One of the most regularly used truism in the third world is the nugget that “Children are leaders of tomorrow.” Unfortunately, it is used with brazen duplicity, as statistics implicate how their political leaders pay lip service to the noble nugget. Nations that are devoted to the care of their children are undeniably the most prosperous. There’s no investment more reassuring than banking in the lives of our children, both as individuals and as a state.
Africa has been conspicuously lagging in this respect compared to other nations who were signatory to the UN convention on Child Protection in 1959. Nigeria, in particular, sparingly takes interest in the rights and welfare of the citizens who are below the ages of adulthood. And the disadvantage of such apathy expresses itself clearly on the systemic failure that had become synonymous with the continent.
To get this point clearer, let’s take a cue from a current event.
The 22nd edition of FIFA World Cup tournament is ongoing in the peninsular Arab country of Qatar; and African contingents have been performing abysmally below par. This has drawn some furious criticisms from home fans. Some argued that football is a game of the West for the West, and Africa should accept that in good faith and stop wasting her resources quadrannielly participating in it. But one respondent’s solicitation struck me. He wrote: “if Africa wants to make an impact on Word Cup, they should eschew corruption and invest heavily in the game as Europe and the Americas do. They can’t be paying laissez faire attention to their national teams and local leagues and expect results in international mundials.”
This applies to child protection policies in the country. Without conscious efforts at fulfilling the demands of the 2003 Child Rights Act and the UNICEF terms of reference on it, Nigeria will live to rue its future. We need to look inwards and invest in salvaging the future of our children, and by extension our future.
Recall: it was in the aftermath of World War II, when the plight of Europe’s children was grave, that a new agency — United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was created by the United Nations to step in to provide food and clothing and health care to these children.
In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent part of the UN and began a successful global campaign against yaws (parangi) — a disfiguring disease affecting millions of children, and one that can be cured with penicillin. In 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which defines children’s rights to protection, education, health care, shelter, and good nutrition.
Following more than a decade of focus on child health issues, UNICEF expanded its interests to address the needs of the whole child. Thus began an abiding concern with education, starting with support for teacher training and classroom equipment in newly independent countries.
It took fifty years for Nigeria to come to terms with the urgency of this project, and to enact and pass the Child Rights bill into law.
In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Act expands the human rights bestowed to citizens in Nigeria’s 1999 constitution to children. Although this law was passed at the Federal level, it is only effective if State assemblies codify it.
At the level of the states, the Act faced unexpected resistance caused by either cultural hiccups or sociopolitical upheavals.
The bill was first introduced in 2002, but did not pass because of opposition from the Supreme Council for Shari’a. It was officially passed into law in 2003 by former President Olusegun Obansanjo, in large part because of the media pressure that national stakeholder and international organizations put on the National Assembly.
As of 2016, the Child Rights Act was codified into law in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states, with Enugu being the most recent to enact the law in December 2016. Eight other states are still hesitant.
In order to enforce the Act, the National Child Rights Implementation Committee was created. Committees were also established for some of the states which have ratified the act. The committee listed five top priorities for addressing the needs of children vis-à-vis establishing safe water supply and sanitation, working on the HIV/AIDs epidemic, creating job opportunities for women so they are better able to take care of the children, providing universal basic education, and making the primary health care system better. A 2018 report notes that the capacity for monitoring and sufficiently implementing the act is still low.
Amidst this obstacle, UNICEF Nigeria, through its resource persons had stepped in to fill the gap. Dr. Willy Mamah, a Child Protection Specialist was the face of the international agency, as it moves from state to state succoring the afflicted children of Nigeria, especially in northern Nigeria which has more out-of-school children.
Two weeks ago, in collaboration with Kaduna State Government they flagged off cash disbursements to the Almajiri children under the ‘Children Street Programme’.
Under the programme, 2,674 Almajiri, who have been reunited with their families, will receive N5,000 cash transfers to enroll in school or learn some skills. The funding is being provided by UNICEF. At the official flag off, Dr. Mamah reeled out terrifying statistics showing how backward the country is, in area of child support and protection.
According to Mamah, there are 105,726 Almajiri children outside family care, while 104,224 adolescent girls are out of school.
Though UNICEF, in partnership with the Kaduna state Ministry of Human Services, recorded the highest number of successful re-unifications of 10,817 Almajiri children across the country following the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Mamah also said a total of 209,950 children in street situation, including adolescent girls has been captured in Child Protection Information Management System (CPIMS). Mamah lamented that more needed to be done.
But what is more worrisome is the fact that none of the frontline contenders for Nigeria’s presidency (save for Labour Party candidate — Mr. Peter Obi) is talking about it.
It was only Obi who had quoted the World Bank, report that Nigeria, in 2020, had more than 11 million out-of-school children between the ages of 6 and 15. This figure represents 1 in 12 of all out-of-school children globally and 22 per cent of all children in the age group in Nigeria. Other candidates kept mum in this regard.
In a research report titled: “Child Welfare Deprivation in Rural Nigeria: A Counting Approach” by Olufemi Adebola Popoola, “abuse in all its forms are a daily reality for many Nigerian children and only a fraction ever receive help. Six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence – one in four girls and 10 per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence. “
Of the children who reported violence, fewer than five out of a 100 received any form of support. The drivers of violence against children (VAC) are rooted in social norms, including around the use of violent discipline, violence against women and community beliefs about witchcraft, all of which increase children’s vulnerability.
The report affirmed that Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa with more than 23 million girls and women who were married as children, most of them from poor and rural communities. While data suggests a decline of 9 per cent in the prevalence of child marriage since 2003, and a projected further decrease of 6 per cent by 2030, Nigeria’s rapid population growth means that the number of child brides will in fact increase by more than one million by 2030 and double by 2050.
Like I wrote in February and later July last year, https://www.blueprint.ng/the-pandemic-under-the-shadow-of-2023/
We have failed to ask the necessary question while we listen to the rhetorics of the candidates for 2023 election. In their campaign jingles bereft of cognitive ideas, most of the candidates have failed to factor in the Nigerian child in their manifestos.
Nigerian media spaces need to change the narratives and bring the child rights issues to the front burners before the candidates. They should at least shove the figures in their faces. The other day in Delta state, Bola Tinubu of APC threw a demeaning jab on Peter Obi for always reeling out statistics, we had expected a media rebuttal, but none came.
It is an injustice against the Nigerian child for Nigeria to be enmeshed in electioneering campaigns ahead of the crucial 2023 polls, devoid of any blueprint for the welfare of our kids.
May daylight spare us!
To be continued next week…