By November 20th this year, the convention on the rights of the child (CRC), will be 30 years since it was adopted and ratified by 194 countries, including Nigeria. PATIENCE IHEJIRIKA and ODIRI UCHENUNU-IBEH x-ray the journey so far in Nigeria.
The convention on the rights of a child (CRC), a comprehensive legally binding international human rights treaty providing specifically for the rights of the child, has been in existence since 1989.
The CRC, which covers civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights thus underscoring the indivisibility and equal importance of all rights, has four key or overarching principles.
For instance, Article 6 of the CRC recognizes that every child has the inherent right to life and all states/parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible, the survival and development of the child.
What this simply means, according to a Child Protection Specialist with UNICEF, Sharon Oladiji is that, “The survival rights of a child is the right to life and to have the most basic needs like adequate standard of living, shelter, nutrition and medical treatment.
“On the other hand, the development rights of a child means the rights enabling children to reach their fullest potential like education, play and leisure, cultural activities, access to information and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
CRC@30: The Journey In Nigeria
Looking at the immense benefits of the CRC, the Nigerian government then drafted the Child’s Rights Bill, aimed at principally enacting the CRC into Law.
The principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the AU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child were promulgated as the Child’s Rights Act, (CRA) in 2003.
The CRA incorporates all the rights and responsibilities of children and specifies the duties and obligations of government, parents and other authorities, organizations and bodies.
For instance, Part II, Sections 3 to 18 entrenches the following fundamental rights for the child, like the rights to survival and development.
It states that, “Expectant and nursing mothers shall be catered for, and every parent or guardian having legal custody of a child under the age of two years shall ensure its immunization against diseases, or face judicial penalties.
“Every government in Nigeria shall strive to reduce infant mortality rate, provide medical and health care, adequate nutrition and safe drinking water, hygienic and sanitized environments, combat diseases and malnutrition, support and mobilize through local and community resources and the development of primary health care for children.”
CRA: Domestication, Implementation And Challenges In Nigeria
If only all states in Nigeria could domesticate and fully implement the CRA, it will go a long way in improving the health indices of under-five children in Nigeria, Oladiji revealed.
Investigation by LEADERSHIP has shown that 11 states in Nigeria are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act. While states like Niger, FCT, Nasarawa, Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Kwara and Kogi and 17 states in the country’s south have domesticated the Act, full implementation is a major problem.
The implications of the Act not being domesticated by all states in Nigeria and not fully implemented by the states that have domesticated it, have resulted in poor health indices of children in the country.
For instance, it is the right of a child to get immunized and be given adequate nutrition. While several studies have shown that vaccination against childhood diseases is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions available, millions of children still missed out on routine immunization every year.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over 20 million children worldwide missed out on measles vaccine annually in the past eight years, creating a pathway to current global outbreaks.
In 2017, for example, Nigeria had the highest number of children under-one year of age that missed out on the first dose of measles with nearly 4 million. It was followed by India (2.9 million), Pakistan and Indonesia (1.2 million each), and Ethiopia (1.1 million).
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said the ground for the global measles outbreaks we are witnessing today was laid years ago. He said, “The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.”
Measles is far too contagious, says Fore, adding that it is critical not only to increase coverage but also to sustain vaccination rates at the right doses to create an umbrella of immunity for everyone.
Regional Director for Africa, WHO, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said the global measles crisis, is an urgent wake-up call to the need for countries to ensure that all children, no matter where they live, receive life-saving vaccines.
Countries in the African Region have also experienced a resurgence of measles, including outbreaks reported in countries like Chad, Cameroon, DR Congo, Liberia, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda in the last 12 months, says Moeti.
Also, malnutrition has continued to threaten the lives of under-five children, especially in the northern Nigeria.
It is estimated that about 11 million children under the age of five are stunted in Nigeria due to long-term insufficient nutrient intake.
The 2013 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) put prevalence of stunting at 37 per cent, underweight at 29 per cent and wasting at 18 per cent for children less than five years of age.
A Nutrition expert, Dr. Bamidele Omotola, said that over 50 per cent of children in the northeast might not attain their full potential due to severe acute malnutrition.
Omotola lamented that Nigeria has 25 million under-5 children affected by wasting while more than 10million children are stunted.
According to him, over one in two children are stunted in northeast and northwest while one in five children are stunted in the South.
He also said that about 50 per cent of children in the 12 Northern states are stunted while only 20 per cent of children in the rest of the country are stunted.
“When you have high rate of stunting, it is a life sentence, when you have high rate of Severe Acute Malnutrition, is a death sentence,” said Omotola.
The experts therefore urged the state governments to see that they have an emergency in their hands and they should sit down with their cabinet to prioritize nutrition.
To avert all these alarming statistics in Nigeria, Head, Child Rights information Bureau, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Olumide Osanyinpeju, at a two-day media dialogue on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) at 30, in Lagos state, said there is need for government to take deliberate and decisive action in formulating polices on the CRA.
Osanyinpeju said the implementation by states yet to adopt and domesticate it into law, would enhance the rights and well-being of the Nigerian child.
He said a comprehensive statement on children’s right which would be binding under international law became necessary with reports of grave injustice suffered by children ranging from high infant mortality, deficient health care, limited opportunities for basic education, alarming accounts of children being abused and exploited as prostitutes or in harmful jobs, children in prison or in other difficult circumstances.
“It is equally worthy to note that it has really been an uphill task bringing to fruition the total realization of children’s rights in our society, especially in the rural terrains which constitute the bulk of our society and where a vast majority of our people are not literate.
“The situation that stares us in the face is the tall order to bring our people to understand that children reserve as much fundamental rights as the adults, and the need to protect the rights of our children at risk of deprivations of basic social benefits, in exploitative and difficult circumstances and even mortality,” he added.
He said, “We are thus at that point where we need to understand that lack of access to basic developmental, survival, protection and participatory needs is an infringement on the rights of a child. Thus, there is the need to ensure that children are empowered all round to take their pride of place in our society and the world at large.
“This is a realization that all children have a right to better life, an opportunity to survive, develop and reach their full potentials; and this can only be attained by upholding the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is growing evidence that investing in our children would ensure national development because the future of any nation lies in the hands of the future generation.
As we prepare for the commemoration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child at 30, Osanyinpeju however called upon to focus on promoting all opportunities that will help children develop soundly as this connotes a giant stride towards the realization of the fundamental rights of children.
He urged the media to promote the rights of the child and to stimulate government at all levels to take deliberate and decisive action in formulating policies on the CRA and ensure the implementation by states yet to adopt and domesticate it into law, enhancing the rights and well being of the Nigerian child.
In the same vein, Oladiji called on media personalities to make the Nigerian people think of providing unflinching support for the CRC while, looking towards the full realization of children’s rights in all spheres concerning their survival and development.
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