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The Nigerian Child: A Future So Bleak

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Author: Nigerian Vanguard
Posted to the web: 6/14/2005 11:21:31 PM

IDOWU, a 10  year old boy who sells sachet water at  the popular Mile Two bus stop, Lagos,  told Vanguard  last Friday that he was involved in the business to pay  his school fees. He further told our reporter that he lived with his parents and attended LA primary school at Owoyemi area where he is a primary four pupil.  Although he had a swollen boil on his thigh, Idowu who had exhausted his stock of sachet  water  for the day was rough-handled by a fellow who looked like one of the touts inside the park.  He burst into tears immediately. When asked what was amiss by our reporter, he pointed to the boil indicating that the rough-looking fellow had hit him there. He told Vanguard that there were many other child hawkers of his age at the ever-busy bus stop. Chukwudi, another 16 year old boy who sells  biscuits and other confectioneries at Oshodi told Vanguard that he left school at Abakiliki the Ebonyi State capital for Lagos last  December. He said he was in class two in a  junior secondary school in the town  and hoped to return to school next December. Idowu and Chukwudi are among an estimated 12 million Nigerian children who are currently out of school. This situation was confirmed by the Federal Ministry of Education in a report it published in October last year. This startling revelation by the ministry was the source of worry for participants at a workshop on the Economic Implication of Human Trafficking and Child labour. Mrs. Carol Ndaguba, the Executive Secretary for the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons ( NAPTIP)  who was one of the participants at the workshop said the trend negated the philosophy of the Universal Basic Education ( UBE) which is supposed to be free and compulsory and is aimed at providing qualitative education for Nigerian children. The report of the ministry buttressed a report that was published earlier in the year by the International Labour Organisation ( ILO) which indicated that 15 million Nigerian children were working in the country. The report further showed that out of this number of child workers, six  million were  not in school. and two million were exposed to very long working hours. The ILO observation is also in consonance with that of many Nigerian human rights activists who have been keen observers of the plight of children in the country over the years. Indeed, child labour has been rampant in the country for a long time. For instance, the practice of keeping children as house boys or maids has been common in many Nigerian families. Indeed, the demand for such house boys and maids has always been high.  Although many of such house boys and maids used to be relatives of their guardians, there have been  many cases where those in desperate need of them procured such children through merchants who are involved in full time trafficking of children. Commenting on the situation, the Executive Director of Child Help in Legal Defence of Rights to Education (CHILDREN), Mr. Debo Adeniran told Vanguard  that : “ There were people who bring such children to work as house girls and boys even when they are under-aged. Many of them are used as slaves; not just as child workers”. Adeniran said that if such children were employed as child workers, they could be better treated, well fed and even sent to school.“ But the child slaves are kept under perpetual enslavement; they don’t eat or sleep on time. They don’t have recreation,” he said. Adeniran also agreed that a large number of Nigerian children were out of school. Commenting further on the situation, Adeniran said that in Lagos, only 2.5 million out of  five million children of school age were in school. He expressed regret that even out of this number in school, one million of them were attending unapproved schools.He continued: “Nobody monitors the curriculum of this large number of children who attend unapproved schools. Nobody monitors whether they are being taught properly.” Adeniran informed that such children are  likely to end up as mediocres.Said he: “ These children cannot recover what they have lost in formal education. This is a serious handicap because later in life they would find it difficult to cope with performance of many tasks in life”.There is no doubt that children who were denied education and exposed too early to the vagaries of adult life have felt  traumatised for the rest of their lives. For instance, several women who were denied education during their childhood and given out in marriages in Anambra State recently lamented how their lives became stunted through such marriages.  