By Chinyere Amalu
Even though children all over the world are seen as the leaders of tomorrow, they are yet to be accorded the relevant and necessary attention they deserve to prepare them for this very important task ahead. Millions of them across the world suffer, treated with reckless abandon and impunity, or sold into child slavery.
Disturbed about this development, on 20th November 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), whilst the OAU Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRCW) in July 1990.
Nigeria has signed both International Instruments and had ratified them in 1991 and 2000 respectively. Both protocols reflect children as human beings and as subjects of their own rights.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) outlines the human rights to be respected and protected for every child under18 years and requires that these rights be implemented. Against this background, a draft of the Child Rights Bill aimed at principally enacting into Law in Nigeria the principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the AU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child was prepared in the early 90â€™s.
But it is only after about 10 years with several Heads of Government and heated debates by the Parliamentarians that the Bill was eventually passed into Law by the National Assembly in July 2003. It was assented to by the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in September 2003, and promulgated as the Childâ€™s Rights Act 2003. The Act is a legal document that sets out the rights and responsibilities of a child in Nigeria and provides for a system of child justice administration.
However, more than seven years after, only 24 States in the country have passed the ActÂ for onward enforcement. These include; Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Cross River, Delta, , Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kwara, Kogi, Lagos, Nassarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, and Taraba.
The implication of this passage ordinarily would mean that children are well protected and a breach of such act attracts a punishment to the offenders. But then the question is, even in these states where the bill has been passed, to what extent are the child rights protected and enforced?
Good HealthÂ Weekly observed for instance that in Jos, Plateau State,Â 10 children of between 6-8 years old work in the mechanic village, (a small workshop) when they should be in school. â€œ I come here every morning to learn how to repair motor. My parents cannot afford my school fee that is why I am learning mechanic work. I want to be in school but I canâ€™t because we no get moneyâ€, one of them said.
InÂ Akwa-Ibom, where the State House of Assembly has passed the CRA, children are still branded witches and wizards and beaten and starved. In virtually all of these States, is a record of one instance of child abuse or the other. It may be sexually related, children may be denied basic means of livelihood, forced into labour, trafficking, , hawking, etc.Â UNICEF Communication OfficerÂ (Media and External Relations) Mr. Geoffery Njoku, most States that have assented to the law appear reluctant to enforce it because they believe that it would make children grow wild. â€œAnd this is not trueâ€, he added.
This same misconception probably is at the root of the reluctance to pass the Bill by Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara States.
Advocacy is widely accepted as the only way out. said UNICEF Child specialist, Mrs Sharon Oladiji. She argued thatÂ structures to improve understanding of the issues contained in the Act, should be put in place while more advocacies on these especially on traditional rulers of those states be adopted. â€œWe cannot afford to leave these children out there on the street to suffer.â€
Jeff reasons with her:Â â€œThere is need for increase in advocacy and awareness campaign on the content of CRA. With proper understanding of the Act, I believe it will not take the remaining states time to pass the Act.â€
A child advocate, Mr. Taiwo Taiwo Akinlami of the Gilgal Partners , Solicitors and Public Interest Advocates, said the first step at acting in the best interest of the Child is the Destruction of the Myth of the Child Vulnerability.
â€œThe vulnerability of the child occurs when adults do not understand that a child requires attention from the first day of birth. â€˜If you want to change the world, you have to roll up your sleeves, and go out there and work. We never can do enough but we can do something to better the lots of our children.â€
But Minister of Women Affairs, Iyom Josephine Anenih, said a lot of advocacy was already being embarked upon by Federal government to change the behavioural dispositions of the state governments towards the child rights act. â€œBut we have no reason to stop advocacy, because without it in the first place, the 24 States that have passed wouldnâ€™t have done that.â€
While, we contemplate on what to do to fast-track the domestication of the Act at every State, it is expected that to strengthen this advocacy, visits to the opinion leaders would be carried out in due course. The CRA is one, which importance cannot be overemphasised at a time like this.â€