Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reflections on Children’s Day

May 27 of every year is the official date chosen by Nigerian government to celebrate Children’s Day. This is in keeping with the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s resolution in 1954 that all countries institute a Universal Children’s Day to be observed as a day to dwell on issues and activities that promote the welfare of children globally.

It is also a day set aside to appraise the progress made in respect of the nation’s children with a view to addressing their problems. In 1989, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which covers in its 54 articles all the rights of children on healthcare, education, freedom from exploitation and the right to hold opinion, amongst others.

Though Nigeria is a signatory to all these conventions, most of these lofty goals are more often breached than observed.

Every year, Children’s Day is marked with great pomp and ceremony, often with less thought on those things that would enhance the promotion of children’s rights and well-being. At best, the event has been reduced to a mere ritual of ceremonies where government officials mouth slogans and intentions that are never fulfilled.

As Nigerian children mark this year’s event today, let us use the occasion to direct our attention to those practices– private and official– that militate against the realization of children’s rights in the country. Nigerian children are still subjected to physical and mental violence, sexual abuse, neglect and maltreatment while with parents or guardians.

Apart from child labour, many Nigerian children are victims of human trafficking. A recent study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) showed that Nigeria lost about 4,000 children to traffickers. Thousands of them were recently labelled as witches in Akwa Ibom State, and exposed to demeaning and inhuman acts, including premature death.

Educationally, Nigerian children have a bleak future. Recent statistics indicate that about 45 percent of school age children are out of school in the country. Those lucky to be in school are put in shanties and non-conducive environments that pass as classrooms. Some of them still go to school without food and in tattered clothing. In these schools, both the quantity and quality of instruction are far below expected standard.

Right now, all available indices point to the fact that there is indeed a bleak future for Nigerian children. At birth, not many of them are lucky enough to survive the first few months due to the parlous health care system that engenders high level of infant mortality. Unfortunately, 25 percent of them die before they can reach five years of age from avoidable causes. In spite of availability of preventive measures against child-killer diseases, Nigeria is still one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the greatest figure of child deaths.

Even children that survive this level face the problem of malnutrition and stunted growth. They live in an unfriendly environment with little hope of attaining their aspirations in life. In most families, children’s opinions do not count, as they are not tolerated. The female child suffers most deprivations due to inherent discrimination in the family in favour of the male child.

One noticeable area the government has not been forthcoming is the implementation of the Child Rights Act. Though the National Assembly passed the Act in 2003, only about 18 states out of the 36 in the federation have passed the Act into law after domesticating it to suit their peculiar needs and circumstances. Passing the Act is one thing, implementing the provisions of the Act is another. Non-implementation of the Act would amount to mortgaging the future of Nigerian children.

Beyond passing the Act, all the tiers of government must take more than a passing interest in the welfare of our children. As the leaders of tomorrow, Nigerian children deserve to be offered the best in terms of education, health, environment and other indices that impinge on their overall well being. Nigerian children should be well catered for and their opinions heard and respected on issues that affect them. The present deplorable state is unacceptable.

It calls for a drastic and fundamental change for the better. That is the only way the celebration of Children’s Day can be meaningful in the country.