By Chioma Obinna
Does a child truly have rights in Nigeria? How useful is the Child Rights Act passed since 2003 and the Universal Basic Education, UBEC, Act enacted in 2004?
These Acts, among others, stipulate that the first nine years of a child’s education – primary and junior secondary school – is a basic right, free and compulsory.
It is also no news that Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and now Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) rightly lay emphasis on the rights to education and elimination of poverty.
Sadly, access to basic education has remained elusive to millions of children across the 36 states of the federation with those in the northern axis worst hit.
According to the 2016/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS, child education has worsened with Primary and Secondary School Net Attendance ratio decreasing from 70.1 per cent to 60.9 per cent and from 54.2 per cent to 46.9 per cent respectively.
The report also reveals that Primary Completion Rate reduced from 85.5 per cent to 63 per cent while the Transition Rate to secondary school reduced from 74 per cent to 49 per cent.
It equally shows that more than a quarter of primary and secondary school-age children are out of school (27 per cent and 26 per cent)
According to a UNICEF report, Nigeria’s population growth has put pressure on the country’s resources, public services and infrastructure with children under 15 years of age accounting for 45 per cent of the population.
Consequently, the report says the burden on education has become overwhelming.
UNICEF also notes that in 2015, no fewer than 10.5 million children were out of school. However, the situation became worse following the continued insurgency in the North and the harsh economic situation which has pushed the figure to 13.5 million, according to the Universal Basic Education, UBEC.
Sunday Vanguard reports that if nothing is done, the country may live with the consequences in all aspects of life for decades to come. Also, the dream of the country meeting the UN’s universal access to basic education by 2030 may be hanging.
Real life scenarios
Nasiru and Jubril are common faces at the popular market in Sabon Gari area of Kano. Every day, while their mates are preparing to go to school, they meet at their usual spot to join a handful of other children to beg for alms. These children are among the over two million children said to be begging for alms in the streets of Kano by Hisbah Commission while their mates are in classroom learning.
Nasiru and Jubril are not different from millions of Nigerians who are out of school for several reasons beyond their control.
One thing striking about them is that Nasiru, 12, and Jubril, 10, are not enjoying their predicament.
Unfortunately, it is also beyond what their parents can handle.
Nasiru and Jubril’s families are among the families displaced by Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East.
The children go about in tattered clothes and barefooted.
According to Nasiru, he was in primary four when the family relocated to Kano from Borno. His parents are yet to register him in another school three years later.
“I have asked my parents to enrol me but they said I should give them time for them to get a permanent job”, he said. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
Another out-of-school child, Hadiza, 14, is in forced marriage. Her dream was to become a nurse. But her dream was far from becoming a reality as she could not take the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination, SSSCE, before her mother gave her hand out in marriage.
Hadiza lost her father at age seven. Since then, her widowed mother has been the only one taking care of her and her siblings with the little money she earns from her farming business. Hadiza, while in school was a bright pupil always coming tops.
She never crossed to the third position but fate played a big one on her when her mother could no longer cope with the financial burden of training her and her three other siblings in school.
The news of her dropping out of school first came to her as a rude shock until it dawned on her that she was getting married to an old man.
“I was not happy when my mother told me her plans but she persuaded me. You know that my father died and my mother is alone. I had no choice”, the child bride said.
The North worst hit
While Nasiru and Jubril are among the children affected by insurgency, which has elevated Nigeria to an unenviable position as the country with the largest number of out-of-school children in the world, Hadiza is among the over 60 per cent of female children who are out of school in Nigeria.
From the South to the North, children like Hadiza, Jubril, and Nasiru are everywhere in the country but more in the North. They all have pathetic stories to tell.
Studies show that education, no doubt, makes a lot of difference in the lives of young people. And, without education, Nasiru, Jubril and Hadiza and millions of others like them may become a threat to the future of the country.
Health watchers are worried that these potential leaders of tomorrow remain a major source of worry for the future of Nigeria as a nation. They believe that without well developed and trained children to replace adults of today, the future is bleak.
The education sector in Nigeria is beset by several challenges. Poor funding by the federal, state and local governments is commonplace. Whereas the United Nations (UN) recommends that 26 per cent of national budget be allocated to education to enable nations adequately cater for the needs of the sector, the country allocates less than 10 per cent.
In 2017 for instance, only 7, 04 per cent budgetary allocation was given to education, totalling N605.8 billion, with N435.1 billion for recurrent expenditure, N61.73 billion for capital expenditure and N109.06 billion for UBEC.
