It has become an aberration in Nigeria to refer to the younger generation as the future of the country due to the numerous bashing and various forms of abuses the children are being subjected to. Every day one reads on the pages of newspapers stories of child labour and trafficking, and defilement of minors as young as two years old even by their fathers or grandfathers. It is that bad!
By paying lip service to various laws on the rights of a child, the impunity with which child rights are being violated has now reached an alarming proportion. But by far the most commonly abused group of children are the orphans, who due to their situation are left in the care of their parents’ relatives. Even those kept in orphanages are not left out, as the home supposedly meant to give them succour sometimes becomes unbearable.
In traditional Africa, the family setting did not give room for the word ‘orphan’ as every child was incorporated into the extended family safety net, where a relative raised the orphan as his own. But due to the weakened family system as a result of western influence, poverty, increasing population of orphans and reduced number of care givers, orphans and vulnerable children are finding it increasingly difficult to be incorporated into the extended family safety net.
The United Nations Agency for International Development defines an orphan as a child under 18 whose one or both parents are dead, while vulnerable children refers to groups of children that experience loss of their education, morbidity and malnutrition at higher rates than do their peers due to their minority status, disability and residence in underserved area. Therefore, it should be noted that not all vulnerable children are orphans but all orphans are vulnerable.
The Bible and the Quran contain the idea of helping and defending orphans which they consider as very pleasing to God. Notable and famous orphans include Prophet Muhammad, world leaders like Nelson Mandela, writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Leo Tolstoy. There are approximately 17 million orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria, considered to be one of the highest in the world, including over 2 million orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Generally, orphans and vulnerable children face a lot of challenges ranging from economic to social and psychological in form of malnutrition, reduced access to education and health care, child labour, migration, homelessness, low self-esteem, involvement in drug and alcohol. Other challenges are depression, guilt, anger and fear caused by parental illness and death. It is believed that rights and needs of all human beings are also applicable to orphans and vulnerable children.
However, this group of children needs more support to get what they lack due to the absence or lack of capacity of their parents. It is the right of every child irrespective of social status to enjoy physical protection – food, shelter, clothing and health care; emotional care in form of love, security, sense of belonging and friendship; social protection in form of acceptance, identity, formal and informal education, life skills and general knowledge; mental stability, that is, stress prevention and management; and spiritual support like freedom to believe, identify with the creator, have hope and faith.
Every segment of the society has a role to play in ensuring that the rights of all children are protected. Government alone cannot provide comprehensive care for all orphans and vulnerable children, hence the need for collaboration of all stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, faith-based organisations, government at all levels, corporate bodies as well as everyone in the society. Strategic partnerships and linkages among stakeholders and the affected children, including community responses, should be developed to ensure orphans and vulnerable children have access to comprehensive care.
The Federal Government through the support of President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) launched the Children of Hope project in 2008. The project is being implemented in partnership with the European Co-operative for Rural Development and Widows and Orphans Empowerment Organisation. It is being implemented in Edo, Imo, Oyo, Abia and Ebonyi States and the federal capital to meet the nutrition, protection, education and psychological support needs of orphans and vulnerable children and link care givers to loans and income-generating activities. Through the Children of Hope project, HIV sexual prevention activities and capacity building programmes for staff and partners (Society for Family Health) are carried out.
In 2007, the Child Rights Law was adopted and domesticated in Lagos to protect all children resident in the state and the yellow card introduced to enlighten the public and familiarise them with telephone numbers to call in cases of child abuse. The yellow card is issued to parents and caregivers as a form of warning. And if the abuse is reported again, the child is taken away from the caregiver and the latter prosecuted.
In Benue, a state with the highest cases of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, large numbers of households are left to care for children orphaned or otherwise made vulnerable by the disease. To tackle this problem, the USAID through the Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) developed the Vulnerable Children Project (VCP) with the goal of improving the quality of life of these children through the provision of opportunities for them in areas of health and education.
Other areas of opportunities include the identification and strengthening of existing community support structure for orphans, vulnerable children and people living with HIV/AIDS and developing the capacity of the community to advocate for policy and social change towards them. It is therefore important for all stakeholders to know that the rights of every child are also those of the orphans and the vulnerable children. Let us all give every child equal opportunity to achieve their maximum potentials, as this is an assurance of a secured future.
Bakare is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.
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