Tuesday, May 27, 2014 is Children’s Day in Nigeria. Though Children’s Day is marked on different days of the year in different countries of the world, the day holds same purpose for children all over the world.
United Nations, on its website submits, ‘by Resolution 836(IX) of 14 December 1954, the General Assembly recommended that all countries institute a Universal Children’s Day, to be observed as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children. It recommended that the Day was to be observed also as a day of activity devoted to promoting the ideals and objectives of the Charter and the welfare of the children of the world. The Assembly suggested to governments that the Day be observed on the date and in the way which each considers appropriate. The date 20 November marks the day on which the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1989.’
The foregoing declaration reveals the purpose for which Children’s Day was proclaimed. It is not designed to be a day of purposeless jamboree, which it has become over the years. We missed the point of the significance of the Children’s Day many years ago. I think many of our State Governments, who have announced that the day will not be marked, may be genuine in their concern, but they missed the point. I also believe that they have been misled as to equate the day with mere carnival as we have known it to be over the years. What they have actually stopped is the carnival, which in the first instance in my sincere opinion constituted a huge nuisance to the ideals of the Children’s Day. With or without the Chibok kidnap, we should have done away with such carnivals, which do not in any way hold any meaningful promises for the present and the future of the Nigerian child.
I believe that the Chibok kidnapping and the present state of the Nigerian child should have generated a serious debate today, with a view to finding a credible national way forward. Yes, we should have said no, to meaningless jamborees, which should not have been in the first instance, but we should have said a loud yes to a robust national debate, which promotes nothing but the best interest of the child. If we have done that, we would have been acting in accordance to the purpose for which the United Nations declared Children’s Day.
Permit me to opine most unequivocally that this blanked cancellation or declaration of low-key marking without a replacement does not bring the issues to the fore. It obscures them. I think it is an innocent but yet devastating attempt to deny the existence of the issues.
I keep using the word, ‘issues.’ Yes, it is deliberate. My assignment here today is to bring the issues to the fore. What are these issues? Well, having dedicated the last 17 years of my adult life to the cause of protecting the Nigerian child through a commitment to bring matters of his rights and responsibilities to the front burner of the conscience and consciousness of individual, private and public institutions, with many scars and victories, I think I have an idea of the issues. I therefore charge you to give a few minutes of your cherished time to hear me out.
Globally today, our children are troubled on all sides. From abuse in the hands of primary and secondary caregivers, civil wars, terrorist attacks, child trafficking, sex slavery, denied access to education, health care services, nutrition, poverty, just to mention a few, our children are under serious pressure and have not only been denied of their childhood but also the joy of same.
The recent UN Report on Violence against Children reveals, ‘while abuse may be at its worst in the developing world, no country is guiltless.’ The report paints the gory picture of the world children under an unprecedented siege. Today 10.5 million Nigeria children are out of school; over 17.5 million are not being reached with social services. According to a report, titled, ‘Keep Away From Schools or We’ll Kill You’: Education Under Attack in Nigeria,” released by Amnesty International in October 2013, ‘the menace of Boko Haram on the educational sector of the country has been tragic with over 70 teachers and 100 students slaughtered and forcing about 15,000 potential students out of school.’ Over 200 girls abducted from their schools have been missing since April 24, 2014 and yet there is no clue to their whereabouts. Effort to rescue them have been more imaginary than real. It has been so politicizes that it gives no room for security intelligence to prevail. From Chibok to Lagos, the fate of the Nigerian child is the same.
Now, where do we go from here? I think the state of the Nigerian child today is a reflection of the fact that the Nigerian State lacks respect for the dignity of human person. Our children bear the brunt of our primitiveness as a people because they depend on us for protection. If a nation has no respect for dignity of human person, it will find it difficult to meet the fundamental deliverables of social contract, which is clearly entrenched in our constitution. Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution provides, ‘the welfare and the security of the people shall be the primary aim of government’. Look around you, you will not need to look too far before you find agreement with your conscience that the government has completely lost its bearing when it comes to the welfare and the security of the people.’
It is time to address the real issues. Until we as a people make an unflinching commitment to respect the dignity of people in our private and public life, our nation will continue to be a fertilized breeding ground for the abuses of the old and young. Unfortunately children suffer the impact of lack of respect for dignity of human person because of their state of development, which limits their responses and options.
Permit me to submit that the undeniable evidence that the welfare and the security of the children has become the primary aim of government is the establishment of a National Policy on Child Protection. The global thinking right now in child protection is systems approach. Systems anticipate the needs and the challenges of the child and make adequate arrangement in terms of private and public social services delivery to meet these needs and challenge as at when due. Systems enforce prevention and build early-intervention mechanism as tools of child protection.
Systems do not focus on rules. The focus is on creating a balanced culture of child protection, which takes the peculiarities of the people into adequate consideration. Systems are not only satisfied with the provisions of the law. The goal is to use enlightenment and social empowerment advocacy to help the people, including the children to give expression to the letters of the law. The recent UN Report on Violence against Children, earlier referred to reveals how ineffective the law is if it is not owned by the people through the instrumentality of enlightenment thus, ‘international conventions on human rights for children have flatly failed to guarantee protections for the most vulnerable members of society.’
Until we begin to think systems in terms of our response to the welfare and the security of our children, we remain unserious and enemies of the destiny of our children. To every, Nigerian child, I declare that there is every reason to celebrate. Breath is a proof of unlimited possibility; if you have it, you have hope. I say Happy Children’s Day to our children as I charge the rest of us To Think the CHILD…Think TODAY…Think the FUTURE…