26th March, 2012
Oxford dictionary defines disabled as people with a permanent illness or injury that makes it difficult for them to use part of their body completely or easily . Also, The Child Rights Act 2003 law defines a child as a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years. Therefore, the physically challenged children are under age that need to be nurtured and assisted to overcome physical, emotional and mental challenges to develop into responsible adults.
In Nigeria, the condition of the physically challenged attracts little or no attention. And because of this, the rights of the disabled are often violated, excluded and relegated in planning and national development. Children with physical disabilities need care, love, protection and special infrastructure to survive in a challenging environment. Unfortunately, in Nigeria they are unprotected and exposed to abuse, discrimination, ignored, stigmatized and exploited by families and society. In most cases, family members see disabled children as shameful creatures that are destined for doom. Consequently, most of them roam the streets for alms or are used to beg for alms.
Disabilities in Nigerian children are often caused by poliomyelitis, meningitis, cerebral malaria, accidents, self medication by pregnant women and inadequate prenatal and neonatal health care services. Regrettably, these causes are preventable. For example, failure to halt the transmission of wild polio virus in certain parts of the country may derail efforts to reduce disabled children. According to Dr. Ado Muhammad, the Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency Nigeria, 8 out of the 36 states in Nigeria are still transmitting the virus.
It is with the intent to protect the rights and privileges and stop all forms of discrimination against people with disability that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons in 1992. This was followed by the inclusion of a dedicated provision on the rights of children with disabilities in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989 as well as the coming into force of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) in 1999. This article imposed specific duties and responsibilities on African Union (AU) member States. Article 13 paragraph 1 & 3 says: every child who is mentally or physically disabled shall have the right to special measures of protection in keeping with his physical and moral needs and under conditions which ensure his dignity, promote his self-reliance and active participation in the community. While the 3rd paragraph enjoins the State Parties to the present Charter to use their available resources with a view to achieving progressively the full convenience of the mentally and physically disabled person to movement and access to public highways, building and other places to which the disabled may legitimately want to have access to. Aside the international treaties signed by Nigeria, Chapter 32 Article 42 of the 1999 constitution states:(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person :be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject; or be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions. (2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.
Despite the provisions of the Nigerian constitution and international conventions, disabled children in Nigeria are not often taken into consideration with respect to the construction of roads, highways, public buildings as well as other key public infrastructure. Aside this, most of them cannot access the special education that can enable them fulfil their God given talents and potentials. This explains why most of them often end up as beggars, uneducated, destitute, victims of rape and rituals. Furthermore, high illiteracy is due to paucity of educational structure and specialised institutions to cater for their peculiar needs. This has denied them opportunity to contribute to national development and growth.
Around the corner is this year’s celebration of the Day of the African Child, with the theme: ‘The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfil“. It is, indeed, an opportunity to examine the plight of physically challenged children in our country with the intention of using laws and social engineering to protect and promote their well being as equal members of the society. The provision of special homes with facilities, schools, free medical treatment and scholarship will boost the morale and confidence of children with disabilities to develop natural potentials.
There is an urgent need to raise awareness about their rights, capabilities and potential in order to put an end to discrimination of whatever form against them. Public and private sectors can harness resources towards the development and protection of children with physical and mental disabilities. The link between poverty and disability and vice versa can be corrected through the implementation of Millennium Development Goals, especially those targeted at children and women.
In Lagos, the commercial status of the state will continue to attract the influx of able and disabled from other parts of the federation due to available opportunities. This has, of course, placed enormous responsibilities on the government to provide for the wellbeing of the physically challenged. To meet the challenges of giving care and hope to the physically challenged children, the Lagos State Government constructed Home and Clinics for the Physically Challenged Children at Ketu, Mile 12. The recently commissioned Home is equipped with state-of –the –art facilities such as medical clinic, audiology, speech and language therapy clinics, physiotherapy clinic. Also available are dormitories, recreation centre, kitchen and dining rooms, generator and solar lamps among others. The establishment of this home for children with mental and physical disabilities is in addition to other homes put in place by the state government for adults with physical and mental challenges in the state. The objective of government in doing this is to ensure that everyone in the society, irrespective of status, is given the opportunity to fulfil his God given vision.
Improving the condition of the physically challenged, especially children, in our society requires that all major stakeholders such as governments, individuals, corporate bodies, civil society organisations, NGOs and the media make concerted effort to drum up support for the enforcement of their rights. This will help them to live equal and protected life just like other members of the society as entrenched in the Nigeria constitution and various international conventions which the country is a signatory to.
•Hassan is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa Secretariat.