•30 years after the adoption of the Rights of the Child
By Chioma Obinna
One thing peculiar to children irrespective of nationality or tribe is that they are born the same way. They are also seen as future leaders anywhere in the world. But findings show that the environment remains a determining factor of the health, education, growth, association, life and death of a child. Sadly, in most African countries like Nigeria, children are yet to be given the attention they deserve to prepare them for the task ahead. Chioma Obinna reports that 30 years after the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC, to improve the child’s dignity, respect for his inalienable rights and draw global attention to his plight, he still suffers all forms of discrimination, treated like an object, abandoned, married off at early age, recruited as a labourer and soldier, and trafficked into slavery while his rights are daily trampled upon by those who should protect them.
When 11-year-old Gabriel Kola’s (not real name) left primary school, his future would have been boundless. He was on top of his class and had sat for the National Common Entrance Examination. He was full of hopes expecting to gain admission into secondary school. But fate played a cruel fate on him when Gabriel lost his father in a motor accident along Shagamu Expressway.
“I was shattered. My dreams were killed. Life became difficult,” Gabriel narrated.
The boy passed the entrance examination but could not enter secondary school because the father who would have sponsored his education had passed on.
“My mother called me one evening to inform me that I will be relocating from Abeokuta where we lived to Kwara State with my father’s immediate younger brother. I could not hesitate because I was not given an opportunity to say what I wanted,” he said.
A week later, he moved in with his uncle. Although they became close, Gabriel worked in his uncle’s shop and would run it each time the uncle was away for business.
Meanwhile, the boy’s dream of going back to school and becoming an engineer was buried. Gabriel is just one out of the millions of children recruited as child labourers and breadwinners of families. He adds up to the 50.8 percent of Nigerian children involved in child labour according to the 2016/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS.
Abubakar Mohammed (not real name), another boy suffering a similar fate like Gabriel’s, lives under the bridge in Oshodi, Lagos. Every morning he and other children roam the streets begging for alms.
According to Mohammed, he and his family moved from Maiduguri following the unbearable activities of insurgency in Borno State.
“We came to Lagos two years ago. My father was able to secure a security job but lost the job six months after. We were squatting with my uncle and his wife in a one-room apartment but at a point, I met some children who also live under this bridge. So I joined them,” he narrated.
According to him, his day and hundreds of other children begin and end under the bridge.
“I have never been to school. My parents have no money to train me”, he stated.
Another child, a girl, Grace Oyibo, is looking for someone to adopt her. At 16, Grace has no home or relation to cater for her. She sleeps anywhere night meets her. Meeting her for the first time brought lot of emotions. “Aunty, please I am looking for someone to adopt me,” she said.
“Why?” this reporter asked. “I want to go to school. I want to be a graduate and I need someone to support me. I have no relation”, she replied. Grace’s mother had abandoned her at a motherless babies’ home in Jos, Plateau State.
Life turned sour for her after the owner of the home suffered spinal cord injury and could no longer take care of the children there.
According to the girl, due to the condition of the benefactor, feeding became a problem.
“On daily basis, I go out to sell to help her to get what we will eat. I want to go to school but she cannot afford it. So I decided to run away. That is how I came to Lagos”, she said. “I was told my father did not accept my mother, so she abandoned me after I was born.”
Grace is lucky she never had any bad experience in the course of moving from one house to another. Girls like her get raped on the street.
While it is the responsibility of government to protect children anywhere in Nigeria, these children have been left on their own.
Gabriel, Mohammed and Grace are among Nigerian children between the ages of five and 15 years involved in all kinds of dehumanizing jobs and deprived of the rights as enshrined in the Child Rights Act (CRA). The General Assembly of the United Nations had in November 28, 1989, adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to change the way children are viewed and treated as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.
It was also to change the global conversation about children and set the agenda to ensure children’s rights to survival, development, protection and participation.
