Not many people understand that every child has a right; children suffer gross violations inimical to their individual, societal and national growth development. REGINA OTOKPA looks at how far Nigeria has gone, 30 years after adopting the Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC)
Its past 3pm, Precious Okoriwo calls out in one of the major markets in Abuja, “Aunty check here, come and buy your girdle and fine night gowns when you are done making your hair, they are not expensive,” she said in spattered English in between a mouthful of coke and fish roll, her first meal for the day and dressed in tattered clothing.
Based on statistics from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Precious is part of the 15 million children in Nigeria categorized as a child labourer or modern slave.
According to the Country Director of the ILO, Dr. Dennis Zulu, 25 per cent of Nigeria’s 80 million children under the age of 14 are engaged in economic activities “and half of this population is children exploited as child labourers and those working in hazardous situations such as victims of child trafficking, domestic work, sex work, drug peddling and hawking.”
For the sake of these 15 million children in Nigeria whose rights are constantly trampled upon and have suffered grave injustice, world leaders including Nigeria through the United Nations Assembly, adopted the Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC). The CRC, a comprehensive legally binding international human rights treaty ratified by 194 state parties except Somalia in 1989, seeks to protect the right, dignity and change the situation of children around the world by protecting the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.
Thirty years after, it is disheartening to note that millions of children in Nigeria still engage in multiple forms of labour to support their families’ livelihood.
To further worsen the situation, due to the hazardous environment fueled by insurgency, armed banditry and most recently kidnappings, children rights to life, education, health, protection and safety has been jeopardized.
The Child Rights Act, an off shoot of the CRC, was put in place in 2003 to serve as a legal documentation and protection of children’s rights and responsibilities in Nigeria. Divided into three, it covers the incorporation of the CRC and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights into the national law, acts as a legislation against human trafficking by forbidding children from being separated from parents against their will except when in best interests of the child.
However, despite all these strategies, as Nigeria and other signatories approach the 30 years anniversary of the CRC (#CRC@30nigeria) in November this year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said all 17 states in the South and only eight out of the 19 northern states have domesticated the Act.
Providing a further breakdown of non implementation of the child rights law in the country, UNICEF’s Child Protection Specialist, Sharon Oladiji, said 12 northern states namely Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Kaduna, Jigawa, Katsina, Bauchi, Yobe, Borno, Adawama, Gombe and the nation’s epicentre, the Federal Capital Territory, are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act, after Nigeria ratified the CRC in 1991.
According to her, the eight northern states that have domesticated the Act are Niger, Nasarawa, Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Kwara and Kogi while Jigawa state which originally signed the act into law later repealed it.
Oladiji, who provided an insight to possible reasons behind the non implementation of the Act in the most northern states, believes there is a misunderstanding in interpreting the international obligations Nigeria entered into when the CRC was ratified, due to backgrounds or sociocultural norms, which first and foremost, fails to recognise every child has a right. “When we ratified the CRC, we were obligated to implement the provisions of the CRC. We were also obligated to adopt it into our national laws which is what the Child Rights Act has done.”
But according to the expert, one of the ways to correct such horrendous perception, was implementing the CRA right from the family setting, encouraging parents to take more seriously, adequate responsibility towards the provisions of their children’s needs such as quality education, nutrition, shelter, good clothing, healthcare provision such as immunisations, a peaceful and violence free home, birth registrations, giving children a listening ear amongst a host of other rights.
Oladiji maintained that majority of the problems engulfing the country with regard to child rights violation stemmed out of dysfunctional homes. “The huge problem we have is the family and home; when you raise a child well he goes out to become a good child, when a child has problems in the home he goes out and demonstrate it,” he said. “Two third of children in conflict with the law are from dysfunctional families where there is no father or mother, majority of them are brought up by single parents.
During the recent annual Children’s day celebration in the country on May 27th, UNICEF’s new Country Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, disclosed that the most disadvantaged children suffer the greatest challenge in having their rights fulfilled in accessing basic needs. This shouldn’t be the case because
It is important to note that the Federal Government and relevant stakeholders are not particularly excited about the state of things as far as child rights is concerned either. For them, it has been an uphill task bringing to fruition the total realisation of children’s rights especially in the rural terrains where a vast majority of people are illiterates.
According to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, government has been giving attention to child labour, forced labour and modern slavery through existing national laws, ratification/adoption of International Conventions and Protocols, as well as National Policy Documents on child labour.
But expecting more from government 30 years after adopting the CRC, Acting Secretary, Social Development Secretariat of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (SDS FCTA), Safiya Umar, is perturbed that child labour, violence and abuse of children is on the rise, exposing children to risks not limited to accidents, kidnapping, sexual exploitation, health challenges and imbibing dubious behaviours which may likely metamorphose into criminal activities capable of jeopardizing peace and stability.
At a media dialogue on #CRC@30nigeria campaign in Lagos State, Director, Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) Federal Ministry of Information, Mr Olumide Osanyipeju who lamented the huge injustices suffered by children in the country, says the need to uphold the realization of the rights of children can never be overemphasized.
Some good news
No country in the world has fully adopted the CRC, as such, the rights of children are still being violated by all.
However, in the face of harsh economic conditions, Nigeria has made some commendable efforts; there are more children in school and a very good number of children are feeding well even though the Chief of Communication, UNICEF, Ellana Drakopoulos, equally says Nigeria is doing well in some aspects of the CRA but failing in some.
“The Convention on the rights of the child must be made known to everyone in order to ensure full protection and adoption of the CRC act. The need to ensure that children are empowered all round to take their pride of place in our society and the world at large. This is a realisation that all children have a right to better life, an opportunity to survive, develop and reach their full potentials.”
UNICEF’s Children’s Day gift
During the Children’s Day celebration on May 27, UNICEF in its efforts to further move the CRC campaign, offered a remarkable gift “Passport to Your Rights” in child-friendly language captured in pocket format and expected to be owned by every Nigerian child by the year 2030.
The beautifully-designed passport containing the rights of a child beautifully printed on the pages, is to bring to an end, the massive exploitation of children.
Expected actions and possible outcome
This year is an important moment to see key players change the status quo to achieve an improved livelihood and wellbeing for children in the country but first things first, everybody including the children and adults, need to be aware of these rights in order to ensure they are fully implemented.
Another important step is integration of those rights by nuclear and extended families into the daily practices of raising children.
As the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration kicks off for another four years, government must change its mindset towards issues concerning children, change the value system and do things differently by putting laws in place to defend children in need of help and check perpetrators of child rights violations.
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