The United Nations Organisation from its inception has been so concerned about children’s welfare. In 1946 it established the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) as a temporary measure for children‘s care with special attention to children in war devastated areas.
In 1955, this emergency fund metamorphosed into a permanent organization with the name United Nations Children’s Fund, it retained its original acronym UNICEF.
Ever since, UNICEF had been providing for children all over the world, with food, clothing and medical care amongst others.
In 1989, the United Nations held a convention on the rights of the child which was adopted by the General Assembly.
The essence however, was basically to improve the quality of life of children worldwide and refocus global attention on the development of the child. Lucklym Nigeria is a signatory to several international charters and conventions on the right of the child. It was in pursuits of its obligation to the most vulnerable of the societal chain the federal government conceptualisation draft decree on the rights of children which was signed into law in 2003. That document incorporates all the rights and responsibilities of children and consolidates all laws which provide for the protection and care of the Nigerian child into a single legislation.
The Child Right Act is designed to give the Nigerian child a future to reckon with as well as provide an enabling environment for him to compete favourably with others in the developed world.
In views of its importance, the various states that make up the federation, were expected to domesticate the laws so as to give it a legal support in their own locality.
Apart from the core northern states of the federation, 95 per cent of the rest states of the federation including Rivers State have domesticated it.
On January 3, 2010, the Rivers State Child’s Right Act 2009 was signed into law by the Executive Governor of the state, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, in recognition of the rights of children, restore their confidence and self-esteem as well as improve their status.
The law is to enable the children, including those with disabilities to enjoy their rights fully by properly providing special measures for care and protection.
It demands that the children’s best interest, welfare and wellbeing be given the paramount consideration, while they are guaranteed to survive, develop fully, be protected against all forms of harm and participate responsibly in all matters affecting them.
Basically, the law provides for care and protection. The child must be given sound and basic education and protected from all forms of abuse and exploitative labour while at the same time being taught to obey constituted authorities as well as shun social vices that tend to destroy their future.
Here in Rivers State, the responsibility of realizing these rights encapsulated in the State’s Child Right Act 2009, is not only the concern of the state government; the parents, individual philanthropists as well as organisations are all stake holders in this task of ensuring a good child’s welfare. Continued on page 16.
The Niger Delta Children Rights Watch (NDCRW) is a non-governmental project initiative which operates in four states of the Niger Delta namely, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Rivers and Bayelsa.
The second phase of NDCRW project commenced in October 2011 and as part of the Prevent Abuse of Children Today (PACT) campaign, the NDCRW aims to raise awareness about child rights in the Niger Delta. This they do by educating communities and prosecuting anyone who commits the grave offences, that cause harm to children. The project documents, monitors and investigates cases of child abuse and works closely with government agencies such as the Police, Social Welfare and the Attorney General’s department.
According to Madeleine Bridget, a London-trained barrister and expert in child protection and case management, over 50 cases have been referred to the project since October 2011.
NDCRW project is therefore a beacon of hope for children in the Niger Delta, increasing children’s access to justice by encouraging parents, families, communities and government to take responsibility of keeping children safe.
They work to empower the stigmatised, abused and street children in addition to free medical care and counselling for children who have been abused or neglected.
The domestication of the Child Rights law in Rivers State is the window through which this group is able to access the state even as they reaffirm their commitment to pursue this ideal tirelessly for the benefit of every child in Rivers State. “We shall not rest on our oars until the goal of an equitable and safe environment where all children have access to their rights and opportunities for growth and development, is attained” they affirm.
The Rivers State Government is living up to its expectations, by providing for as well as protecting the rights of the Rivers’ Child. The free and compulsory Universal Basic Education under the best learning environment ever in, the country attests to that, so also does her Excellency’s pet project, aimed at spreading kindergarten educational centres across the LGAs in order to catch them young.
To tackle the right to medicare, the state has also put in place a medicare programme for children under the age of 6 years.
The functional homes for the motherless and handicapped as well as the orphanage established in the state are all testimonies of what the government, individuals and organizations are doing to make life meaningful to these ones in question.
Recently, the state government lunched into the express ways to rid the town of hawkers with special attention on child-hawkers.
Many people still think that beating and spanking of children is still common just is yelling abuses on children a culture, without stopping to consider the serious damage such can do to the child.
For instance, the Child Right Law in Rivers State makes it a crime to abuse children. The days of violently punishing a child are over. The time is rife for people to respect the needs of the children and treat them with the dignity they rightly deserve.
There is a huge cost to the society from the effects of child abuse and for this reason, as well as the importance of protecting children from harm, it is imperative that all work together to put an end to child abuse.
It is important that a child knows that the law protects him or her from harm and that no one has the right to hurt them.
It is important for adults to know that it is not only a crime to harm a child but also that it is punishable by law.
For example, the law states that no child shall be subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse or neglect, maltreatment, torture, inhuman or degrading punishment and attacks on his/her honour.
· Child labour is an offence, buying, selling, hiring or otherwise dealing with children for the purpose of begging, hawking, prostitution or for unlawful moral purposes are made punishable by longterms of imprisonment.
· Child abduction and child trafficking is an offence.
· Betrothal and marriage of children are prohibited.
· Sexual abuse of children is a crime
· Female genital mutilation is punishable under the law.
· It is a crime to call a child witch or wizard, you can be arrested, charged and imprisoned if found guilty.
Calling a child a witch has serious long term effects on the child’s well being. They are often stigmatized, disowned by their community, treated like lepers or even expelled from school. Do not call a child witch or wizard it causes them harm.
However, like Moses Ani, a Nigeria writer would say, much is yet to be seen on the outcome of the child Right Law and its domestication. Let us still believe and hope that something will be done so that the future of the Rivers State’s child would not be sacrificed on the altars of ignorance and social bias.