In Nigeria, CRC was signed in 1991 and, with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the country domesticated it. The Child’s Rights Bill was passed by the National Assembly in July 2003 and former President Olusegun Obasanjo assented to it in September 2003.
Today, the Child Rights Act (CRA) is a national law that makes provisions for the protection of the rights of a child without any form of discrimination irrespective of the child’s background.
Under the Act, government has the primary responsibility to protect the rights while the family and the community have their roles to play.
However, three decades after CRC was adopted, questions are being asked without answers.
With the inhuman treatments suffered by Nigerian children like Gabriel, Mohammed and Grace, are the CRC and CRA only good on paper?
If it is true that 25 states and the FCT have domesticated the CRA, why are these children still being used as child labourers?
Why are they still being sold into slavery? Why are they still not in school with a scary number of 10.1 million out of school children?
Why are they forced against their will to marry?
Nigerian children seem to have remained an endangered species.
Education and health
For instance in education, millions are out of school. Even the ones in school are not properly cared for as they study in a very poor environment. There are no infrastructures and the schools lack qualified teachers for core subjects.
In terms of health, many of these children die before their fifth birthday due to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Only one in four children receive complete immunisation according to the 206/2017 MICS.
Nigeria can only boast of 33 percent immunisation coverage.
About one million Nigerian children die of preventable diseases annually according to the Paediatrics Association of Nigeria.
Also, not less than 11 million Nigerian children are stunted and over 17 million malnourished.
Child labour has become the order of the day.
A Nigerian child does not enjoy parenting the way he should because of the harsh economy that has forced parents to turn their wards into breadwinners.
Nigeria ranks among countries with the highest numbers of child labourers.
According to the 2016/2017 MICS, more than half of Nigeria’s 79 million children between the ages of five and 17 are put to work even under hazardous conditions.
The future of millions of children in the North-East are at risk, as warring parties commit grave violations against children and government authorities fail to hold perpetrators to account.
In the region, armed groups, including Boko Haram factions, target girls, who are raped, forced to become wives of fighters or used as ‘human bombs’.
Only last week, a statement from UNICEF showed that no fewer than 1,700 children were released since 2017 from the ranks of the Civilian Joint Task Force in Maiduguri as part of the commitment to end the recruitment and use of children.
Poverty, early marriage
Poverty has been linked to early marriages especially in the North.
There are parents who don’t support early marriage but are compelled by poverty to marry off their girls for their husbands to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of them.
In some parts of the North, children are becoming mothers at an age when they should be in school.
Apart from the inherent danger posed to their upward mobility, health complications arise from child pregnancy.
Based on these challenges, experts say investing in children and implementation of the CRA in all the states of the country would go a long way to reduce the harsh situation in which children live in Nigeria.
According to a UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Sharon Oladiji, lack of access to developmental needs is detrimental to the rights of the Nigerian child.
Oladiji said northern states such as Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Kaduna, Jigawa, Katsina, Bauchi, Yobe, Borno, Adawama and Gombe are yet to domesticate the CRA while those that have domesticated the law are Niger, Nasarawa, Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Kwara and Kogi.
All the 17 states of the South, according to him, have domesticated the Act.
Another UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Mr. Denis Onoise, while stressing that inhuman treatment affects child development, confirmed that Nigeria is witnessing an increasing number of married children.
Onoise said 40 per cent of girls in Nigeria are married off at 15 years or younger, 44 per cent married off before 18 years of age according to the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey, NDHS.
“In Northern Nigeria, almajiris between ages 7-15 years are sent to live with Islamic schoolmasters. In 2010, Nigeria Ministry of Education estimated that there are 9.5 million almajiris in the North. These children are subjected to harsh living conditions and are forced to beg to support themselves and their schoolmasters, “he stated.
AS the world roll out drums to celebrate 30 years of CRC, health watchers are of the view that the Nigerian government should expedite action towards full implementation of the CRA to save the future of the child and the nation at large.