Daily Trust (Abuja)

22 June 2012

Nigeria: International Day of the African Child - Rights of Special Children

opinion

The International Day of the African Child, initiated by the Organisation of African Unity, ( now African Union), which is celebrated on June 16, every year, since 1991 to commemorate the children that died in the Soweto uprising in South Africa in 1976, has indeed brought the need for quality education for African children to the fore.

The Soweto uprising was about a thousand black school children who marched in columns for more than a half mile, protesting the poor quality of education and demanding their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds were shot dead and hundreds injured.

However, the theme of this year's celebration; "The Rights of Children with Disability in Africa: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill" is quite apt, judging by how such children are neglected by parents and the society at large , particularly in educating them.

In the western countries children with disabilities are called and treated as special children. They have access to education and care. Some may point out that even in Nigeria they are also called special children, it may be so, I know we have special education institutions where students learn to teach such children. But I don't think they are treated as special, especially by the government, which should do a lot because it is almost beyond the capability of the parents.

People usually feel that such children can do nothing useful. It is a common sight to see a child with Down syndrome being teased and made fun of by both children and adults. Children should be taught not to do so, but as for adult it is inexcusable, because if it is their own children they wouldn't find it funny enough to tease them.

In one such case, people in the area always called the young boy names and made fun of him, they made him the centre of their entertainment. That is until an elderly man called them to order.

Still some are chased away wherever they go, which is distressing and does not portray us Africans in good light; putting a lie to our so-called African brotherliness that we take so much pride in.

The crippled ones are automatically taught to become beggars, instead of acknowledging that their brains are normal and they can be more brilliant than those with healthy limbs. So also are the blind ones.

Another point is that since we hardly have special schools meant for these children, they are made to attend regular school, where the teachers are not trained to teach them, besides they cannot be taught in isolation in the class. So how are the children expected to progress, when they are not taught at their own pace?

Those that can afford to, send their children abroad to special schools there, while some employ experts to teach their children at home. But as for the ordinary Nigerian, he is on his own.

I feel that government should be responsible for the education of such special children, and to some extent, their health, because some parents cannot afford it. For instance, some children need orthopedic shoes, wheelchairs among other things.

It is quite telling for all tiers of government to see young disabled children pushed on wheelbarrows, by parents or siblings, begging.

The earlier they have their right as special children, the better for all of us. How can a country that spends millions of naira on a few, like the jumbo pay of our legislators, leave these children to wallow in poverty, with no access to education or health care, crawling or being pushed in wheel barrow?

While our institutions keep graduating students in special education, they can hardly get schools to practice what they have learnt, because the schools are simply not there.

In any event, we hope the theme of this year's commemoration of the Day of the African Child would touch the heart of the authorities to do something urgently, and make the society aware that these children should be treated kindly and with respect. They are special.

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