Our children today are under an unprecedented siege of breathtaking abuses in the hands of primary and secondary caregivers and peers. Bizarre cases of child abuse, including but not limited to physical, sexual, emotional and neglect have today become regular and seemingly insurmountable features in our print, electronic and new media.
The rampancy of abuse and our seeming cluelessness has become disturbing and disgusting monuments of national shame, portraying us as a nation, who cannot protect her own precious children, our most precious citizens, who Dr. Mandela referred to as ‘the pivotal link between the present and the future.’ As it today, the dire state of our dear children must propel every sane member of the society to seek an urgent reverse, find lasting solutions and provide ironclad protection for our precious children.
As urgent and important as the need to to seek an urgent reverse, find lasting solutions and provide ironclad protection for our precious children is, it seems many of the members of the African continent, including major stakeholders (primary and secondary caregivers) seem to be clueless about how to achieve same. Those who seem to know what to do seem not be ready to throw the first salvo of engaging the members of the society on same for sundry reasons, which may be subjects of our discussion in days ahead.
Having, spent the last 18(eighteen) practicing child protection and providing homegrown and effective solutions to leading national and international organizations in Africa and beyond, I am compelled to come to the rescue of an agonizing nation and our precious children. I shall in this all-important piece share what I consider to be the 21st century approach to child protection, which we must all embrace as matter of necessity if we are genuinely interested in protecting our precious children, preserve thier priceless childhood and prepare them for a glorious future.
There was this erroneous belief across the countries and continents of the world that the abusers of children were strangers. Through research and experience, the world and United Nations woke up to the rude reality that children all over the world are mostly abused by those closest to them. It has been found that the closer the access a person has to a child, the higher the possibility of abuse.
It has also been found that most of the people, who abuse children, are not necessarily wicked, heartless or deliberate as many have believed. The real issue is that most abusers simply lack the knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do) and attitude (the fortitude to do) as it relates to protecting children. Most abusers treat today’s children same way they were treated growing up because many of them did not experience peaceful childhood. It is important to note that whatever informs the abuse of children, (wickedness, heartlessness or ignorance) does not change or assuage the negatively high impact of abuses on children.
The immediate response of the world to the foregoing reality was known as issue-based approach to child protection. Issue-based focused on responding to cases of abuse of children as issues arose that threatened the existence of children and encourage abuse. The strength of such response was simply policing against abuse of children. Experience revealed that such approach was inadequate as it did provide total and synergised efforts at providing holistic protection for children. Again, the issue-based approach was stronger in responding to cases of abuse than preventing same.
It is a globally accepted fact that it is better to prevent abuse of children than to begin to respond after children have been abuse. It has been found that the abuse of children is eternal except there is divine intervention. According to UNICEF, it costs 4 times more to respond to abuse than to prevent same.
In response to the foregoing reality, the world began to think about lasting solution to child protection. The world struck gold or arrived at is Eureka moment when it found that the best approach to protecting children holistically; preventing and responding to child protection needs of the child is the Systems Approach to Child Protection.
What is Child Protection Systems? According to UNICEF, Child Protection Systems are ‘a set of laws, policies, regulations and services, capacities, monitoring, and oversight needed across all social sectors—especially social welfare, education, health, security, and justice—to prevent and respond to protection-related risks.’
Child Protection System has 3(three) main components, namely, goal or set of goals, interdependence of forces of protection and balance of forces of protection.
By the reason of the foregoing, children everywhere and anywhere and under any circumstance in the world today are not considered safe until there is an established and operating Child Protection Systems, codified into a Child Protection Policy. The foregoing means family members, community people, state functionaries and international community personnel must establish Child Protection Systems in their domains before they could boast of any form of protection for the children under their jurisdictions.
I think it is important to point out certain fundamental implications of the foregoing 21st Century Reality on child protection:
1. Any institution, which holds out itself to be responsible for giving care to children either as policy makers or primary and secondary caregivers(family, community, state and international community), which does not make deliberate efforts to have in a place Child Protection Systems exposes children to extreme danger and puts them in harm’s way of all forms of abuse. Such institution cannot be said to be any way serious about children, their
protection and preservation of childhood.
2. As primary caregivers at the level of the family, we must develop a domestic Child Protection Systems, codified in our Family Child Protection Policy. The policy must establish a protective environment for the child within the home and immediate neighborhood of the family. One of the high points and an inevitable provision or resolution of the Family Child Protection Policy must be that the family will never hand over their children to any secondary caregiver, no matter the pressure except such secondary caregivers have in place a comprehensive and working Child Protection Systems, codified in a Child Protection Policy, which takes into cognizance the fact that every child matters and provides protection for children as individuals.
The family must understand that the question to ask an institution of learning at the point of trusting their children with same is not if children are safe under their care. This is the normal and general question that those who lack child protection intelligence ask. The question to ask the institution of learning is this: what are the professional measures in terms of Child Protection Systems have they deliberately put in place to provide full protection to the children under their care?
3. Secondary caregivers, particularly, institutions of learning (schools) must make an unalloyed commitment to be 21st Century compliant in respect of child protection by embracing fully the inevitable need to establish Child Protection Systems, codified in a policy within their domains.
An institution of learning must embrace the Child Protection Systems as a culture to be established and entrenched within their domain. The way to achieve this is through enlightenment. It means involving everyone (leadership, management, academic staff, non-academic staff, and support staff) in the training and processes establishing the Child Protection Systems. It is also important to note that if Child Protection Systems must become a culture, it must be entrenched through consistent and regular monitoring and training. Our monitoring and training also must take into consideration our peculiarities as Africans.
4. The government, which is the third ring of protection, must by any means necessary create an enabling environment, show commitment to drive the efforts to establish Child Protection Systems in both the private and public sector and enforce same as a matter of national interest and urgency.
5. Lastly, the members of the public, particularly the media must make it a point of duty to hold government at all levels responsible to their duty of ensuring that Systems approach to Child Protection is embraced both as regulatory bodies and enforcement entities.
At the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, held on Monday, May 08, 1995, Dr. Nelson Mandela opened his speech thus, ‘there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ He further soberly submitted and I find this very apt to us as a nation today, ‘we come from a past in which the lives of our children were assaulted and devastated in countless ways. It would be no exaggeration to speak of a national abuse of a generation by a society which it should have been able to trust. As we set about building a new South Africa, one of our highest priorities must therefore be our children…’ Dr Mandela concluded, instructing the continent thus, ‘our actions and policies, and the institutions we create, should be eloquent with care, respect and love.’
It is important to note that as we move in the direction the canvassed position, we must understand that as Africans, we will not get Child Protection Systems rights and working in accordance to desired results, until we take into cognizance our peculiarities as Africans and build home-grown solutions, which acknowledge same. We must note and accept that principles are universal but its application and workability are peculiar to individuals, organizations, nations and continents, who seek to apply same.
I beg to rest my case here as I earnestly await a new Nigeria, where our children shall become our priority and their protection our number one priority.
Charging you to Think the CHILD, Think TODAY, Think the FUTURE, I am Taiwo Akinlami and I remain sober on my knees on the Lord’s day.