It’s been 20 years since Nigeria passed the Child Rights Act (2003) into law to protect the rights of every Nigerian child and improve their outcome; but grave violations, rights abuses against children have only worsened over the years, according to data from the government and relevant agencies.
Nigeria’s minister of women and affairs and social development Pauline Tallen, recently disclosed that the Child Rights Act has been adopted by 34 out of the 36 states in Nigeria; despite this, cases of child abuses are on rise and currently at an alarming state, according to experts.
Data shows that child labour, child marriage, female genital mutilation are still prevalent practices. Children have become targets for terrorists as they are being used as sex slaves and forcefully recruited as child soldiers. Cristian Munduate, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Nigeria, in a statement to mark the 9th anniversary of abduction of Chibok girls, decried that Children are still being kidnapped, forcibly recruited, killed and injured– with their futures torn away.
Children suffer from deprivation, environmental degradation, malnutrition, hunger, exploitation, diseases, neglect, war, violence among others, and all these continent to have a huge toll on health education and overall development. Records show that thousands of children have lost their lives to these abuses.
Data from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) show that there was a total of 212,480 child rights abuses complaints received by the commission, nationwide, in the year 2020. In 2021, the number rose to 367,440 complaints.
According to UNICEF the rights of children majorly includes survival, development, protection and participation rights which are guaranteed in the Child Rights Act, but implementation has continued to crawl according to experts, while children continue to bear the devastating consequences.
However, despite these grim statistics, there is respite as UNICEF is supporting and pushing for the full entrenchment of child rights reporting in schools curriculum particularly in higher institutions of learning.
It would be recalled that NUC had unbundled mass communication into seven distinct courses; Journalism and Media Studies, Public Relations, Advertising, Broadcasting, Film and Multimedia Studies, Development Communication Studies, and Information and Media Studies.
At the end of the unbundling, Child’s Right Reporting came into the curriculum for mass communication in universities. Now it is called JMS Journalism and Media Studies 403”.
The course has also been included in the general studies for all first and second-year (National Diploma ND) students of mass communication in the polytechnics.
Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU), Awka Anambra State, is the first institution to mainstream child rights curriculum by electing the Child Rights Reporting Curriculum as a general studies course, making it compulsory for in-school mass communicators.
Experts have commended the move by UNICEF working in partnership with the federal government, saying it holds potentials of improving the outcome of children. Tochukwu Okafor, a senior lecturer at the Baze University, and public affairs analyst said mainstreaming child rights into curriculum of tertiary institutions is a step in the right direction.
“I dare say that it’s been a long time coming, its supposed to come earlier than it actually did, still, it’s better late than never. Our children depend on adult for decision making, policy making. Children have suffered various forms of abuses, and the domestication of the Child Rights Act has not been potent as expected,” he said.
Okafor enthused that the introduction of the curriculum in tertiary institutions including in states with little or no implementation of the Child Rights Act will improve knowledge and awareness of what constitutes the rights of children to effectively protect them.
Ugo Philips, a child rights activist noted that the move is in line with the recommendation from the 1989 United Nations General Assembly Convention on the right of the Child , urging member nations to adopt child rights education.
Philips, while commenting the move, said child education should be extended to other levels of learning.
Juliet Chiluwe, Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Enugu, noted that a broad range of abuses against children emanates from ignorance of what constitutes child’s right.
She disclosed this at a two-day Training of Trainers (TOT) on Child’s Rights Reporting Curriculum (CRRC) organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, in collaboration with UNICEF in Enugu, Enugu state. The workshop was organised to broaden the scope of knowledge and exposure of practitioners of Mass Communication by way of infusion of the Child Rights concerns.
While congratulating the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, she urged other Universities and communication institutions to emulate the feat in the interest of fostering child rights reportage in Nigeria.
Also speaking, UNICEF Communication Specialist, Geoffrey Njoku, said the essence of the training is to provide the initial orientation for teachers or lecturers who are going to be running the course. He informed that a training for polytechnic lecturers would hold before the end of the year.
He also noted that the UNICEF had worked with the National Universities Commission, NUC, and the National Board for Technical Education, NBTE, to include the course in all of the unbundled mass communication courses.
Jide Johnson, a child rights expert and lecturer at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, explained that the situational denial of children rights necessitated by combination of policy gaps and failures, ignorance, structural weakness in implementing agreed provisions of the law and poor accountability by agencies and persons charged with implementing these provisions and laws calls for several intervention .
According to him, child rights education that centres on provision of information, education and communication would enable society to know and identify what is right, the strengthening of agencies of government charged with protecting and promoting the rights of children and the creation of partnerships for the advancement of Children’s rights.
While speaking on the importance of Child Rights Education, Johnson stated that it will help to empower adults and children to take action to advocate for and apply these at the family, school, community, national and global levels.
While stressing the importance of promoting child rights, he said, “We live in an environment where child’s rights are treated with levity and where children’s rights are abused and neglected. We live in an environment where children are trafficked, where child hawking is rife and where millions of children who should be in school are out of school. We live in an environment where basic social services meant for children, for their survival, growth, protection and participation are in short supply and doubt quality.
“We live in an environment where children are malnourished, denied adequate shelter, provided with inadequate medical attention and exposed to all manners of dangers. We live in an environment where as a result of harmful traditional practices, children are exposed to experiences that could stultify and stunt their physical, emotional and social growth.”
To this end, experts urged government and relevant stakeholders to put in structures to facilitate the entrenchment of the curriculum across institutions of learning.