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‘What Nigeria should do as next President of UNGASS’

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Nigerian children

*UNICEF calls for speedy domestication, enforcement of Child Right Act in remaining 11 states
*Child abuse associated with rising mental health disorders, insecurity, suicide, rape, murder

Nigeria may be declared President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) scheduled for September 2019 in New York, United States, which coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Convention on Rights of the Child (CRC).

The President of the UNGA is a position voted for by representatives in the UNGA on a yearly basis. The President presides over the sessions of the General Assembly.

María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador was elected as the UNGA President of its 73rd session, which began in September 2018.

Nigeria may also become the first at global level to pledge 100 per cent domestication of the CRC as domiciled in the Children’s Right Act 2003 (CRA).

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), at a media dialogue on 30 years of CRC, held this week in Lagos, appealed to eleven states in the country that have not ratified the CRA to be unbiased and take a second look at the provisions of the Act Nigeria signed on to the International Human Rights convention agreement on the rights of child.

The eleven states that are yet to domesticate the CRA are Kaduna, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kano, Katsina Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.

In 2003, Nigeria adopted the CRA to domesticate the CRC. Although this law was passed at the Federal level, it is only effective if State assemblies also start it. The Children’s Rights Act 2003 (CRA) was created to serve as a legal documentation and protection of Children rights and responsibilities in Nigeria.

The law has three primary purposes: to incorporate the rights of the CRC and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights into the national law, to provide the responsibilities of government agencies associated with the law and to integrate children-focused legislation into one comprehensive law. It also acts as legislation against human trafficking since it forbids children from being “separated from … parents against their will, except where it is in the best interests of the child.”

Chief Communication, UNICEF, Eliana Drakopoulos, told journalists: “We hope that Nigeria will get the Presidency of UNGA this year and pledge the domestication of the CRA in a the 36 states. We are working to see that every Nigerian has a copy of CRC by 2030. This is a big project. We are committed to doing a child friendly version of the CRA in different Nigerian languages including Pidgin, Ibo, Yoruba, and Hausa. We want to work with the government to make sure every child has a copy of the CRA by 2030.”

Drakopoulos said UNICEF is also planning a National Summit for children on May 27 and children and young people would develop the agenda. She said the agency has contracted a famous music producer, Cobhams Asuquo, to produce a song for children with video that could be used globally.

She said UNICEF has asked Prof. Wole Soyinka to write a poem for CRC at 30 and plans to launch a report on child health right and nutrition in October.

Drakopoulos, however, said that Nigeria is not the only country that has not fully domesticated the CRC. “Sweden just did that two years ago. Not all countries have domesticated it,” she said.

UNICEF organized the media dialogue on 30 years of CRC in collaboration with the Child’s Right Information Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.

UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Mrs. Sharon Oladiji, noted that some of the cultural and religious beliefs affect the ratification and implementation of the rights of the child in Nigeria. “The puberty age is an issue in the north and adoption is not allowed in the north.”

She lamented that only 24 out of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have ratified the Act and stressed the need for the remaining 12 states to re-examine the Act and expunge sections of the Act they did not understand.

Oladiji said: “There is nothing in our society, religion or social norms that says we should not protect our children, the Child’s Right Act is a comprehensive legally binding international human rights treaty that provides for how to ensure that children are protected from all forms of abuses. Law is dynamic, they shouldn’t throw out over 200 provisions because of one issue.”

Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF, Dennis Onoise, said societies are judged by the way they treat their children.

Onoise said Lagos state has made progress in the implementation of the CRA and is presently trying to amend about 50 sections of the CRA to accommodate adoption, surrogacy.

He said Lagos has established diversion programmes for child criminals and there are plans to endorse the family courtroom.

Meanwhile, the growing insecurity and mental disorders in the country have been associated with rise in child abuse.

According to the WHO, the child maltreatment causes suffering to children and families and can have long-term consequences. Maltreatment causes stress that is associated with disruption in early brain development. Extreme stress can impair the development of the nervous and immune systems. Consequently, as adults, maltreated children are at increased risk for behavioural, physical and mental health problems such as: perpetrating or being a victim of violence; depression; smoking; obesity; high-risk sexual behaviours; unintended pregnancy; and alcohol and drug misuse.

Via these behavioural and mental health consequences, maltreatment can contribute to heart disease, cancer, suicide and sexually transmitted infections.

Beyond the health and social consequences of child maltreatment, there is an economic impact, including costs of hospitalization, mental health treatment, child welfare, and longer-term health costs.

A Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), United States, study has found evidence that children under three years old are most the vulnerable to the effects of adversity – experiences including poverty, family and financial instability, and abuse – on their epigenetic profiles, chemical tags that alter gene expression and may have consequences for future mental health. Their report appearing in the May 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry, which has been published online, finds that the timing of adverse experiences has more powerful effects than the number of such experiences or whether they took place recently.

“One of the major unanswered questions in child psychiatry has been ‘How do the stressors children experience in the world make them more vulnerable to mental health problems in the future?’” says Erin Dunn, ScD, MPH, of the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit in the MGH Center for Genomic Medicine, corresponding author of the report. “These findings suggest that the first three years of life may be an especially important period for shaping biological processes that ultimately give rise to mental health conditions. If these results are replicated, they imply that prioritizing policies and interventions to children who experienced adversity during those years may help reduce the long-term risk for problems like depression.”


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