Photograph — UNICEF

Hassan, a 10-year old boy still attending primary school in Kaduna state, Nigeria, was very happy when he heard that the state government will be giving out free food to pupils as an effort to foster attendance in schools. He couldn’t wait to resume school, but this was hardly about attending classes or improving his skills. He wanted to be able to eat more and satisfy his hunger because his parents could only afford to provide one meal which came at night time.

Just like Hassan, several children integrated into the Kaduna state government’s free food aid are only interested in the food and after they are served, they abandon school only to come back the next day to satisfy the need to fill their little bellies. Vanguard Nigeria reports that the state government has concerns regarding the situation. According to the platform, “pupils have developed the habit of leaving school immediately after the free meal under the guise of going to drink water,” it stated.

In a bid to curb the trend, Kaduna state commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Dr. Shehu Adamu has encouraged parents to dissuade their children from returning home before official school hours are over. “The main goal of the school feeding programme is to attract out-of-school children to school and keep them in class for them to acquire education and better their lives. We will not allow a situation where children will just come to school and leave the moment they finish eating their meals, if it is about water, we have already asked parents to provide water for their children,” he said.

If these kids were not in school, it is possible that they would have been hawking goods to help their parents make ends meet. SOS children’s villages says that around 15 million children under the age of 14 work in Nigeria, many of them under extremely hazardous conditions. Also, according to a 2010 report from the United States Embassy on child labour, street children often drop out of school to work. Additionally, street children work as porters and scavengers and a growing number of them engage in begging. Children working on the streets may be exposed to multiple dangers, including lack of shelter, vehicle accidents and exploitation by criminal elements.

However, poverty culture in the country is to be blamed for this particular situation where children are only interested in putting on a uniform to gain access to free food. It says a lot about the society they were raised as most families live well below the poverty line. A study on poverty in Nigeria reveals that it is essentially a rural issue and you can bet that the Kaduna state school children involved in the free food scheme are domicile in rural parts of the state. However, Tag Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are now addressing poverty and other issues on the continent and it is expected that soon, Nigeria and other African countries will begin reaping benefits of the programme. Hopefully the SDGs will do better than the Millennium Development Goals.

Tag SDGs have every intention of addressing prevalent societal ills with the intent to ‘leave no one behind’, the campaign against poverty appears all too real for those on the front line. For school children to get to that point where they no longer place food above education, poverty needs to be completely eradicated, giving every deprived Nigerian family the chance to excel economically.

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