times I did hard work like subsistence farming and planted cash crops. Yet, in such experiences, I can’t recall being subjected to abusive exposures. Besides my childhood hardly knew about kidnappers, bombers, etc in the neighborhood as it is today – those terms were only noted in the novels I read much later, not even Seseme Street and King Authur project them.

By asking kids to handle tasks meant for adults without guidance and adult presence, young ones become more vulnerable as the tasks begin to overwhelm them and they need help.

Parents or guardians must draw a clear line between loving parenting and abusive parenting. They don’t necessarily have to use the same yardsticks and measures that were applied during their own childhood. While not advocating over pampering of kids, conversely, they must also appreciate that our times are too dangerous for today’s kids. Lots of terror cells have kidnapped and recruited kids they found unattended to for the purpose of inducting them into their gory business.

I may not be a parent yet, but I can tell when parenting goes bad -  just like I may not have been shot in a warfront, but I can tell that bullets hurts when they pierce into a skin. It is sad that today’s kids are most abused by those who should be protecting them, thereby churning out kids who are dysfunctional as adult -  they aren’t really primed to be responsible themselves and the cycle of irresponsibility continues in societies that continues to lack positive directions towards good orientations. Sultan’s case underscores the plight of millions of kids who have been brought into the world by impromptu and ill prepared parents!

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