THE children that the society neglects today that are going to be its problem tomorrow. Forget about the high fences people think will protect them because; these children will scale through such fences. Leaving them on the streets has equipped them with the tactic to do something else rather than protect the society.” Those were the words of a very wise man I met two years ago. Oladayo Idowu is the Founder and International President of the Children of Promise Ministries (CHIPROM), a not-for-profit, non-governmental and non-denominational children transition home.
After living in Canada for almost three decades, he returned to Nigeria with the flaming hot passion to keep children off the streets. There is no gainsaying the fact that embedded in the womb of every action, is a consequence, but precariously interred in inactions are graver repercussions.
According to the philanthropist I interacted with two years ago, in all the years he lived in Canada, if people came across a child on the street during school hours, the child is naturally picked up and taken back to school or home, but when he returned to Nigeria, he saw children all around the place during school hours and nobody apparently cared. When I was young, I was told ad nauseam that “children are the leaders of tomorrow.” So, I dreamt a pretty dream till I grew sapient and rationally snapped out of my fantasy.
Where are the leaders of tomorrow today? Randomly dispersed on the streets and highways, condemned to a life- time of intense labour, hawking all sorts of merchandise. It is abominable that at this epoch of self acclaimed development in Nigeria, one will find minors on the streets at school hours transacting business. Woefully, it is the norm. An average Nigerian wouldn’t feel any pang of guilt from purchasing sachet water from a seven-year-old racing sporadically after a bus on a gridlocked highway during school hours. Ironically, this is a country where the Child Rights Act was adopted over a decade ago!
On an auspicious day in November, two decades and a half ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Shortly afterwards, in July 1990, the African Union Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRWC).
Nigeria signed both international instruments and ratified them in 1991 and 2000 respectively. Both instruments contain a universal set of standards and principles for survival, development, protection and participation of children, while recognising children as human beings and subjects of rights. In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In spite of all this international bureaucracy, it is nauseating, unnerving and unequivocally irksome that all of this is a mirage. Every day in this country, children are subjected to various kinds of barbarism that the child rights law is meant to abolish. Some Nigerian states have outrightly disagreed to enact the child’s right law, while the few that have complied have done so to simply fulfill all righteousness since they have failed to implement the law. Nigeria’s Child Rights Act is redundant and despicably non functional. Did Nigeria sign those laws to fulfill international obligations, or just to be on the list of nations that have ratified the UN convention?
All of this should reveal one fact – the phrase “children are the leaders of tomorrow” is a brainwash that has been hypocritically sold over several centuries. The fact is this, the leaders of today have become fat tyrants, power dipsomaniacs who will rather stare while the leaders of tomorrow evaporate on highways in a bid to perpetuate their pedestals in government houses than implement a bill that will uphold the national future.
Handling this demeanor as a trifle is equivalent to condemning the collectivity of Nigerians to the executioner’s axe.
Part III – protection of the rights of a child 30 (2 a- f) explicitly states the following: A child shall not be used—(a) for the purpose of begging for alms, guiding beggars, prostitution, domestic or sexual labour or for any unlawful or immoral purpose; or (b) as a slave or for practices similar to slavery such as scale or trafficking of the child, debt bondage or serfdom and forced or compulsory labour; (c) for hawking of goods or services on main city streets, brothels or highways; (d) for any purpose that deprives the child of the opportunity to attend and remain in school as provided for under the compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act; (e) procured or offered for prostitution or for the production of pornography or for any pornographic performance; and (f) procured or offered for any activity in the production or trafficking of illegal drugs and any other activity relating to illicit drugs as specified in the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act.
All of these and several other ills against the child, considered internationally as any mortal below the age of 18, still reigns supreme in Nigeria after a decade of adopting the Child Rights Act. Pathetic!
Out of 36 states in Nigeria, only 26 states, as at May 2014, have been able to sign the CRA into their state law. For most of the states that have signed it into their state laws, they have not been able to domesticate these laws in accordance with the provisions of the act because, even in those states, the status quo has remained the same. The vices that the act seeks to abolish have not been curbed in the compliant states either. There is no superstructure that will give meaning to the law. No one has been sentenced for breaching the law, even in the supposed compliant states.
A landmark legislative achievement has not yet translated into improved legal protection throughout the federation. Nigeria has been unable to deal with several issues hindering the protection rights of children. So of what use is the adoption of the Child Rights Act?
As much as I hate to, I will have to say good luck to the Nigerian child on the street, but we mustn’t forget that the repercussion of neglecting a child will, like death, come calling. Then, consolidated we shall sway to the tune of the oboe that was paid no heed!