The recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that at least three in every five children in Nigeria suffer from one form of abuse or another before their 18th birthday underscores the need for the full implementation of the Child’s Rights Law. The UNICEF Country Representative to Nigeria, Mr. Mohammed Fall, who disclosed this during this year’s celebration of World Children’s Day, bemoaned the fact that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.
It is also estimated that over 70 per cent of Nigerian children experience multiple incidents of violence. The report by the global agency has offered the government another opportunity to solve the basic problems facing Nigerian children.
Apart from having the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, Nigeria also has the highest rate of child and infant mortality in the world. We decry the plight of Nigerian children and call on the government to build a world where every child will be in school, and safe from harm. There is no doubt that Nigerian children have an important role to play in national development. But, they cannot play this role when many of them are outside the school system.
We, therefore, urge the government to recommit itself to policies that will address all forms of abuses, especially those that prevent children from attaining their God-given potentials so that they are not left behind. Government ought to be mindful of the fact that “it is the generation of children growing up today who will take their place as Nigeria’s leaders tomorrow, and, who will be able to accelerate the progress we make now.” Let government use the occasion of this year’s World Children’s Day to end child abuse in the country.
It is, indeed, sad that Nigeria is among countries with the highest number of out-of-school children yet to benefit from advances in child rights. It is not good that Nigeria is witnessing rising cases of child abuse, despite government’s claimed efforts to check the menace. In 2016, a nine-year-old Korede Taiwo was reportedly chained by his father. The minor was also starved for over a month before concerned neighbours alerted security agents, who rescued the victim.
The poor boy was punished for stealing. His father said the boy was possessed of “stealing spirit”. This was the height of parental cruelty and child abuse. Korede Taiwo’s case may not be the only one in the country. Reports of abuse of children abound in the country. Nigerian children are also trafficked and subjected to all manner of ill-treatments under the guise of parental training.
It is unfortunate that children are daily abused in the country despite Nigeria’s signing the Child’s Rights Act and other international legislations against child abuse. Specifically, Section 34(1) (a) of the Constitution states that “no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.” We are of the opinion that the protection of children against all forms of abuse, including defilement and rape is a collective effort of all tiers of government, parents and civil society organisations.
While the government should do much more than it has already done, new legislations should be initiated by the National Assembly to make child abuse a serious offence with severe punishment. In the same vein, Nigerians should be vigilant and sensitive to the treatment of our children. Our cultural antecedents should not be used to abuse children. For instance, street hawking by children exposes them to multiple incidents of abuse. The government must understand that attention to early years for every child still matters. It should be given the needed priority.
The 2017 UNICEF report showed that “early moments matter for every child.” It also revealed that about 11.5 million out of 22.2 million children in Nigeria under the age of five are at risk of poor development because they lack childhood support. About 2,300 of such children die as a result of inadequate childhood support. Both the government and parents must do something to improve our ranking on global human development indexes. Government must put measures in place to protect Nigerian children and curb child abuse.