By Kayode Ketefe
Children take shelter from the rain in front of a home in Yangalma village, where most of the children suffering from lead poisoning come from. (AP: 2010 File)
Today is the Universal Children Day, being November 20, which has been set apart annually to celebrate and honour children across the world. It was first set apart by the World Conference for the Well-being of Children in 1925 and then celebrated on June 1st since 1950 when it became internationally recognised.
The date was later changed to November 20 by United Nations’ recommendation. One a day like this, certain questions should naturally come up regarding the fate of Nigerian children.
Although it is true that Nigerian children have been statutorily protected with a regime of rights aimed at ensuring their survival and for ensuring they blossom into well-adjusted and responsible adults, the fact that these laws have been poorly enforced mean the expected gains from the statutes have been minimal.
These rights are contained in a varieties of laws regulating the rights of children, such laws are chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution, Children and Young Persons Law; Criminal Code Laws in the South and the Penal Code in the North; Adoption of Children Laws in some Southern States and Abuja; Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act 2003.
The most elaborate statutory instrument on the child rights and responsibilities in Nigeria however came in 2003 with the enactment of the Child Rights Act which was enacted by the National Assembly when it domesticated the United Nations Conventions of the right of the child. As of today, most of the states in Nigeria have reenacted Child Rights Act, 2003, as Child Rights Law of their respective states in consonance with our federalism principles.
The Child Rights Act consolidated the provisions of the other laws on in relation to the child and remains the single most important document in this area apart from the constitution. Some of rights recognised under the Act (which contains 287 sections and 11 schedules) include the right to free and compulsory education up to Junior Secondary School level; right to freedom from any form of discrimination merely by reasons of the belonging to a particular community or ethnic group or his place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion; right to freedom from all forms of abuse; protection from being given out in marriage, protection from being given tattoo, facial or skin marks.
Children that are physically or mentally challenged are also guaranteed all these basic rights. Accordingly, Section 16 provides ‘Every physically or mentally challenged child should be treated with all the benefits that are good for him or her.
The Act also prohibits using children for street trading or trafficking of goods or hard and dangerous drugs. There are penal consequences for anyone (including the child’s parents) violating the rights of the child. The provisions of these Act is comprehensive enough to safeguard the interest of the Nigerian child but half-hearted execution of the law coupled with entrenched biases and unwholesome cultural practices, like child marriage and tolerance to diverse forms of child abuse have been our bane.
Particularly, our society thrives with a lot of harmful cultural practices inimical to the girl child and women like genital female mutilation, affirmative male child preference and denial of education to female children.
Children are still being used for street trading and what is more, beggary, by parents who brought them to the world without the means to sustain them. In a rather embarrassing report recently released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, (UNESCO) it was stated that one out of every five Nigerian children is out of school. In the document tagged the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EAGMR) Nigeria was said to have the highest rate of school dropouts in the world with estimated 10.5 million children out of school!
This, of course, constitutes a great national embarrassment for a country that has the largest economy on the African continent.
As I am writing this piece the nation is still awaiting, with increasing diminishing hope, the return of more than 230 girls abducted from the Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, kidnapped since April 14, by the dreaded Boko Haram terrorist group.
The government which has the constitutional role of ensuring safety and welfare of all Nigerians has kept reiterating the promise to liberate the innocent girls but the nation is still waiting for their return. How nice would it have been if the girls have been rescued as we celebrate the Universal Children Day today? Certainly, the Nigerian society has been one hell of a place for the youths and children, but it does not need to continue being so. Our government at all levels needs to reformulate their policies on the Nigeria children with a view to elevate their status from the oppressed, harassed and exploited segment of humanity to the protected and well-nurtured class.
Our laws, especially, the Child Act and the Constitution need to be enforced in earnest. The Nigerian child must go back to school; he/she needs all the support and care our society could muster.
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