Today, the true face of a Nigerian child still represents deprivations in all spheres of life. The Nigerian child is struggling with poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease and squalour, and is exposed to all forms of social abuse.

The 1954 resolution of the United Nations over child rights related issues covers the welfare of the children worldwide. Unfortunately, the basic rights enunciated in the Child Rights Conventions are still being violated with impunity in Nigeria today.

It is regrettable, that the rights of the children of Nigeria are still being violated at the family, community, state and federal levels respectively. Although, 24 States have passed the Child Rights Act, the implementation is still lagging. Which is the way forward?

The Monitoring Advisory, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria, Mrs. Sharon Oladiji on these and several other issues to Chioma Obinna on the Child Rights Act during a 2-day Media dialogue held in Calabar last week. Excerpts:

Child Rights Act

It is a piece of legislation that guides protection for children. It is one of the most comprehensive legal frameworks we have in Nigeria and is basically to protect the rights of children. In the Act, we have what we  call, the Four Baskets of  Rights. These rights are grouped together under; right to survival, right to development, right to participation and protection right.

Survival right has to do with right of children to healthy development and environment, that is, allowing a child to survive. It includes provision of immunisation and good water.

Development right is talking about education. Allowing a child to grow in an environment that is exposed to good thinking, good programming, education wise. It is talking about allowing a child to develop mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally etc.  At least one of the basic things a child needs is education.

Protection right is about protecting children from violence, abuse, exploitation, hard labour, trafficking etc.  Participation right is about allowing children to express their views so they  can be guided properly. As stakeholders we need to take hold of this Act, read  and implement it because of  posterity.

The Child Rights Act is a legal check that we need to regulate on the child and we need to implement under these four baskets. It is going to do a lot for the country and for the children. When the children in a country develop well, the country is better off.

So, if we focus on the development of our children and make developmental issues  the centre of our development, this country will be better than the first world.

Implementation of Child Rights Act

We are working with the National Human Rights Commission and the Child Rights Brigade . We actually developed a strategy to measure performance under the Four Baskets of Rights and we have sent to the 36 State Governors to tell us what they have done for the children.

Some States are doing brilliantly while others don’t even have a child rights law but have good programmes for children.  So the implementation, we have found, is not only based on having  the law or not having the law.  We measure according to tangible, visible things and improvement that is done for children.

Looking at the MDGs, if you look at the implementation of this Child Right Law in the State and if you look at the indicators of the goals of MDGs 4 & 5 are for children. These are education, mortality and empowering a women because when you empower a woman, you are empowering a family and the child is better off.

Implementation varies from State to State based on each Basket of Rights.  So, we have not seen a State that has just done implementation broadly and have scored all the marks within the Four Baskets. But with time, we do hope to publish that report. But we have developed some questionnaires and sent. People are also responding. We will soon know the State or States on top. It will be like awarding a child friendly Governor.

Gains for implementation

It will build healthy competition. It will showcase the good work they are doing. It has become a tradition in this country that all we know about is negative and negative. We are looking at things that are good that we are doing for children and documented and also using it as a case study using it to challenge other Governors that are not doing anything.

It is just like when we started the Child Right Law, it was only Anambra, Enugu, Imo and then it kept spreading, then you find Lagos passed, Osun followed, Oyo, Ekiti, Kwara, then Niger followed. Then when we now go to the north, first Nasarawa, then Plateau, Jigawa that is how it happened and we do hope that it can spread. It is healthy and it is good. It is helping  development of the country, the children I think it is a beautiful thing and we should continue with it.

Child trafficking

For trafficking, Nigeria is a transit country. It is an origin country and a destination country. After working with ILO, some of the surveys we have done with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffick in Person (NAPTIP) that is an Agency to combat it  found a lot of trafficking within the country and outside country trafficking,  that is why we say it has become a pandemic.

Initially, Edo State was notorious because from the first set of researches done in Italy, you find a lot of girls from Edo State who had gone to Italy to do prostitution, that is why we partner with NAPTIP to do a survey of 11 southern States. We found trafficking in Edo and we thought that was the end. Only suddenly for Saudi government to blow the whistle that there are children trafficking in Saudi Arabia and begging for alms.

