Nigerian Children: Their Dreams, Hope, Constraints

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Nigeria is blessed with an abundance of arable but uncultivated land, resourceful citizens and an array of mineral and natural resources embedded in its soil. In fact, there is no part of the country that could not be self sufficient in revenue generation if the available natural and human resources when they are judiciously harnessed for the benefit of all and the overall development of the country.

However, it appears a bit ironical that a country that is so endowed would have a high proportion of its children out of school, even as today’s child is touted as the prospective leader of tomorrow.

Given a scenario whereby children between the ages of six and twelve years, form a greater percentage of street hawkers, even during school hours, one wonders what the future holds for Nigeria in the social, economic, political and security spheres.

Mindful of the future role of children in the development of their various countries, the United Nations, UN, decades ago took steps to underline its interest in the welfare of children the world over.

Thus, in 1946, the UN established the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund, UNICEF, as a temporary measure for children’s care, especially in areas devastated by war.

But in 1955, this emergency fund was turned into a permanent organization known as the United Nations Children Fund.

Hence, for over 60 years, the UNICEF has been providing for children throughout the world with food, clothing and medical care and has been able to look after children’s needs in general.

Similarly, in 1976, Heads of State that constitute the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU) designated June 16 as the day of the African Child in commemoration of children who were massacred in Soweto, South Africa in 1976 when they dared to protest the evils of apartheid.

In the same vein in 1989 the United Nations convention on the right of the child was adopted by the general assembly of the world body. The essence of the convention was basically to improve the quality of life of the children the world over, enhance their dignity and focus global attention on the development of the child.

Hence, it is regrettable that in spite of all these declarations the Nigerian child still suffers untold deprivation, albeit in the face of plenty.

All over the land the plight of the Nigerian child is glaring as they suffer neglect, denied basic rights to education and good nutrition, especially in the urban areas where they are commemoration hawking various items all day in the struggle for survival.

But in fairness to some state governments a lot have been put in place towards improving the welfare of children.

In Rivers State, for instance, the wife of the governor, Dame Judith Amaechi established the Empowerment Support Initiative, ESI, to among other goals, cater to the needs of children from the nursery school level, particularly those in the rural areas who may not have access to quality education for various reasons.

This is in addition to the efforts of various state governments which, apart from building and equipping more schools to accommodate the ever growing number of children of school age, have promulgated laws to make hawking by children during school hours, illegal.

But commendable as these moves are, they have not been able to keep children of school age away from the streets during school hours.

In this connexion, kudos must be given to the patriots, non-governmental organizations and world bodies that have fought to make the Childs Right Act a reality. So far, 23 states, in Nigeria have ratified the Act in line with the dictates of the International Labour Organisation, ILO, convention which stipulates that work age should be consistent with the age of finishing formal schooling, put around age 15. Though the national minimum employment age in Nigeria is 12 years, there have been calls to raise it to the 15 years recommended by ILO.

Beyond the foregoing, however, the fact still remains that the question of child abuse, child labour and all that would remain with us for a long time, except deliberate measures are taken to check the high level of unemployment in the country, which accounts to a large extent for parents inability to take adequate care of their children. In a conversation, Madam Titi narrated how things fell apart in her family since her husband lost his job in a factory. According to the middle aged lady who claimed she caters for the well-being of her entire household, there was no way she would not involve the children in hawking “pure” water, groundnuts and other items, to help make ends meet, moreso as she alone could not bear the burden of their schooling. This position was corroborated by Mrs Agina who, in tear narrated that her husband left home three years ago as he could no longer bear the pain of helplessness of his children whose education he could no longer sustain since he lost his job. But the story of Kate is different.

She is a single mother, uneducated and unemployable but whose only daughter assists in selling roasted yam at a street corner. According to her, sending her child to a relative would mean sentencing her to much more suffering, including life as a commercial sex worker.

The issue of underage children hawking various wares on the streets even late in the night would remain with us for a long time, asserts a sociologist who pleaded not to be named, except government moves to create avenues for massive employment, particularly through the agricultural sector. This lecturer argued that with the preponderance of unemployed adults, the backlash is sure to be felt by their dependants, hence the increase in the rate of criminal activities, commercial sex workers, and the teeming number of children whose parents could ill-afford to cater for.

However, it appears all hope is not lost but to Mr Innocent Onyeiwu, a trader, having his children with him in the market is one way the family could meet their ends. Because even his eldest child who is a welder, most of the time is idle as there is hardly steady power supply to enable him practice his trade, hence, the need for governments at all levels to do more in the power sector to boost self employment and free children of school age to prepare for the task in future.