3rd September, 2012
By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Recently, three buses filled with children, apparently on child trafficking mission to the west coast of Africa, were intercepted by eagle eyed soldiers along Okene, in Kogi state. Upon interrogation, it was discovered that the children were in the dark concerning the motive of their ‘captors’. Similarly, a national daily recently published, in its front page, a story relating to the jailing, by a Special Court in Alausa, Ikeja, of a woman who was caught begging with three hired children. These two separate episodes have further reinforced the argument, in some quarters, that children are fast becoming endangered species in an increasingly troubled world.
Universally, childhood is recognized as a period of sensitivity requiring special care, attention and protection. UNICEF reports that nearly half of the world’s 49 least developed countries’ population is under the age of 18. This translates to these countries being the richest in children but poorest in terms of child survival and development. They have the highest child mortality and out-of-school children rates , as well as the lowest rate of access to basic health care, maternity services, safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Sub-Saharan African and South Asia combined, account for more than three quarters of the 100 million primary school aged children currently out of school. These children, as a result of prevalent poverty and deprivation in these countries, have been denied basic rights to dignity and human existence.
The world’s focus has been on children’s rights since 1979, when the United Nations designated that year as the International year of the child and developed a list of children’s rights. The rights included the right to love and understanding, adequate food and health, free education, play, identity and special attention of those handicapped, regardless of colour, sex, religion , national or social origin.
Child abuse involves maltreatment of children, sexual harassment, denial of education, child labour, intimidation and molestation, physical assault, neglect, and child trafficking among others. It constitutes a major threat to the development of children across the world. It could lead to depression, frustration and unplanned teenage pregnancies. In addition, it could breed apathy, hostility, stress, lack of concentration, eating disorders, excessive aggression among others. The impact of child abuse is far greater than its immediate visible effects, as experiences can shape child development negatively, with dire consequences for adult life. Research has shown that the physical, psychological, and behavioural consequences of child abuse and neglect, impact not just the child and family, but the community as a whole.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) , estimates that 80 million children aged 18 and below are engaged as labourers across the world and another 2 million involved in prostitution. The General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) as a way out of this time bomb, adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 and over 178 countries, including Nigeria have since expressed satisfaction by ratifying it. The fifty four ( 54 ) articles takes care of these ignoble acts on children, from a child`s rights to sexual and economic exploitation, to the right to his or her own opinion, education, health care, and economic opportunity.
In Nigeria, the National Assembly passed the Child`s Rights law in 2003, as a way of tackling this menace. Lagos, the commercial hub of the country and indeed a major cultural melting point, like every metropolitan area has child abuse challenges. In its concerted efforts to equally join the rest of humanity in kicking away this dehumanizing act of innocent defenceless children, the State Government signed the Child Rights Bill into law on 28th May, 2007.
The passage of the bill is in consonance with chapter IV , section 34 (1&2) of 1999 Nigerian constitution, which guarantees fundamental human rights to all Nigerians and right to human dignity . Since the law became operational in 2007, the State government has left no stone unturned in child`s rights protection and development. Government, through the Ministry of Justice, has succeeded in putting up a Memorandum of Understanding ( MOU), to extract child care commitment from uncaring parents.
To further demonstrate the state government’s commitment to the eradication of child abuse in the state, existing institutions have been strengthened and re-positioned with seasoned professionals to tackle this social menace. In tune with this commitment, the state judiciary organized training workshops for judicial and non-judicial officers on how to effectively enforce the Child`s rights Law.
Furthermore, in realization that awareness is a major requirement for effective implementation of any law, especially on rights protection, government took the bold initiative of simplifying the law for easy understanding by children. The state has also intensified its campaign against the social menace with emphasis on street hawking by children of school age through the introduction of “yellow card” which serves as warning to erring parents to desist from such acts , as they would not be spared when next their children and wards are apprehended. A 172 bed space shelter / transit home equipped with modern facilities has been built in Ipaja for victims of various categories of abuse. In order to ensure that physically challenged children are protected from mistreatment, the state government has constructed a Multi-Purpose Home at Ketu which is equally fitted with modern equipment on speech, audiology, physiotherapy designed to ensuring that special children actively adapt to their environment.
Again, with a burning desire to curtail child abuse, the State Government has introduced help lines and suggestion/complaint boxes in all its public secondary schools. The initiative is part of efforts to further promote the policy of providing the right environment for pupils to access free and compulsory education. The idea behind this initiative is to give these children who cannot speak out can write the opportunity to air their complaint through the boxes for the attention of relevant authorities.
It is important for parents to be conscious that there is a law on the rights of children and therefore take the responsibility towards protecting their children from all manners of abuses . In as much as government is playing its role effectively, parents and the society must also take up the responsibility of ensuring that children are protected. All stakeholders in the society must take the welfare of children seriously and protect them from all forms of vices, abuse and danger.
Improving the condition of children in the society requires that all stakeholders, including governments, individuals, corporate bodies, civil society organisations, NGOs and the media , make concerted effort to drum up support for the enforcement of these rights. This will help them live equal and protected lives like other members of the society, as entrenched in the Nigeria Constitution and various international conventions which the country is a signatory to.
On a final note, to properly tackle the menace of child abuse in our society, non-governmental organizations , religious groups and other stakeholders must work hand – in hand with governments across all levels in dismantling existing structure of traffickers , by educating the populace on the sanctity of human life which must be respected and protected. The reorientation and sensitising of the people on the evil of human trafficking, must be taken more seriously .Children are the joy and future of this state, Nigeria and the world. Let’s join hands to give them a befitting foundation that will equip them to be what we expect them to be tomorrow. That effort begins today.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja