Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Children's Day

EVERY May 27 , Nigeria joins most other nations of the world to mark Children's Day instituted in line with a 1954 resolution of the United Nations as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding among children and of activities to promote the welfare of children. Every year the celebration of Children's Day provides an opportunity for reflection on the conditions of Nigerian children. The usual story repeatedly has been one of lamentation. The plight of the Nigerian Child is regrettable.

Because few things have changed for the better in the lives of the average family in our country, the quality of life of our children - generally defined as persons below age 18 - has progressively deteriorated. Infant mortality, malnutrition, child trafficking, child abuse in the forms of child marriage and sexual exploitation and child labour are some of the indications of the difficult circumstances under which most Nigerian children live.

Arguably, the situation is worsening as more and more parents suffer unemployment, financial deprivation and lose the capacity to meet parental obligations, including of course asserting authority and control over their children. Because they are vulnerable, children are the direct and immediate victims of worsening economic conditions. The consequence of children suffering material deprivation, psychological traumatisation and educational retardation in their formative years is too frightening to contemplate. But this situation stares us in the face at this time, Nigeria is producing a generation of youths who are growing up in the midst of poverty and cynicism in a society where moral values are failing.

If as it is popularly held, children are the future of a nation, it is sad that the managers of the affairs of our country are yet to take this to heart and do the needful to invest in the country's future. It bears restating that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Nigeria, together with most other countries is a signatory commits us to take special care of and protect children because of their vulnerability.

What do children need to become, eventually, assets to themselves and to society? Not really much that this nation cannot afford : adequate meals, shelter, good primary healthcare, committed parental upbringing, good educational training, and a guaranteed future of opportunities.

It is not for want of money that our children suffer comprehensive deprivation, Nor is it for lack of local expertise and foreign assistance to lift our children out of a fate that, if care is not taken, could be worse than their parents' in their own childhood. Rather, it is for want of a broad vision of a greater tomorrow, concerned leadership, focused direction and honest, competent management of available resources. At least four of the eight Millennium Development Goals that Nigeria, like the rest of the world, must meet by 2015 focus one way or the other on the condition of children. Alas, the reports so far indicate that the country may not meet these goals.

The Child Rights Act has been in force since 2003, a few states have even domesticated it, while some states, citing religious and traditional reasons have refused to enact the law. But laws are not laws until and unless they are implemented and seen to be effective. We make bold to say that our children are yet to feel the effect of the Child Rights Law, or of a functional Child Rights Policy. And we blame government for failing in its duty. In April last year, Mrs. Turai Yar'Adua, wife of the president, launched the state chapters of the Nigerian Girls' Education Initiative (NGEI). This is a United Nations idea to enable the girl-child achieve her fullest creative and productive capacities. A worthy step but this must not go the typical Nigerian way and become an abandoned initiative. Its implementation must be sustained and carefully monitored.

Besides material deprivation, our children suffer moral dislocation and value-disorientation fostered, we regret to say, by the 'adult delinquency' that is widespread in the land. The hardest task our children face today is that they live in a society where there are few examples to look up to and this is so in spite of the long speeches and fanfare that mark the celebration of Children's Day every year. And yet this is a nation whose predominantly young population holds so much promise, in terms of energy and talent. No serious nation jokes with the future of its children.

If Nigeria of tomorrow is to be better than today's, we must prepare our children to become future leaders and worthy citizens in a nation that provides them the best opportunities to express their potential to the fullest. We wish all children a happy Children's Day.