Abuja — The Executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr. Tony Ojukwu, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to give children a gift by granting speedy assent to the 2018 Child Protection and Enforcement Agency (establishment) Bill.
Ojukwu explained that the bill, when passed, would ensure that the interest and right of every Nigerian child is properly taken care of; especially in the three critical human rights issues of education, children in displacement and children living with disability.
The Executive Secretary made the call at a one-day symposium to commemorate 2018 Day of the African Child (DAC), themed: 'Leave No Child Behind in Africa's Development' organised by the NHRC, PLAN International Nigeria and the Network of Civil society Organisations against Child Trafficking Abuse and Labour.
DAC is celebrated every June 16, in memory of children massacred in 1976 in Soweto South Africa as they protested against discriminatory practices within the education system.
Speaking further, Ojukwu explained that the 2018 theme which is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasises the need to promote and mainstream the rights of children at all levels of budgeting, policy formulation, planning and implementation.
He said: "It is pertinent to note that all the SDG's 17 and their 196 targets touch on the rights of the children. The theme therefore raises commitment and accountability by calling on states to fully implement the SDGs while prioritising children interest and taking them along in all planning and implementation process.
"To this end, states are called in to develop national strategies to ensure the inclusion and participation of children in issues affecting them broadly and that those farthest behind are taken along and their interest prioritised in National action."
He also noted that despite the adoption of the Child Rights Act in about 25 states and other legislations legally protecting the child, Nigeria continues to grapple with inherently high incidences of child rights infringement.
"Intersecting with culture and poverty, abuse and relegation of child rights issues is endemic and visible across all the child rights themes ranging from street children, to child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, child trafficking, child labour and other actions of violence against children," he said.
To this end, the Executive Secretary called for the adoption of the Child Rights Act by states that have not done so, and also effective implementation of child rights law by states that have adopted the Act.
Also speaking, PLAN International's Country Representative, Dr. Hussein Abdul represented by the Head of Programming and Business Development, Mr. Orji Ogbureke, observed that in the matters of child rights, a lot still needs to be done in Nigeria.
Ogbureke stated that PLAN's goal is to make sure that children, particularly girls Learn, Lead, Decide and Thrive.
"We say learn because we believe that children must be given the right and access to quality education; they should be provided with life skills to live a fulfilled life.
"We say lead because Nigerian children must participate and be drivers of change; they should not be left behind; they should be given the opportunity to participate and be drivers of change.
"They must live in protective environments in their family, schools, communities and states. There must be an enabling environment for them to grow and fulfil their potential," he said.
Also speaking, the UN Women country representative, Comfort Lamptey, represented by Mrs. Patience Ekeoba, lamented over the increasing cases of child abuse.
Ekeoba said reports showed that over 500 cases of sexual abuse have been reported from January to April 2018 alone. According to her, the symposium is an opportunity to think and reflect on all the affected children.
She also announced that the UN Women, in its commitment to addressing Gender Based Violence (GBV), has launched a spotlight project to address the issue of child marriage. She said UN Women is also working to restore livelihood in the North East for families of these children.
In a related development, Nigerian children's futures have been described as unsafe and bleak with constant challenges of violence, abuse and maltreatment by the government and society with perpetrators always getting free.
The verdict was given by the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Sen. Aisha Jumai Alhassan, during a press briefing and inauguration of the 6th National Children's Parliament (NCP) in Abuja.
Alhassan said the event, was organised with the support of the European Union and the British Council - Rule of Law and Anti-corruption Programme as part of the activities marking the 2018 National Children's Day Celebration with the theme: 'Creating Safe Spaces for Children: Our Collective Responsibility'.
She said the government has in collaboration with other stakeholders developed policies and executed series of programmes to ensure the safety and protection of children including: the 2017 Universal Day of the Child commemoration; meetings Child Protection System Strengthening learning Group on ending Violence Against Children (VAC), Child Protection System Strengthening (CPSS), Financial Benchmark Study (FBS), and Economic Burden of Violence Against Children (EBVAC) among others.
However, she said "despite all the stated interventions, the Nigerian Child is still not safe and is faced with all forms of challenges such as violence, abuse, exploitation, and maltreatment amongst others, on daily basis in the home, on the streets, in schools and childcare institutions".
The Minister lamented that on many occasions, these abuses are perpetrated by family members or caregivers who are supposed to provide care, safety and protection to their children or wards.
She said: "It is worrisome to note that, the perpetrators of violence against children are always not adequately brought to book. It is also unfortunate to note that children access to justice is almost non-existent as some children are kept in detention centres just like adults and you see babies in prisons with their accused or convicted mothers.
"These situations are unfair and not acceptable and I call on the Security Agencies, Judiciary, National Human Rights Commission, NAPTIP, Legal Aid Council, Law Reform Commission, the National Assembly and other relevant stakeholders to please ensure that these situations change by adequately bringing the perpetrators of violence against children to book to serve as deterrents to others and also children to have access to justice."
To this end, she challenged mostly northern states of Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe and Borno that are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act to do so in the interest of the children in their states and Nigeria.
Alhassan also lauded the resuscitation of the National Children's Parliament with the election of Principal Officers five years after the tenure of the last one expired.
She also inaugurated the 6th NCP with Kano State Representative, Hon. Maisara Abdul-Khadir Abbas as the new Speaker, who she challenged to ensure that his state (Kano) domesticates the Child Rights Act.
Also speaking, Speaker of the 5th Assembly of the NCP, Hon. Idara Thompson noted that their key campaign when they were elected in 2011 was the passage of the Child Rights Act into law.
Thompson expressed disappointment at the non-functionality of the NCP for the last five years and slow pace in domestication of the Child Rights Act, especially the northern states.
He congratulated the newly-elected principal officers and the entire members of the 6th Assembly, charging them to pursue the child rights advocacy with vigour and passion.