Stella Blaize, Special Assistant to the Governor on Education, says EduMarshal is in the spirit of the Child Rights Law
What is the EduMarshal all about?
Education Marshall, shortened to EduMarshal, and what we do is to marshal children, that is kids we find outside on the streets during school hours into school. That is basically the job we are supposed to do. But the way it is now, we have gotten to know that it is much more than that because there are social backgrounds why these children are not in school.
What would you say is your success rate so far?
The success rate, I would say, is 85 per cent. The other 15 per cent I would say we are not yet there and I would not say we can get everybody there because even in the developed world, we still have kids who are not in school, like parents telling them to go to shop. But the other 15 per cent are those who come from other states and are being used as what I call slaves and that is something that we are trying to tackle. And like we said to them the other day, when you are in Rome, you behave like the Romans. What the governor wants is for the streets to be cleared of school children and there are no exceptions. It does not matter which state they come from.
This is a new agency of the state government; can you tell us some of the cases or stories of children you have handled so far?
I start with a girl we found hawking water. We discovered that she was serving somebody. But from serving somebody, we got to find out other things. She was being molested by the sons of her master. So, we had to actually move her from that place totally. Also, we have had cases where children were found sleeping in the bush and very early in the morning, they’re up and gone. They hawk gala and all those things and at night, they retire. Obviously, their masters are not happy with us because it is like we are spoiling business for them. There was actually one who came to us in Warri and we asked him, “You have kids like these and they go to school. So why are (these ones) not going to school?” He said, “Do you know the deal I had with the people where I brought them from?” So, those are some of the cases we have had and many more.
How do you deal with such cases where clear cases of child abuse have been established?
There is a law which backs up what we are doing. The national law, which is being domesticated in the state, the Child Rights Law, backs it up. We just make people aware of this law that it is not just that the governor wants it. It is a law, there are sanctions. So, basically, that is what has been helping us. For example, that child that was being molested, we got the police involved to show that we are really committed because along the line, you would want to give up, if it is not something you want to do. People don’t want to pay N10,000 or N5,000 fine; people don’t want to be in prison.
If you make a projection, what exactly is the state government trying to achieve within the next two or three years?
Eradicating street culture and bringing about learning culture, that is the idea. When we are talking about street culture, we are talking about kids who are out there, not doing anything, playing gamble, football, and in the case of the girls, just hanging in street corners or just talking. We are trying to eradicate that and replacing it with learning culture.
We also came across parents who told us that their kids don’t go to school because the teachers come to school like two or three times in a week. Is there a sensitisation programme for teachers?
I would say there is. But sometimes, some of these parents try to make up stories. Last December, we went to some villages where these things are happening; some people said the schools had closed, which was a lie. Sometimes you have to check out what they are saying. Initially when we started, I almost believed them each time they said ‘I don’t have money for school fees,’ and there is free education. So, what the hell are they talking? So with regards to that, I don’t know the school that you would get to and teachers are coming in by 2 p.m. It can’t be all the teachers in that school, definitely not. Sometimes, some of these parents demand that their children be excused from school especially when they have market days. That is in the rural areas, they rather that their kids go to market.
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“What the governor wants is for the streets to be cleared of school children and there are no exceptions. It does not matter which state they come from”