By Chika Onyesi
Ahead of the commemoration of the Convention on rights of children, CRC@30, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Federal Government have tasked state governments to decisively formulate polices on the Child Rights Act to ensure swift implementation.
Speaking at a media dialogue on the rights of the Nigerian child, organised by the UNICEF, the Head, Child Rights information Bureau, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Mr. Olumide Osanyinpeju said ‘‘the lack of access to basic developmental, survival, protection and participatory needs of a child equals infringement on the rights of that child’’.
Mr. Osanyinpeju explained that a comprehensive declaration on children’s rights in Nigeria became necessary following reports of grave injustice meted out to children of all ages.
He said ‘‘High infant mortality, deficient health care, limited opportunities for basic education, alarming accounts of abused children and those exploited as prostitutes or in harmful jobs and even children in prison all constitute these injustices’’
According to Osanyinpeju, globally, there is evidence that investing in children ensures national development, as the future of any nation lies in the hands of its future generation.
But he explained that realizing children’s rights in Nigeria, especially in rural terrains which constitute the bulk of the society has become an uphill task.
He said this is why government is eager to collaborate with the media to drive the campaign to enlighten the society.
‘‘The Media is expected to drive the campaign for this programme, to bring to public awareness the utmost importance of the Child Rights Act and how it uplifts Nigerian children, with specific reference to the duty of all, the government, civil society organizations, communities, and others in upholding the Convention’’ he says
With only about 24 states implementing the Child Rights Act in Nigeria currently, Osanyinpeju says the implementation by states yet to adopt and domesticate the law, will enhance the rights and well-being of the Nigerian child.
While presenting a paper, a UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Mrs Sharon Oladiji, said ratifying the convention on the rights of the child implies that Nigeria is obligated to implement the provisions of the law in its full ramifications.
She explains that because children evolve, they need to be protected and guided to become intelligent and productive adults, they have to be safe to achieve their full potentials.
‘‘If there are provisions to assist a country on how to protect and treat the children, then we need to revisit those provisions, which includes survival rights, right to health care, education, protection from abuse and harm’’
‘‘But because of our social cultural background, some people do not believe that children have rights, those who are opposing this law do not even understand the content of the law’’
She says adhering to the law and raising the children well will be beneficial to the country in the future, as the action or inaction of government and that of duty bearers to the children will either make or mar the society in future.
Also speaking on the issue of child abuse, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Mr. Dennis Onoise, said UNICEF has began dedicated intervention in states where the issue of abuse are out of proportion.
He explained that a survey of these regions revealed a high prevalence of neglect of children, sodomy, female genital mutilation, physical and emotional abuse, exploitation and violations are rampant.
‘‘There are many children who said they can tolerate physical abuse like beating but the issue of negligence by their parents or guardians is more difficult to deal with’’. He said
Onoise said children’s sensitive nature allows them to quickly identify and feel abuse but are often powerless to act or defend themselves.
According to Onoise, ‘‘reporting and responding to issues of abuse of children should be the utmost responsibility of parents, adults and duty bearers and that is where making reference to the child rights act becomes very necessary’’
He however maintained that the child rights act requires guidelines for implementation which each state must endeavour to develop as soon as they domesticate the law.
For experts, conversations around the protection of children must continue, until every state in Nigeria domesticates and implements the Child Rights Act.