Nigeria: Day of the African Child - Making Nigeria Fit for Children

A student writes on the blackboard of a temporary learning space in a camp for internally displaced people in Mopti, Mali, in April 2019.
16 June 2021

As Nigeria today joins the rest of Africa to mark this year's International Day of the African Child with the theme '30 Years after the Adoption of the Charter: Accelerate the Implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa Fit for Children', Uchechukwu Nnaike highlights the factors making Nigeria unfit for children.

June 16 every year, the International Day of the African Child (DAC) affords Africans the opportunity to reflect on the education system in the continent and ways of improving the sector to provide quality education for children.

The day originated in Soweto, South Africa on June 16, 1976, when more than 10,000 black children protested the poor quality of education in their country. The children walked in a column for more than a mile as they also demanded to be taught in their own language that they could easily understand.

Hundreds of students were massacred during the protests, and thousands more were injured. Pictures of the incident were released worldwide and many organisations protested against the killings and the inequality in the apartheid regime. Many nations started commemorating that day every year in honour of the victims.

However, it was not until June 1991 that the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU) designated June 16 as a day to honour those who participated and lost their lives in the Soweto uprising. The day was given the name International Day of the African Child to raise awareness of the need to improve the quality of education in African schools.

The day is commemorated every year with a unique theme to create awareness on the need to ensure the welfare of the African child.

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Committee), established under Articles 32 and 33 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (the Charter) selected this year's theme for the commemoration of the DAC.

The African Committee recognises the importance of the DAC as an advocacy tool for enhancing the visibility of the Charter as well as promoting children's rights and welfare issues. The (DAC) is one of the standing promotional activities of the committee.

In 2016, the African Committee adopted 'Agenda 2040: Fostering an Africa fit for children'- a 25-year agenda for the long-term and strategic progress in implementing children's rights in Africa. Agenda 2040 provides a child-centered focus based on the Af rican Union's Agenda 2063, which highlights children's rights and welfare concerns in Paragraph 53. In brief, Agenda 2063 envisions an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena. It is guided by seven aspirations, and aspiration six calls for an Africa whose development

is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children. This aspiration informed the adoption of Agenda 2040.

Africa's Agenda for Children 2040 was the result of conclusions from a High-Level Conference held in Addis Ababa from 20-21 November 2015 to assess the status of the rights of children in Africa 25 years following the adoption of the Children's Charter as

part of the Commemoration activities of the 25th anniversary of the African Charter onthe Rights and Welfare of the Child.

Agenda 2040 is guided by 10 aspirations: The African Children's Charter, as supervised by the African Children's Committee to provide an effective continental framework for advancing children's rights; the existence of an effective child-friendly national legislative, policy and institutional

framework in all member states; the registration of every child's birth and other vital statistics; every child survives and has a healthy childhood; every child grows up well-nourished and with access to the necessities of life.

Others are: every child benefits fully from quality education;

every child is protected against violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse; children benefit from a child-sensitive criminal justice system; every child is free from the impact of armed conflicts and other disasters or emergencies; and African children's views matter.

Agenda 2040 was adopted by the Committee in 2016 and approved by the African Union Executive Council of Ministers in July 2017.

The African Charter for the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) is ratified by 50 States. It provides for both civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

ACERWC provides for the establishment of a Committee of experts that is mandated to

promote and protect the rights of children in Africa. The African Committee of Experts

on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) is also mandated to develop principles and policies to aid the implementation of its mandate. Agenda 2040 was adopted with a view to strengthen the Committee's implementation of its mandate in a deliberate and

structured manner, within a fixed time, and focusing on achieving specific goals by 2040.

Each engagement with the aspirations provided for in Agenda 2040 is a step towards the implementation of the African Children's Charter.

The DAC therefore aims at promoting children's rights across all African countries. Observing the day is a constant reminder to governments, NGOs and other stakeholders of the challenges faced by the African child and the empowerment they should be granted.

According to statistics, approximately half of the African population is made of children below the age of 18. But most of these children do not acquire early childhood development they need. They do not get basic education since most of them drop out of school before the age of 10. A large percentage also lacks enough food, shelter, and even clothing.

The situation can be said to be worst in Nigeria, where children learn to thrive under harsh conditions. Currently children's education and other rights are being threatened by insecurity, poverty, inadequate budgetary allocation, as well as other natural disasters.

The number of out-of-school children in Nigeria is said to be 10,193,918, the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The reason for the large number despite several intervention programmes is not far-fetched, as hundreds of school children have been abducted from their schools by insurgents, while many children and their parents have been displaced from their homes and villages because of the activities of insurgents and armed bandits, and forced to live in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, where formal education is not guaranteed.

According to a recent report, armed groups carrying out kidnapping for ransom are blamed for a series of raids on schools and universities in northern Nigeria in recent months, abducting more than 700 students for ransom since December, 2020.

The abrup and prolonged closure of schools to check the spread of COVID-19 was also halted the efforts being made by government and other stakeholders to get children of school age in schools. When schools eventually reopened, a number of children could not return to school due to several factors.

Poor funding and inadequate budgetary allocation to education has always been a source of concern in Nigeria over the years, as the country allocates less than 10 per cent of its annual budget to the sector.

This has led to the dilapidation of structures and overpopulation in public schools and led to the establishment of more private schools which can only provide quality education for a fraction of the population of children who are yearning for quality education.

Sadly, President Muhammadu Buhari has said the government cannot afford the funding needed to resuscitate the educational system in the country. He said the financial situation in the country has been worsened by the global economic downturn, which by implication, has affected the national revenue.

However, the president stated that his administration is committed to addressing the needs of tertiary institutions through budgetary allocations to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).

He also urged academic institutions to leverage other funding sources, including from alumni, private sector, institutional linkages and research grants to attract additional revenue for infrastructure, research and development.

This applies to tertiary institutions at the detriment of primary and secondary education, which are the foundation for other academic attainment.

To address the problem of insecurity in schools, some experts have suggested several ways school authorities can monitor their students and their environment.

A security expert and President, Nigeria Computer Society, Prof. Adesina Sodiya said investment in technology will help the country to tackle insecurity.

According to him, "in developed countries, you will see satellite technologies and immediate deployment of drones and helicopters. They will follow the kidnappers to wherever they are going. We can't handle this on the surface, we can also use the air technology which is very simple to deploy."

He said microchips could be put in any equipment or vehicle the kidnappers may likely go away with so that it can be easier to track them.

He added that CCTV cameras could be installed at the entrance of the school to ensure face recognition of everyone coming into the school.

Other suggestions include getting the community where the schools are located involved in securing the schools, insisting on the possession of identity cards at all times by staff and students, taking roll calls twice daily, sensitisation of students and staff on security matters, among other measures.

The issue of poverty alleviation should be taken seriously by the government. Interventions meant for the poor masses should get to them, and entrepreneurship should be encouraged to make youths self-reliant.

As Africa and Nigeria remember the children who died fighting for their rights, individuals and corporate organisations have been called upon to support the government to make the country fit for children.

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