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Children’s What?

FEW would be surprised if governments forget today is Children’s Day, the United Nations designated day to focus global attention on the plight of children round the world and strategies to mitigate them.

Nigerians have weightier things, they would say, on their minds – fuel scarcity, new governments that would sprout, two days hence, in different parts of the country, a stalling economy and the unguided anxieties about the future, even when the future is just the next day.

Nowhere is the hypocrisy of Nigerian governments more prominent than in the abuse of the child. A few “right words” today, rehashes of speeches, some more than 20 years old, would underline the importance of the day.

Nothing shows the neglect of the future better than the 12-year-old reluctance of some States to implement the 2003 Child Rights Act, CRA.

The illegality of various State Houses of Assembly having to pass or reject a federal law holds no interest for our fiery lawyers.

One of CRA’s goals is the elimination, or at least reduction of child labour. Child labourers are house helps, apprentices, hawkers, street traders, market/shop assistants, bus conductors, motor park touts, ‘porters’, beggars for themselves or aides to adult beggars.

Section 28 of the Act states, “No child shall be a. Subjected to any forced or exploitative labour; or b. Employed to work in any capacity except where he is employed by a member of his family on light work of an agricultural, horticultural or domestic character; or c. Required, in any case to lift, carry or move anything so heavy as likely to adversely affect his physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development; or d. Employed as a domestic help outside his home or family environment”.

Subsections (3) and (4) prescribe a fine of N50, 000 or five years’ imprisonment or both, for individual offenders while a corporate

organisation and its members would be liable on conviction to a fine of N250, 000.

CRA also prohibits child marriages and betrothals. In Section 21, any marriage contracted by anyone less than 18 years is invalid. Under Section 22: “(1) No parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person. (2) A betrothal in contravention of subsection (1) of this section is null and void”. Both provisions are in the Criminal and Penal Codes, though they are hardly enforced.

Imagine the hypocrisy of Governors whose States have refused to implement CRA joining in trumpeting the importance of children as our future. Our national hypocrisy of building a future that ignores our children should stop. We should ordain daily care for our children, instead of the dangers our greed that compromises our future.


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