In 1802, the renowned poet, William Wordsworth coined the phrase, “The child is the father of man.” It basically means that the behaviour and activities of a person’s childhood go a long way in building his personality. The future of any society can be accurately predicted based on how it treats its children. In orders words, the child is the future of any society.
The Independent Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, a consummate lover of children once said, “Children are like buds in a garden and should be carefully and lovingly nurtured, as they are the future of the nation and the citizens tomorrow. Children are not born for the benefit of their parents, neither are they the property of their family. Children belong to the future. We owe our loyalty to each other and to our children’s children, not to party politics.”
Against the backdrop of the importance of children to the future society, various multilateral institutions have made frantic efforts to institutionalise the concerns of children. For instance, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) defines a child as any person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age for adulthood lower.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a legally-binding international agreement setting out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of their race, religion or abilities.
The UNCRC consists of 54 articles that set out children’s rights and how governments should work together to make them available to all children. Under the terms of the convention, governments are required to meet children’s basic needs and help them reach their full potential. Central to this is the acknowledgment that every child has basic fundamental rights. These include the right to life, survival and development, protection from violence, abuse or neglect, and education that enables children to fulfil their potential.
In 2000, two optional protocols were added to the UNCRC. One asks governments to ensure children under the age of 18 are not forcibly recruited into their armed forces. The second calls on states to prohibit child prostitution, child pornography and the sale of children into slavery. These have now been ratified by more than 120 states.
All countries that sign up to the UNCRC are bound by international law to ensure it is implemented. This is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child
At the level of ECOWAS, there is commitment to certain obligations towards children in accordance with the Revised ECOWAS Treaty of 1993 and its associated instruments. Article 4 of the Treaty guarantees the fundamental principles of human rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. With respect to child well-being, all ECOWAS Member States have ratified and domesticated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) (1990).
In Nigeria, the major legislation that protects a child is the Child’s Right Act of 2003. This act was enacted by the National Assembly in 2003 to provide for and protect the right of every Nigerian child. It provides that the best interest of a child should be paramount in all actions that concern a child.
The Child Rights Act itself is 230 pages long and contains 278 different sections. Part I- mandates that when a child is concerned, their best interest is to take precedent. It goes on to state that the parent or legal guardian is obligated to fulfill the duty to give the child basic protection.
I have taken the pains to provide background to the global, regional and domestic instrument for the protection of the child to underscore the place of a child in the making of a prosperous society of today and tomorrow.
By way of hindsight, child abuse is not just physical violence directed at a child it is any form of maltreatment by an adult, which is violent or threatening the child, any intentional harm or mistreatment to a child under 18 years is considered child abuse.
The consequences of child abuse is that children who were maltreated or abused are at risk for other cognitive problems, including difficulties in learning and paying attention, poor mental and emotional health. childhood maltreatment is a risk factor for depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders through out adulthood.
Despite the efforts put in place to guarantee the happiness of our children and ensure they grow into a balanced adulthood, we are still a far cry from what it should be. With punishments well spelt out, parents or the society would be afraid to trample on the rights of the child with impunity.
I observed during President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s 2023 presidential campaigns that many children were part of the rallies where they gave all their efforts to seek votes for him. They plunged into the campaign, hoping that if he becomes president, he would push for effective legislation and sign executive orders to accommodate their needs.
As a way of rewarding them, the Tinubu administration has a lot of work to do. For example, the various instruments relating to Child care should be justiceable. It should be made mandatory, such that if a child is denied of these right, he/she can seek redress in the court of law.
President Tinubu should also strengthen institutions like the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP), a federal government agency established to fight trafficking in persons using the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act of 2003. This agency can play dual role.
Also, the police prosecution units can be empowered through training and retraining on the modern technique in prosecution relating to child abuse. In Advanced Society, children are at liberty to call the law enforcement for rescue or intervention.
The Tinubu administration should also work towards ending the Amajiri system, one of the most dreaded for if child abuse in Nigeria where innocent children are unleashed on the streets of Northern Nigeria to beg around for food, when they should be in school learning towards securing a better future.
The Almajiri children pose great threats to Nigeria’s security architecture, with bandits, kidnappers, and Boko Haram exploiting them to get recruits from them by taking advantage of their poverty and illiteracy. While many concerned Nigerians have raised a dissenting voice against the perilous web over the years, it has rather become worrisome that the practice has only continued to have negative impact on the development of Nigeria.
The main culprits of this kind of child abuse are the Almajiri) parents. While they are the first agents of socialisation for the children, the parents have failed these kids. Thus, the real sensitisation needs to start with them. There is a need for timely sensitization for these parents on the dangers of kids who are left uncatered for, as well as the need for them to stop seeing childbirth as competition or something just to brag about. Serious sanctions should be meted out to parents whose kids roam about the streets.
While we call on the Tinubu-led government to tackle the menace, the society has a lion’s share of the responsibilities towards tackling the menace of the Almajirai, as well. There is a need for more voluntary organisations to be at the forefront of struggles against the Almajiri system. As well, there is a need for full implementation of the Child Rights Act 2003 which states in Section 15(1) that “Every child has the right to free, compulsory, and universal basic education, and it shall be the duty of the government in Nigeria to provide such education.”
As Nehru rightly pointed out, children are not born for the benefit of their parents, neither are they the property of their family. Children belong to the future. We owe our loyalty to each other and to our children’s child. This is the right way to go!
– Ibrahim is director, Communication and Strategic Planning, of the Presidential Support Committee (PSC).