Before long, all the border States in the North  were trafficking. It now doubles across the border to Chad, Niger and others. Some go by road through the desert to Spain. . When you look at border  States like Calabar along that axis, you find children being taken to Cameroun.  It is a whole lot of evil we are seeing in the area of trafficking. That is external trafficking

Internal trafficking

NAPTIP has  been able to prosecute about 67 traffickers within three or four years, that is a lot. In trafficking, we use what I call, proxy indicators, meaning that even though you may not be able to know the number of children trafficked  you can see from the number that were rescued. Even though, you may not know the number of people that are trafficking, you can see from the number that are prosecuted for trafficking. You will know these thing is an issue that needs to be dealt with and we must deal with it.

Poverty fueling trafficking

We need to deal with poverty. It is poverty that sends our children to the streets. It is poverty of the mind, not only poverty of money but it is of attitude. We can do a lot of advocacy. We do a lot of capacity building but when it comes to reaching out to the community, it has to be collective effort to break through that vulnerability risk that sends children to the streets.

Birth Registration

Birth registration has to do with planning and programming for our children. If we don’t know how many we are, how do we want to raise these children.  Apart from the fact that it is a right, a child has to be registered at birth both by the international convention and the Child Rights Act and even by birth and death decrees of registration of 1992, children need to be registered to have identity and nationality.

To access passports, schools, health services and all that and then when they grow up you can not have a passport without a birth certificate, you cannot even go out of the country, you cannot have a job. These are the first things you are asked in your adult life.

Must you wait till you are adult before you get these things done?  The law  says that you register the birth of a child at birth so all of us that are not registering the birth of our children are not seeing into the future of our children or seeing beyond tomorrow and are denying that right of these children. Children need to be given the right to live.

In the past, we used to put marks even in the olden days when our parents didn’t know anything to identify their children. That was how marks came into be till date. Today, we are fighting it, saying stop giving your children marks. But in those days that was how you identified your people, how you cared for them.

There is so much we need to learn about birth registration. We are trying to work with the health sector to integrate birth registration processes into the child health week because we are losing out a lot in those children that are immunised but they don’t have birth registration. So, we are trying to work with them and we are using it as an opportunity both for the civil society and to the national population commission that during the child health week.

We want to say that children  that are going to be immunised should be provided with birth certificate as well. We do hope that parents will take their children to the health centres or present their children when they health officers visit their homes. As they present their children for immunisation, they should take the birth certificates of their children as well.

And we do hope that this will help because right now the under five children that the law  was made for to protect in all the States in the country , there is no State that has up to 50 per cent coverage of under fives. The highest is 15 per cent coverage, that is in Lagos and Abuja.  Imo, Calabar and other northen States and Southern States have either 2 per cent or 3 per cent coverage.  It is very poor.

Child witchcraft

It is terrible. I want to implore all to take a trip to Eket to find out about the centre that is helping to shelter some of these children, you will weep for the way we are treating our children. It is unacceptable. No matter what, there are some children that are hung upside down, some are locked up for one week . Some are treated like prisoners.

You have some that are given cement water to drink so that they can confess. You have churches branding children as witches. You have nails driven into their heads, acid poured on them, lacerations on their bodies. Some are buried alive.  I am not exaggerating. These are real life stories. Unknown numbers are killed.

When a child is dead, we don’t even find out why

We need to blow the whistle. I am crying out that the blood of these children will cry out in judgment against those who are killing them.

We should stop this. We are calling on the Law enforcement and the judges and civil soceity. Our Judges must be bold enough to bring perpetrators to judgement. The police must be ready to do their work, the community must have a rethink because it is the same community that Mary Slessor came to thousands of years ago.

Child Marriage and Senator Ahmed Sanni

The law is clear because it happened in Abuja. Sections 22 and 23, specifically prohib child marriage and child betrothal.  There is a lot that is going on there. But I believe NAPTIP is on top of the issue because already they have invited the Senator for questioning. I want to be sure that he may be prosecuted. But for me, Like I was discussing with someone who said that one thing, we can do with Yerima, if we have Scholars that are thinking right is to follow up with him and that child.

In order to keep that child until that child is grown because if there is so much noise now, we need to be very careful so that it does not just become hue and cry and nobody hears anything about it again.  We need to bring out other Yerimas and let them know that a child is a child anywhere. We need to see to the end of that story.  We want to allow NAPTIP, a government Agency with the mandate to see to the end of it, that is all I think.

Implications of early marriage

It is wide, huge and damaging. A child is a child. It affects the child mental development, medical problems like VVF. There are psychological effects. It has a lot of negative impact. It is not acceptable we need to work on it. We need to speak out against it. We need to say, if you need to marry a child, at least let her finish secondary school. Education is powerful tool for the development of a child. Allow a child to go to school instead of going to a husband’s house.

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