The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recent report listed Nigeria as one of the 15 countries in which children suffered extreme violence in 2018. The report entitled ‘How the world failed children in conflict in 2018,’ accused Nigerian of failing to protect children from the deadly activities of Boko Haram.
Other countries listed in the report are Afghanistan, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Myanmar, Palestine, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.
On the situation of children in Nigeria, the report noted that in the North-East, armed groups, including Boko Haram factions, have continued to target girls. According to the report, the defenceless girls were raped, forced to become wives of fighters or used as human bombs.
The report noted that in North-East Nigeria, the Lake region of Chad, extreme north of Cameroon and Diffa region of Niger, at least 1,041 schools are closed or non-functional due to violence, fear of attacks or unrest, affecting nearly 445,000 children.
The report also pointed out that in the Lake Chad Basin, the ongoing conflict, displacement and attacks on schools, teachers and other education facilities have put the education of 3.5 million children at risk.
In Nigeria, children have suffered untold trauma in the hands of the Boko Haram insurgents. In February 2014, about 58 students of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, were killed when the insurgents invaded the school. They also abducted 18 female students, burnt classrooms, hostels and 40 houses in the community.
On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram insurgents attacked the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, and abducted about 276 schoolgirls. Some of the girls had been released. Also on February 18, 2018, 110 female students of Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State, were abducted from the school by Boko Haram insurgents. Most of the girls had been released, except Leah Sharibu.
It is distressing that Nigerian children are let down by the government which should protect them. This is in clear contravention of Part 11 of the Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003.
Nigeria was, in the 2018 Global Peace Index (GPI) ranked the 16th least peaceful country in the world. The report ranked Nigeria 148 out of the total 163 countries surveyed. Children are among the most vulnerable victims of armed conflicts. Beyond their ordeals in conflict areas, the Nigerian children daily contend with other forms of abuse and deprivation inflicted on them by the society. In many parts of the country, children suffer varying degrees of physical and psychological torture.
Female minors are married off to men old enough to be their grandfathers in some parts of the country, while many of them that should be in school are busy hawking in traffic or serving as aides to beggars roaming the streets. Pupils in schools are sexually abused by their teachers. Many of the kid hawkers are raped, while some others become victims of ritual killers.
In many homes across the country, underage children are employed as houseboys or housemaids in clear violation of the Child Rights Act.
That Nigeria has failed in protecting the rights of children is not in doubt. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not in the list of child-friendly nations. In 2017, Nigeria was placed in the 78th position in the list of best countries to live in as a child.
As UNICEF noted, children living in conflict zones are among the least likely to be guaranteed their rights. Yet the primary responsibility of government is the protection of the lives of its citizens, including the most vulnerable, especially children. It is sad that the government has not done so well in this area. The government must rise up and ensure that children are protected in every part of the country. Laws that guarantee the rights of children must be enforced and appropriate recompense must be administered to violators.