Pitiably, the nation’s duty bearers are still lamenting the plight of Nigerian children, instead of presenting positive score cards! This is particularly shameful given that it is 58 years after the country started celebrating Children’s Day, having started on May 27, 1964. Although the Declaration on the Rights of the Child says that “mankind owes to the child the best it has to offer”, 58 years on, and close to two decades after the passage of the Child Rights Act 2003 (CRA 2003) in Nigeria, the life and welfare of the average Nigerian child leave much to be desired, as reflected during the celebration of 2022 Children’s Day in the country. On that occasion, President Muhammadu Buhari tactically acknowledged that Nigerian children are not fully enjoying their rights; and that the Nigerian child deserves the best and a safe country where he or she could grow, make friends, interact and travel freely in addition to emerging as a successful leader in different fields of endeavour. The president hit the nail on the head of the problem.
Obviously, Nigerian children are endangered species, which is at variance with the spirit of the various instruments and meetings held on child protection, because on November 20, 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), while in July 1990, the African Union Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRWC), which Nigeria also signed and subsequently ratified on July 23, 2003. Furthermore, Nigeria enacted the principles in these international instruments into law on July 31, 2003 as the Child’s Rights Act (CRA), 2003.
CRA 2003 incorporates all the rights as well as responsibilities of children and consolidates all laws which provide for the protection and care of the Nigerian child into one legislation. The CRA 2003 subsumed children’s concerns under four broad categories namely – Child Survival, Development, Protection and Participation (CSDPP). Survival requires good nutrition and health care systems to reduce child mortality and morbidity; development – provision of recreational facilities and affordable education; protection against physical, psychological or moral injury and children’s right to special protection in the context of war or forced migration as with the case of children in IDP camps; participation in the decision–making process.
So, it is obvious that the CRA 2003 is mere beauty on paper because the state of CSDPP in Nigeria shows that the best Nigeria has to offer is still far from children. Therefore, while it is true that children are the future of nations; sadly in Nigeria, that future is being steadily dealt with deadly blows: Schools are being shut for insecurity, schooling is expensive where available, parents are incapacitated by poverty, school curriculum is aghast with policy somersault and lack of alignment with employment realities, and there are no jobs after hard schooling.
Indeed, millions of Nigerian children are being denied their rights, because they still lack access to good education, adequate nutrition and quality healthcare, not discounting those affected by conflict. In particular, those who are discriminated against or living in precarious situations of vulnerability such as conflict and humanitarian emergency and are in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, children living on the streets, those whose births were not registered or who lack legal identity, those most affected by environmental degradation, pollution and the impacts of climate change such as the Niger Delta region, children in the context of migration, especially those trafficked, and children deprived of their liberty and living in institutions are the worse hit.
Again, children especially the most vulnerable, are at risk and victims/suvivours of violence (sexual, physical and emotional), abuse, exploitation and neglect. They are most manifest as rape, child marriage; child labour; no birth registration; child trafficking, victims and survivors of domestic violence, and children on the move particularly in conflict situation. Others are exposure and involvement in drugs and cultism ocassioned by poor parental care.
While for participation, it is mere tokenism; usually, on May 27 which is the Children’s Day celebration in Nigeria; Nigerian children are granted a holiday and they are made to participate in several social activities centred on them. They are excused from school, and most of them converge at stadia to commemorate the event sometimes sponsored by some organisations that sometimes use them afterwards to pester their parents to buy their products.
Also, some government officials and media organisations honour some children with leadership opportunities on that day. Some radio and television stations do this by featuring child broadcasters on air and letting them anchor their programmes for the early part of the day. Another form of participation is the National Children’s Parliament, which started in 2000. It is meant to give children the platform to participate in national development and prepare them as future leaders. It also gives voice to children and inculcates in them the value of dialogue and collective participation that would equip them for leadership roles. There are some states that have the state counterpart, but not all the states have. Even, where they exist, it does appear that their functionality is not upbeat.
This gloomy picture on the plight of Nigerian children shows that there are several issues still confronting Nigerian children, despite the passage of Child Rights Act in 2003. All said, the best Nigeria has to offer is still far from the Nigerian child at present because not enough attention is being given to them.
The suffering of Nigeria children goes against every moral precept, law and principle. It makes a brutal mockery of that eternal idea that through the eyes of a child you will see the world as it should be. Hence, it is unforgivable that children are denied their rights to Survival, Development, Protection and Participation (SDPP) and yet the nation’s conscience is not revolted nor our sense of dignity challenged. This is the tragedy of the majority, which epitomises the travesty of social justice; the wavering commitment of the duty bearers; and exhibition of rudderless leadership concerning the plight of the Nigerian child.