About 2,000 youth across ten states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, presented petitions to their governors, parliamentarians, policymakers and other influential persons in a mass effort to draw attention to the need to act on commitment to increased access to safe, quality education for all children, especially girls.
The action, which was supported by UNICEF, came as the world celebrated the Day of the African Child, commemorating the day in 1976 that hundreds of students were shot in Soweto, South Africa, while demonstrating for their right to quality education.
UNICEF in a statement said the Nigerian campaign for access to quality education will hold the newly-elected government officials at all levels accountable for their campaign promises to provide equitable access to free, safe and quality education for every child, especially the girl child, in Nigeria.
The ten states where the mass actions held included Bauchi, Niger, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Gombe, Adamawa, Taraba and the FCT, which have about eight million children not in school and, an average enrolment rate of only 57 per cent.
The global theme for this year’s Day of the African child is “Child rights in all situations,” including during humanitarian crises.
UNICEF observed that in Nigeria over 10.5 millions children are unable to access safe and quality education, including due to the ongoing crisis in the North-East, which has left schools destroyed, teachers unavailable, and parents terrified to send their children to school due to insecurity – especially for girl children, who have been the victim of kidnapping while at school.
“Schools should be a safe place for children – one in which they can get quality education that will put them on the path to a secure future,” said Peter Kawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria said.
“Sadly, the demand for quality education by children in Soweto, South Africa in 1976, is still valid today, in too many countries around the world. The youth actions we are seeing today across several states are a wakeup call for leaders to act on their commitments to provide quality education for all children, in all situations.”
The engagement seeks to secure commitments from national and state governments to prioritise children’s rights to education in their governance agenda, including through budgeting, in their states and at the national level.
“This engagement creates an opportunity for Nigerian youth to advocate to policy and decision makers and urge them to commit resources to education, without which the substantial number of out-of-school children in Nigeria will not be reduced,” said Peter Hawkins.
The action is calling for improved school infrastructure, a massive enrolment campaign to bring all children to school, and targeted investments to ensure an uninterrupted 12 years of schooling for girls. In addition, it hopes to extract a commitment for a 10% increase in budgetary allocation and release of funds for education, with 50 percent of the total budget to basic education, recruitment, deployment and provision of incentives for 1,000 female teachers per year and recruitment and deployment of 1000 qualified teachers per year, especially to rural areas, where they are most needed.
“The action comes as the world celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The convention is the most widely-ratified human rights treaty in history, and stipulates that every child has the right to education. It has helped to transform children’s lives, inspiring legislative changes to protect children and enabling them to participate actively in their societies. Nigeria ratifified the CRC in 1991.”
As part of the commemoration, UNICEF has released a “Passport to Your Rights,” a copy of the CRC in child-friendly language, in pocket format. UNICEF aims that every child in Nigeria has a copy by 2030 – the deadline for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The CRC ‘passport’ is also available in Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and Pidgin languages, helping to ensure access by millions of Nigerians.