By Kayode Ojewale
We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today – Stacia Tauscher
There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children — Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013), former South African President.
A CHILD is a young person below the age of puberty who has not yet reached adulthood or one below the legal age of majority. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.
Children are a source of happiness to the parents. They represent a physical reflection of our biological part. Childhood comes in three stages – early childhood, middle childhood and early adolescent. In every society, children are in all ways defenceless, helpless and powerless. They, therefore, deserve to be protected by this same society due to their vulnerability. Children are not responsible for themselves; they are to be taken care of by parents or guardians.
Here in Nigeria, Children’s Day is observed annually on May 27. This day is set aside to recognise, honour, celebrate and appreciate children and, of course, childhood. According to the website of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, childhood is defined as follows: “It is the time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with love and encouragement of their family and extended community of caring adults. It is the precious time in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation…Childhood means more than just the space between birth and attainment of adulthood. It refers to the state and condition of a child’s life, to the quality of those years.”
The Child Rights Act, CRA, 2003 is a legal document that sets out the rights and responsibilities of a child in Nigeria, and which also provides for a system of child justice administration.
It, therefore, expectedly became mandatory for all Nigerian children to be protected, with punishment for offenders who breach this law. With the CRA 2003 in place, are the Nigerian children aware of their rights as enshrined in the Act? And if by chance they do, to what extent are children’srights being protected and enforced in Nigeria? Is the Child Rights Act a mere law or lifeline to a Nigerian child?
According to a 2014 survey by the National Population Commission, with support from UNICEF and the United States Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention, six out of every 10 Nigerian children experience at least one form of violence or child abuse before they attain the age of 18. Some months ago, UNICEF revealed that Nigeria has about 10.5 million out-of-school children, aged six to 14. These figures of vulnerable children being exposed to violence or child abuse and those out of school are staggering as it does appear as if the Nigerian child is not protected by any law.
As we celebrate and honour the Nigerian child, it is of great importance that caring parents and guardians teach their children certain facts and realities about life from their early age. This is expected to be reflected in the conduct and character of the parents as they live and lead by examples in the society.
Children learn good and bad habits from their parents, siblings and peers. They mimic styles and copy habits easily at young age. While we all know that the child may not be held responsible by law for his actions, they must be taught in their early ages how to take responsibility for their action.
It is instructive to know that the life of the child teaches every adult sincerity and genuineness in all things. Just like the ‘contagious’smile of a child is to anyone who sees him smiling, the child can also be ‘infected’ with respect. Children should be respected so they grow up too by learning to respect others in the society.
Old folks can then go to bed with all eyes closed as these well-trained young ones grow to maturity. They become better and more prepared heading for the daunting challenges that await them in adulthood. The strong and resilient child is better positioned to take informed decisions when faced with peer pressure and juvenile delinquency in the society.
It has also been observed that most Northern states in Nigeria are yet to domesticate the CRA 2003, hence reason for the prevalence of various forms of violence on the Nigerian child in these areas.
Government at the central level is expected to prevail on these states to ratify the laws for the CRA to be effective nationwide. I am of the opinion that Nigeria will be failing in her duty if all those who play down on the rights of any child are not severely dealt with.
The government is urged to ensure that the right of every Nigerian child is fully protected by ensuring compliance to the laws in the CRA 2003. Trafficking, forced marriages and abuse of these minors may imply doom for the Nigerian State if punitive measures are not taken to protect children from societal ills. For these young ones to make a quantum leap in life, they must be empowered and equipped to function maximally at adulthood.
Let it be said that sometimes what is appropriate for an adult may not be suitable for a child. So in preparing the children for the life ahead of them, there must be a balance in the way the children are trained so they won’t misrepresent training for punishment.