The ladies who hailed from Umuerum community in Anyamelum local government area of the state said they were between the ages of nine and 12 when they were given out  in marriage without their consent to men who were between the ages of 70 and 80. This shocking discovery was made by UNICEF officials during a dialogue session with the people of the community as part of their sensitisation tour of communities in the area. One of the victims of early marriage who identified herself as Virginia Edochie narrated how she got married at the age of nine and gave birth to her first baby at the age of 12, adding that the marriage was contracted by her parents without her consent. She told the UNICEF team that she had a painful experience during her first pregnancy and subsequent ones because she was not yet adequately matured physically and mentally for childbirth. Mrs. Edochie said the practice was still common in the area as aged men still take young girls below the age of 15 as wives thereby denying them education and  exposing them to the  many risks associated with child delivery at a premature age. Other members of the community confirmed what Mrs. Edochie said. The discovery in Anambra was only news in the Southern part of the country. This age-old practice has generally been known to be rampant in the northern parts of the country. In  fact, the prevalence of vesico vaginal fistula ( VVF) - a common disease among under-aged girls who got married  in the northern part of the country- is associated with this tradition. Other diseases which have been ravaging Nigerian children for many years now include malaria which  by far remains the most common cause of  infant mortality in the country. According to a study conducted by UNICEF in 2001, malaria accounted for 30 percent of diseases and deaths among Nigerian children. According to the report entitled “Children’s and Women’s Rights in Nigeria: A Wake Up Call; Situation Assessment and Analysis 2001', other common diseases that lead to death among children in the country and their degree of severity  are: vaccine preventable diseases (VPD)- 22 percent; diarrhoea- 19 percent, Acute Respiratory Tract Infections ( ART)- 16 percent; Typhoid three percent, malnutrition, two percent and others eight percent. Apart from children who die through these diseases, there are many others who get physically or mentally scarred for life. And many of such children who are from poor homes also end up being denied education. Observers believe that the future of this generation of children really looks bleak since they are denied education which imbues children with basic life-supporting skills. This view is shared by Adeniran who maintains  that such children whose development are stunted are a threat to the entire society as they are likely to become social deviants. According to him: “We are likely to have more cases of violence from children who did not go to school.”He continued: “ In years to come, the  2.5 million children who are out of school in Lagos today would have become prostitutes, robbers and area boys. When you have a large number of   people who are social deviants, it may become very difficult for the society to exercise control over them”. In fact, there are indications that  what Adeniran predicted is already manifesting. Although lack of comprehensive data makes it  difficult to determine children’s level of involvement in crime in the country today, media reports indicate that most violent crimes committed in Nigeria are carried out by either young adults or teenagers. One media source citing the Police,  reported that three out of every 10 criminals arrested in the big cities of Lagos, Ibadan, Kano and Onitsha are under the age of 18. Media reports  revealed  that  these young criminals often use powerful firearms including machine guns and tend to be ruthless in their operations, terrorising communities, hijacking vehicles at gun point and often shooting to kill in the course of conducting  robbery attacks  or hijacks. According to the UNICEF report, “ A reflection of this state of urban quasi-anarchy is the prevalence of such groups as the area boys of  Lagos, the Yandaba boys in Kaduna, as well as their other counterparts in other cities as well as the touts who operate virtually in all places of public activity from motor parks to consulates”.  For instance, it is well known to residents of Lagos that area boys and similar groups engage in molestation of motorists and pedestrians with the aim of extorting money. They also run protection rackets in markets and at night engage in petty violent crimes using weapons such as knives and broken bottles. Observers believe that the only way the society’s future could be protected from this type of unfolding anarchy is for the state governments to  incorporate the Child Rights Act into their body of laws. In this manner the rights of children would become compulsorily protected by the various levels of government. Adeniran believes that if this is not done the Child Rights Act which was passed by the National Assembly last year would continue to remain ineffective. But Mr. Chima Ubani, the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation ( CLO), holds a different view. Speaking to Vanguard last Monday, Ubani said that once the National Assembly had passed the Child Rights Act it should have been automatically enforceable in all the states adding that the law was similar to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. “ Just like any law passed by the National Assembly is supposed to prevail over the states, the Child Rights Act is supposed to be applicable without waiting for the state assemblies to domesticate it,” he said. 

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