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Poverty, instability and HIV/AIDS mark the lives of vulnerable families in Nigeria. Some areas of the country are unstable and families are forced to leave their homes and find safety elsewhere. As is often the case, children are particularly at risk in such a harsh environment.

A big gap between the rich and the poor

Children playing together in the safety of the garden in the SOS Children's Village (photo: SOS archives).

Lagos was Nigeria’s capital until 1991 and continues to be the country’s most populous city. Estimates of its exact population are difficult due to the constant migratory flow to the city, but it is estimated to be up to 21 million. Lagos is located on the south-western coast of Nigeria and is an important port town. Most of the country’s commercial and financial institutions are headquartered here.

The standard of living in Lagos has the reputation of being one of the highest in Africa. However, the distribution of wealth is extremely unequal, with over half of the population living in poverty. Hundreds of thousands of people arrive in the city each year in the hope of improving their living conditions, making it one of the world’s fastest growing cities. However, the rapid growth of the city has led to overpopulation, lack of infrastructure, high levels of poverty and growing slums.

Children, young people and women still at a social disadvantage

Children are severely affected by growing up in these conditions. Many children can be seen hawking, selling merchandise on the streets. This means that they are not in school and are exposed to a number of dangers such as kidnapping, sexual abuse or exploitation, as well as accidents due to the heavy traffic. Lagos State has implemented a number of measures and programmes to improve the situation of children according to the Child’s Rights Law, but progress has been slow.

To this day, children in Nigeria are treated much like adults by the law and child offenders are incarcerated with adults. This can have severe psychological and developmental effects. Children who have lost parental care are sent to orphanages or, if they are “beyond parental control”, to remand homes or so-called “borstal institutions”.

What we do in Lagos

Looking after his younger brother (photo: SOS archives)

SOS Children's Villages began its work in Isolo in 1973. The SOS Children’s Village is located in Isolo in the suburbs of Lagos.

Strengthen families: Today, the family strengthening programme provides support to members of the local community. We ensure that children have access to essential educational, nutritional and health services. It provides assistance to families affected by HIV/AIDS, for example through payment of outstanding rent or the children’s school fees, and donation of clothing and food. The social centres also offer day care, counselling services and include a family health centre.

Care in families: For children from the region who are no longer able to live with their parents, ten SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 100 children. In each family, they live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.

Education: The children attend the SOS Kindergarten together with local children from the community. They then go on to complete their primary education at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School. Around 210 pupils from the children’s village and the neighbourhood attend the school.

Support for young people: When young people from the children’s village are ready to move out of the family home in order to pursue further education or vocational training, the SOS Youth Programme provides shared accommodation in Lagos. With the support of qualified counsellors, they learn to take responsibility, plan their future and prepare for independent adult life. The SOS Vocational Training Centre in Isolo offers young people workshops for various handicrafts, design and dressmaking, commercial training with typing, computer and secretarial courses and industrial cooking courses with home economics. This provides young people with the skills and qualifications that will allow them to find work and become independent.