Today is Children’s Day. As the title suggests, it is a day set aside to call attention to life as a child which all of us once was. It is a significant occasion that reminds us of the importance of nurturing and protecting the younger generation. It is a day to celebrate the innocence, potential, and rights of children, acknowledging their invaluable contributions to stability in the homes and hope to the society.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, as we mark this day, we must also not lose sight of the issues that mar the welfare of children. We recall, pensively,the increasing number of out-of-school children and the tragic incidents of abductions that are fast becoming a disheartening norm in recent years .
It is worrisome to acknowledge that the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has seen a distressing surge. According to recent reports, the number of out-of-school children increased from 10.5 million to a staggering 18.5 million in 2022. This rise poses a significant threat to the future of our nation, hindering progress and perpetuating the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment.
To put it in proper perspective, the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria is more than the population of Norway, Singapore, and Cuba. This is shameful and should not be allowed to continue.
In a country bedeviled by insurgency in the northeast and banditry in the northwest and north-central, the huge army of out-of-school children will be a ready reservoir for insurgents and bandits to recruit from.
Pointedly,education is the key to empowering individuals, fostering social mobility, and driving economic growth. By failing to ensure access to quality education for every child, we not only deny them their basic rights but also impede the nation’s progress.
We consider it pertinent and recommend that government at all levels prioritise initiatives that address the root causes of issues such as poverty, gender inequality, and inadequate infrastructure, so as to reverse these trends that are impacting negatively on children.
In recent years, Nigeria has witnessed a series of heart-wrenching incidents involving the abduction of schoolchildren. The abduction of Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu readily comes to mind.
According to the human rights group, Amnesty International, since the abduction of about 276 Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram, over 1,500 school children have been kidnapped by armed groups in Nigeria.
These acts of terror not only traumatise the victims and their families but also instill fear and uncertainty in the hearts of communities across the country.
These incidents stand as a stark reminder of the urgent need to strengthen security measures and ensure the safety of our children within educational institutions.
Every child has the right to learn in a safe and secure environment. The authorities must redouble their efforts to protect schools and take proactive steps to prevent such abductions from occurring in the first place. This requires increased collaboration among security agencies, intelligence gathering, and the deployment of adequate resources to deter and neutralise threats to children’s safety.
According to a UNICEF report, Nigeria has the highest number of child marriages in Africa, with 23 million girls and women married in childhood.
We recall that Nigeria adopted the Child’s Rights Act in 2003, giving legal consent to both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
It is gratifying to note that 34 of the 36 States of the Federation have fully domesticated the Child Rights Act, which is a law that deals with issues of child abuse, child labour, and forced marriage, among others, in Nigeria.
In our view, tackling the challenges faced by children demands a comprehensive approach from all stakeholders. It begins with the government, which must demonstrate unwavering commitment and allocate adequate resources towards providing inclusive and quality education for every child. This includes investing in infrastructure development, improving teacher training programs, and implementing robust policies to promote enrollment and retention in schools.
As we observe Children’s Day in Nigeria, we must acknowledge the challenges that hinder the realisation of a brighter future for our children. The alarming increase in the number of out-of-school children and the traumatic incidents of school abductions demand our urgent attention and concerted efforts. We must work together to reverse the rising trend of children deprived of education, eradicate the threats that jeopardize their safety, and prioritize their well-being above all else.
Investing in the education and protection of our children is an investment in the future of our nation. Let us unite in our resolve to ensure that every Nigerian child has access to quality education, a safe environment, and the opportunity to realize their full potential. By doing so, we lay the foundation for a prosperous and inclusive society that cherishes and nurtures its most precious asset- the child.