Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Celebrating Children's Day

IT was in 1954 that the United Nations (UN) General Assembly recommended that all countries should institute a Universal Children's Day to be observed. This should be a day to celebrate children and draw attention to their problems. Surprisingly, 55 years after, the challenges facing children especially in African countries and other Third World countries are enormous and causing hardship to the children.

However, Nigeria adopted May 27 of every year as its Children's Day and has been steady in the observance of the day. Realising that all is not well with the World's children and recognising that children have rights that must be documented, the UN General Assembly, promoted, enforced and adopted in 1959, the Declaration of the Rights of the child which addresses the rights of children and youth under 18 years. Also in 1989, the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of the child, which covers in its 54 articles all the rights of the children. This has to do with health care, education and the right to hold opinion. Since children's day is to celebrate "Childhood", it is usually a day for tribute for all children of the world and usually marked with promises by different governments.

Obviously, the day is set aside as holiday for children and some children engage in funny activities that are characteristic of the day.

Children's day in Nigeria is traditionally celebrated with numerous activities across the country. Many go to the various stadia to participate in parades and marches and listen to speeches of various leaders. In some cases, there are variety of parties to choose from with lots of food, dancing as well as games.

Despite the addresses of government officials about the state of the Nigerian child and good promises to enhance their living standard, the condition of the children remains unchanged, unprotected and their rights violated. I think and believe that was why in a previous celebration, Dr. Robert Limlim, the Acting Representative of UNICEF in Nigeria said that the future of Nigeria depended on her children. He called for more investment in children, adding that funds from the country's oil windfall should be set aside for specific child focused interventions. Children from over 30 schools in and around Abuja, the country's Federal Capital Territory, gathered at the Eagle Square.

However, in a previous celebration, President Umaru Yar'Adua promised that his administration was doing everything possible to ensure children in Nigeria enjoy their rights. The President was represented by the then Federal Capital Territory Minister, Dr. Umaru Modibbo. As part of efforts to encourage the children, the president said "our children are our future, so we must take our commitment to children seriously". At the celebration, 18 states that have not passed the child rights bill were asked to do so for the sake of the children. Whatever the case may be, as we mark this year's Children's Day, we should not forget the physically challenged children as they can also contribute to the development of the nation. Happily, some of the physically challenged ones are now being offered political appointments and as a result serve in the state executive where they contribute meaningfully, a good example is Kano State, it is necessary for other state governors to borrow a leaf.

It is important to state that most-member states of the UN are signatories to the convention, however, the basic rights enunciated in this convention are still being violated with impunity in these countries that have adopted the convention. This is because children are still flagrantly being abused and neglected both at the family, community and governmental levels. Apart from being a signatory to the convention on the rights of the child, it is vividly clear that Nigeria has demonstrated the convention in the Child Rights Act under President Yar'Adua, which the National Assembly passed after much prevarication occasioned by opposition to its passage by some members based on perceived incompatibility of some provisions of the law with their religious and cultural beliefs. Despite the UN convention on the Rights of the child and the Child Rights Act, it is flabbergasting that the rights of the children of Nigeria, to a large extent are still being violated at the family, community, state and federal levels.

For example, such basic rights as the right to education, healthcare, protection from child labour, trafficking, sexual and other forms of exploitation and drug abuse, right to rest and leisure, play and recreation, right to decent standards of living, right to protection from abuse and neglect, protection from illicit transfer and illegal adoption, right to survival and development and the right to non-discrimination are scarcely respected or enforced. In diverse forms, children are being discriminated against. In some states of the country, discriminatory school fees are being charged. While in some other states, children from some parts of the country are not admitted, all based on ethnicity and or religion. In this connection, where is the one Nigeria?

For many Nigerian children, children's day is just a day like any other day this is because such children are living below poverty line while struggling to make enough money to feed themselves and often, other members of their families. Some children live on the streets doing menial jobs for survival, some face the risk of being sold and trafficked, some are being abused, maltreated and exploited, some are sick with no access to healthcare, some have no clean water or electricity. In other words, they suffer all days. It makes no difference to them because of hardship as well as abject poverty and the holiday is nothing to them because they don't even attend school.

As we mark this year's Children's day, let us make useful plans for Nigerian children. Such developmental plans should cut across the three tiers of government - local, state and federal. In addition, the lawmakers representing various senatorial zones and constituencies should contribute meaningfully towards the progress and development of Nigerian children who are our future leaders