IN a few days to come, we will be celebrating another Children’s Day on May 27 and just two days after, the Democracy Day on May 29. Usually, every 27th May is set aside by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to honour children, recognize their needs and address their plights in a day set aside as the International Children’s and Youth Day. Ordinarily, it should elicit some felicitation because of who a child stands for. It should have been an opportunity to reflect on the state of Nigerian children, who are in their multitude disadvantaged. What should readily comes on any Children’s Day, is the need to celebrate our young people, to share in their dreams, feel their pains, reflect on their future and renew the commitments of all in promoting their cause in this adult-dominated society. Regrettably, many people in Nigeria seem not to appreciate the essence of the two days mentioned above that have more or less become a mere ritual.
This year may not be different as only a few children, who are privileged to be in school are likely to be in the celebration mood. Many of them continue to fall victims to societal violence and deprivation such as abductions, illiteracy, poverty, hunger, disease, squalor, abuse and untimely death. It is disturbing that many school-age children are not in formal schools, worsening the high illiteracy level in the country. Access to qualitative education remains a mirage for many; capacity is low and access limited. Children who manage to make it to public schools often have bitter experiences because of the dearth of basic infrastructure that are required for effective teaching and learning.
Many reports allude to the fact that Nigeria is the worst country to be born in 2013. Other credible reports have for years been screaming about the parlous fate of the Nigerian child most especially, in the areas of health and education. Infant mortality in the country is still one of the highest in the world. UNICEF says about one million Nigerian children die each year before their fifth birthday. No child would want to be born in such a country where they are vulnerable to criminal attacks ranging from armed robbers to abductors, rapists, kidnappers and terrorists. In many parts of the country, children move in hordes in the street, begging for alms and selling all sorts of things imposed on them by their parents and guardians. Such children and young people easily become prey to mischievous persons who also use them to foment civil unrest during political events.
Just a few days ago, as I was fixing my car at a mechanic workshop, I met a young girl of about eight year old hawking some sachets of ‘pure’ water to artisans, which I counted to be six pieces (costing N60). What baffled me most was the way the older boys and men were abusing this girl. I felt highly depressed that apart from the fact that she had to beg them profusely to pay for what they had bought from her. They were making advances at the eight-year old and tossing her about like a toy. I wonder what would happen to her unprotected if she continues to sell ‘pure’ water to these men that could well pass for paedophiles!
Many of the underage; girl-children in the North are still being given out or sold out in marriage to men that are old enough to father them accounting for why Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) is very rampant in those parts of the country. The Nigerian child still fall victim to preventable or treatable infectious diseases – such as pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, HIV/AIDS, malaria and malnutrition – that have been taken for granted by less endowed nations. UNICEF had also observed that despite collective efforts, under-five mortality rate has increased rather than reduce in recent years in our country. It has also been observed that recent kidnappings and violent attacks had made it extremely difficult for children in the North to get proper education because thousands of families are fleeing their homes and pulling their children out of school. It was reported that in the last few weeks of Chibok abductions, many children in the Northern-Eastern state of Borno had stopped attending classes. No wonder and in their subtle way, Nigeria’s Children’s Parliament has vowed to boycott this year’s Children’s Day celebration if the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls were not found before the day. Its National Speaker, Idara Thompson, made the disclosure at the end of the 2014 national and state Children’s Parliament Retreat held recently in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
But how did we get to this point? Of course, poor quality of governance at all levels is the bane of the Nigerian child. This is so because not much attention is given to the welfare and the future of our children due to the absence of sustainable public policies, ignorance, gender discrimination, harmful religious practices and corruption in the sense that public resources – that would have been used to develop primary health care system, provide potable water, sanitation, open up rural communities, social services and make education accessible to the ordinary citizens – are mismanaged. The plight of the vulnerable Nigerian child is a product of poor leadership. Hence, there should be more focus on identifying the problems of violence and abuse against children in schools by working assiduously to addressing them in the interest of the kids. Efforts by government to educate Nigerian children through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme have not achieved much success. There is, therefore, the need to urgently overhaul the operations of this scheme if it will ever be relevant. Governments at all levels should consider re-engineering the UBE scheme so as to guarantee that the young Nigerian child receive sound basic education, which is a constitutional obligation.
Parents should also be more active in reducing adversaries lurking around their children. Unfortunately, many of them have abdicated their responsibilities by placing the search for wealth above their children’s need, thus making them vulnerable to various forms of social abuse. The high prevalence of broken homes in the country has certainly had its negative impact on the moral upbringing of children. These children, in a bid to find close companions to pour out their minds, worries and material needs often end up in the wrong hands. They are exploited, abused and traumatized. Parents should be blamed for this. They should realize that there is little that educational institutions can do to retrain or re-orientate a child with a very bad upbringing, with zero moral inclinations. The alarming rate of poverty ravaging parents has serious negative effects on the children as many of them fail to provide these innocent souls with basic comfort of life at home.
More importantly, many states are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act. They should help the Nigeria child by doing so without further delay. This legal loophole is an impetus to why child abuse festers in our society. Public bureaucracies that are responsible for combating child abuse, child labour, child-trafficking and other forms of societal problems should ensure that these children are not exposed to dangers by performing their statutory responsibilities. It will be worthwhile to celebrate the Children’s Day and by extension, Democracy Day, when the Nigeria child is accorded their deserved dignity.
Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, vide, email@example.com, Twitter, @AdewaleKupoluyi