This year’s Children’s Day has been formally observed, but critical issues affecting the welfare of children in Nigeria linger, begging for urgent attention.
Children are the future of nations. Sadly in Nigeria, that future is being steadily dealt with deadly blows: Schools are being shut for insecurity, schooling is expensive where available, parents are incapacitated by economic depression aided by COVID-19, school curriculum is aghast with policy somersault and lack of alignment with employment realities, and there are no jobs after hard schooling.
Indeed, millions of Nigerian children continue to be left behind and their rights denied, because they still lack access to good education, adequate nutrition and quality healthcare, not discounting those caught in conflict. Thousands of children are discriminated against or living in precarious situations of vulnerability such as conflict and humanitarian emergency; not forgetting children on the streets; those whose births were not registered or who lack legal identity; those most affected by environmental degradation, pollution and the impacts of climate change such as in the Niger-Delta region; trafficked children, and children deprived of their liberty and living in institutions. Obviously, Nigerian children are endangered species!
These realities are at variance with the spirit of the various instruments and meetings held on child protection. On November 20, 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), while in July 1990, the African Union Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRWC), which Nigeria also signed and subsequently ratified on 23rd July 2003. Furthermore, Nigeria enacted the principles in these international instruments into law on 31st July 2003 as the Child’s Rights Act (CRA), 2003.
The CRA 2003 subsumed children’s concerns under four broad categories namely – Child Survival, Development, Protection and Participation (CSDPP). Survival requires good nutrition and health care systems to reduce child mortality and morbidity; development – provision of recreational facilities and affordable education; protection against physical, psychological or moral injury and children’s right to special protection in the context of war or forced migration as with the case of children in IDP camps; participation in the decision–making process.
Largely, the Nigerian child has not benefitted from these provisions. Infant mortality and morbidity are high, occasioned by poor nutrition and poor access to health care, especially vaccine. Millions of children are out-of-school in the country; while the children experience various forms of violence, including as suicide bombers for Boko Haram insurgency; not discounting their being targeted and exposed to attacks, kidnapping and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds. Many Nigerian children also suffer from rape, forced marriage, malnutrition, hunger and disease, displacement, homelessness, the absence of schooling – including poor or lack of access to food, water, sanitation and health services.
These problems require urgent remedies beyond the fanfare usually associated with Children’s Day celebration. For instance, having been enacted at the national level, the states are expected to formally adopt and adapt the child Rights Act 2003 for domestication as state laws because issues of child rights protection are on the residual list of the Nigerian Constitution, giving states exclusive responsibility and jurisdiction to make laws relevant to their specific situations. State laws inimical to the rights of the child are also to be amended or annulled as may be required, to conform to the Act and to the CRC. Till date, the Child Rights Act 2003 has been promulgated into law in 26 states, meaning that millions of children in 10 states in Nigeria still do not have the appropriate legal framework for the protection of their rights. As well, millions of other children in states that have passed the law are not being cared for as they should because the laws have not been fully implemented. The 10 states yet to pass the bill on the Child Rights Act into law, should do so, while the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development should pursue the domestication of the Child Rights Acts in those states.
The country needs to get its politics and governance right, in order to secure children and their future. Inaction has negative consequences because neglecting today’s child would lead to vicious generational cycle of violence and conflict. Conversely, if Nigeria can improve the lives and future of children, then the nation can transform for the better; because today’s children will one day be making the decisions that will shape the country. It is both a moral and strategic imperative for the Nigerian state to protect its children.
Therefore, given that the theme for this year’s celebration is “Unite to reverse the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on children,” this is the time to re-imagine a better future for every Nigerian child, because the future depends on today’s child.
Collectively, citizens, policymakers, governments and international stakeholders can play a role and ‘turn around the plight of the Nigerian child. Duty bearers should value the protection of innocent children because the primary purpose of government is to secure lives and protect the citizenry.
Similarly, the relevant MDAs such as Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) should re-orientate Nigerians on the need for every child to survive and thrive, learn, live in a safe and clean environment; be given a fair chance in life, and be protected from violence and exploitation. The media and NGOs should do more to sensitise stakeholders about the local and international laws on children’s rights.
The Declaration on the Rights of the Child says that “Mankind owes to the child the best it has to offer;” and Articles 38 and 39 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, recognise that children require special considerations. The international community should push for stronger accountability on these commitments, including the prioritisation of children’s rights in national policies and programmes for sustainable socio-economic development of countries.