Children are gifts from God. This expression
aptly explains why couples who are yet to get this blessing from God in their marriage constantly besiege God for the gift. They can go extra mile to have children.
In the old African communal setting, a child may be born to a particular family, but the child belongs to the entire community as every member of that community is bound in conscience to ensure the social, physical, economic, and spiritual well -being, growth and development of the child.
For the Igbo people in south eastern Nigeria, the importance of the child is expressed in the kind of names like Nwadiuto meaning child is sweet, Nwabueze meaning child is king etc.
The Holy Father, former Pope Benedict XVI says this about children; “Children are gifts from God to humanity, and they must be the object of particular concern on the part of their families, the church, society and governments, for they are source of renewed life”
In trying to safeguard the future of the children often referred to as the leaders of tomorrow, Nigerian leaders adopted and ratified the United Nations conventions on the rights of the child, as well as the African Union Charter on the rights and welfare of the child.
The act states that children have rights and that their confidence and self esteem are to be restored and improved upon. It provides that children with some form of disability should enjoy the same rights and privileges as other children and also ensures that they are adequately protected in order to boost their self confidence. These are what ought to be.
The child’s right act which was passed into law in 2003 would have provided all that is needed to put the Nigerian child in a comparative advantage over their fellow children from other parts of the world, but it has continued to suffer from poor education and enlightenment of the rural populace where majority of the children are found. It is sad that 13 years after the passage of the child’s right act into law, many states have not fully adopted it. What this portends is that children are being harassed, molested, abused by adults without knowing that they have rights to be protected and without any form of molestation.
It is a common feature on the major streets of our cities how children are used for all kinds of dehumanising activities including hawking in the traffic during school hours, street begging, etc. Other children are used as house-helps in many homes and in such homes, they are not only denied formal education, they are also made to work so hard and eat very little and in some cases, they are subjected to sexual molestation by their supposed boss.
Given the high level of poverty in the land, an estimated one million Nigerian children are on the streets across the country,and government provision for the homeless children has remained grossly inadequate.
Before now, child abuse and child labour was majorly associated with children who are not living with their biological parents, but today, with the constant sky-rocketing cost of living and most parents not been able to meet their daily needs, children are now being co-opted to enhance the chances of putting food on the table for the family.
Another aspect of what the Nigerian child faces is the illicit exposure to the recent developments in the information technology. Many parents saturate their homes with internet enabled phones and computers. All these are illicit because many of the contents are not suitable for children; and if the children must use the internet, they should be supervised by their parents to ensure that their morality is not destroyed as that is the greatest form of child abuse.
Meanwhile, many Nigerian children whose parents live in the city, either as civil servants, workers in the private sector or individual business owners, are constantly abusing their children by leaving the nurturing of their children in the hands of house-helps and computers in search of “better life for the children”.
As Nigerian children join their counterparts in other parts of the world today to celebrate this year’s Children’s Day which always comes up every May 27, the question is, what is the government’s plan for the thousands of children of school age roaming about in many cities of Nigeria? How can parents and guardians who use children for all sorts of economic activities be brought to book? What can the government do to ensure that the moral foundation of the children are adequately taken care of as it is the only way to ensure a better future for the society?
Kingsley is of the Communication Dept, Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port Harcourt
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