Other major challenges include corruption which has eaten deep into the school system. For example, to get admission into Federal Government Colleges, parents, according to reports, pay as high as N300, 000 as bribe to officials. Government owned universities and private institutions are no exception.
Meanwhile, poor attitude of government to the challenges in the sector is not helping matters. Infrastructure in most of our schools across the nation schools has gone bad without replacement. In many schools, pupils are forced to sit on the floor to learn.
Poverty and ignorance
Findings also link the sharp rise in out-of-school to reasons including poverty and ignorance.
Millions of families in the North are poor and cannot afford to send their children to school while some still have issues with western education even in states where free education is available.
According to UBEC Executive Secretary, Dr Hamid Bobboyi, the number of the out-of-school children in Nigeria ranges from 8.7m to 13.5m pupils.
However, Sunday Vanguard findings show that although the new figure by UBEC is yet to be authenticated, even with the 10.5 million earlier reported in 2015 by UNICEF, Nigeria is home to the largest number of out- of- school children in the world.
Bobboyi noted that 58 per cent and 51 per cent of children in the North-East and the North-West respectively never attended school.
On its part, the 2016/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) shows that the South-East accounts for the lowest number of out-of-school with 11.3 per cent followed by the South-South with 13.3 per cent and South-West 14.6 per cent.
However, as countries strive to achieve universal basic education by 2030, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural, UNESCO, says one in five children, adolescents and youth is out of school.
The Institute for Statistics, UIS, data report released for the school year ending in 2017 also found that about 262 million children and youth are out of school. The report, which said that children of sub-Saharan Africa were the most excluded, noted that of all the regions, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of exclusion.
UNICEF Deputy Representative, Pernille Ironside, at a meeting with northern traditional leaders on out-of-school, lent credence to the sad situation in Nigeria when he revealed that 69 per cent of Nigeria’s out-of-school children are located in the North.
Ironside said Bauchi State has the highest number with 1.1 million children followed by Katsina with 781,500.
Pernille said a ministerial strategic plan states that Nigeria has 10.5 million children, aged 6-14, out of school.
In a study conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics on Nigeria over a period of 11 years between 1999 and 2010 specifically, the value for children out-of-school, primary, in Nigeria rose from 6,628,605 to 8,735,046 as of 2010.
The fate of the girl-child
According to UNICEF, girls account for over 60.9 per cent of out-of-school children in Nigeria, majority of whom are also from the northern region and traceable to the negative impact of socio-economic barriers such as early marriages, poverty, lack of toilet facilities in schools, insecurity as well as sexual harassment by male teachers.
Education as a right
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Seyi Sowemimo, says the Child Rights Act provides that children have a right to education, hence the need for government to address the unacceptably high number of out-of-school children in the country.
Sowemimo, who linked the increase to poverty and Boko Haram insurgency, said the figure showed that government has not seriously addressed the problem. “Beyond all that, it is something that should put government on alert as to the dangerous dimension it can take in the country”, the lawyer said.
He said the situation not only deprives children of a good life but also infringes on their right to be educated.
To reduce the problem, he called on government to come out with regulation or sanction against parents who deliberately send children to hawk and do menial jobs.
“There is a need for a sort of campaign against parents sending children to do menial jobs or work as artisans at a certain age”, Sowemimo stated.
The SAN called for the full implementation of the Child Rights Act, regretting that some states are yet to domesticate the legislation. He noted, “The Child Rights Act has not been domesticated in many northern states because of the controversy around puberty and age of marriage for girls”.
Psychological effect of out-of-school
A consultant psychiatrist, Dr Jubril Abdulmalik, says education is a good stimulation for children as it enhances brain development, improves their ability to attain their potential and equips them with the requisite skills to contribute meaningfully to national development and economic prosperity.
He noted that socio-economic deprivation has resulted in children from different regions of the country being turned away from their families at very young ages, deprived of education and becoming vulnerable to abuse on the streets.
Abdulmalik explained that when children drop out of school, their future potentials become curtailed and very few would go on to become successful.
“They may have resentments towards their parents, envy other children and even resentment towards society as a whole. On the streets, they may go into smoking and drugs, stealing and other criminal activities. If they are caught, they go to prison and then they become hardened criminals and a security threat to society”, the consultant said.
According to him, most of the challenges could be prevented or reduced by investing more in education in the best interest of the leaders of tomorrow.
Analysts say if the pledge by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, during a meeting with traditional leaders in the North, to secure $611 million credit facility to support states with the highest number of out-of-school children under the Better Education Service Delivery for All, BESDA, is fulfilled, it will go a long way in changing the narrative of education in the country.