Wednesday, 28 May 2014

How to Secure Nigerian Child

The Nigerian child, if lucky to be alive, has travelled the narrow path of neglect in many ways. He has been through physical, psychological, emotional and social neglect. One in five children in the country dies before the age of five due to minor preventable ailments that have long been eradicated in other climes; while yet others have been orphaned due to AIDS-related disease or inter-tribal wars or as a result of activities of insurgents. It has been estimated that over two million girls are subjected to genital mutilation every year, a practice still rampant in some parts of Nigeria and all religious groups. Intervention into the practice is considered as a violation of privacy, yet many girls face several health risks through this, including severe bleeding and contraction of HIV infection through the use of unhygienic methods in carrying out the procedure. Statistical data show that adolescent girls have HIV rate up to five per cent higher than their male counterparts.
According to a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation report, one out of every five Nigerian children is out of school, topping the table of 12 other countries with which it accounts for 47 per cent of the global out-of-school population. The countries are Pakistan, Ethiopia, India, Philippines, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Others include Niger, Kenya, Yemen, Mali and South Africa.
On the other hand, the Global Education Monitoring Report in 2014 reveals that Nigeria’s out- of- school population has grown by 3.4 million. In essence, this translates into the fact that the country has made less progress or at best regressed from achieving Universal Primary Education by 2015. And according to the United Nations Children Education Fund, almost one of three primary school age children and one in four secondary school age children are in school.
Only recently, it was disclosed that over 10 million Nigerian children are out of school and sadly over nine million of these came from the Northern part of the country, the stronghold of the Islamic terrorist insurgents – Boko Haram. Since 2012, Boko Haram has targeted schools in Northern Nigeria where dozens of schools have been attacked or burnt down. In the last three months alone, the United Nations reported that at least 15,000 children in the northern part of the country have stopped attending school. In a single attack in February this year in Yobe State, 45 children were killed. As if this was not enough, on April 14, over 200 girls were abducted from their dormitory in Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State because they chose to go to school, an action that has generated wide condemnation and outrage both nationally and internationally.
In Nigeria, most children contribute to the economic well-being of their families through hawking and sundry work to generate additional income. Around 15 million Nigerian children under the age of 14 work in extreme hazardous conditions. These expose them to physical and psychological abuse, while they can be run over by moving vehicles or kidnapped for ransom or ritual purposes. The girls among them run the risk of being raped. At least one in five girls in the country has been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. It is now a common occurrence to hear of girls being frequently raped, irrespective of their ages. Today, of all girls’ fears, that of being raped is the darkest. The rape epidemic in our society reflects the extent to which girl (human) rights are being violated. Curiously, age is no longer a barrier to who can be a victim. It has gone so bad that minors, as young as four years old, are now being raped with resultant effect of preventing the victims from socialising or settling down later in life.
Boys are not left out as they are now being recruited by militants and insurgents, which consequently results in them turning to enemies of their families as well as that of the nation. Recently, a 15-year-old boy from the Northern part of the country and a former member of the Boko Haram sect revealed how he was recruited into the fold and how he ceased to be a member of the sect when he was told to kill his father. Interestingly, he had been trained on how to handle and use weapons.
It is therefore imperative that government at all levels ensures the safety of all children in the country. Also, we need to ensure that our children are healthy, educated and have their rights respected with support from all stakeholders. The Chibok girls’ experience is a case study in ensuring a safe environment for our children to learn and has further revealed the need for us as a nation to prioritise issues of girl-child education. This is the right time for us to ensure that no one is left behind as the country moves towards achieving the Education for All goal. The country needs a clear set of public actions that embrace issues of gender, religious, political and mental diversity to address not only economic shocks, but also social vulnerabilities.
Non-Governmental Organisations should be ready to complement government efforts in this regard. Their activities should be geared towards emphasising the importance of students’ safety and well-being for effective learning in all school settings and also the general well-being of the Nigerian children. Also, a National Social Protection policy for the Nigerian child is needed as part of major steps to be taken in government’s efforts to reduce poverty in the country. In the words of Mohandas Gandhi: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children”.
It is, therefore, vital that all stakeholders join hands in fighting the wars that are threatening the very existence of the Nigerian child. Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States of America, once referred to children, and truly so, as the most valuable resource. Consequently, every member of the society ought to treat children as priceless jewels to be protected from all forms of danger. As we celebrate this year’s Children’s Day, let us unite in saying no to terrorism and all other such tendencies that could endanger the lives of our children. Happy Children Day!
• Bakare, a public health education specialist, is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja



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