Children as victims of violence
Although the theme of the 2017 edition of Children’s Day was “Child Protection and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Issues and Opportunities,” half of Nigerian children sadly still experience physical violence and the shameful phenomenon is prevalent across the 36 states of Nigeria. Evidence from 2011 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) shows that in Nigeria, 91 percent of children age 2-14 years have been subjected to at least one form of psychological or physical punishment by their mothers/caretakers or other household members. More importantly, 34 percent of children were subjected to severe physical punishment. On the other hand, 61 percent of mothers/caretakers believed that children should be physically disciplined. Also, media reports state that the findings of the 2014 Nigeria violence against children survey conducted by the National Population Commission with the support of the United Centres for Disease Control and UNICEF, show that approximately six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence.
The above statistics are worrisome given the fact that on November 20, 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), while in July 1990, the African Union Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRWC), which Nigeria also signed and subsequently ratified on July 23, 2003. The uniqueness of the African Charter is that it enjoins State Parties to embrace, not only the rights of the child, but also the responsibilities of the child. Nigeria enacted the principles in these international instruments into law on July 31, 2003 as the Child’s Rights Act (CRA), 2003. However, having been enacted at the national level, the states are expected to formally adopt and adapt the Act for domestication as state laws because issues of child rights protection are on the residual list of the Nigerian Constitution, giving states responsibility and jurisdiction to make laws relevant to their specific situations.
State laws inimical to the rights of the child are also to be amended or annulled as may be required, to conform to the Act and to the CRC. Notwithstanding, available data show that the Child Rights Act 2003 has been promulgated into law in 24 states: Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kwara, Lagos, Nassarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Niger, Bayelsa, Kogi and Taraba. Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara do not yet have laws conforming with the Child Rights Act 2003. This means that millions of children in 12 states in Nigeria still do not have the appropriate legal framework for the protection of their rights. As well, millions of other children in states that have passed the law are not being cared for, as they should because the laws have not been fully implemented.
The CRA subsumed children’s concerns under four broad categories namely: Child Survival, Development, Protection and Participation (CSDPP). Survival requires good nutrition and healthcare systems to reduce child mortality and morbidity; development – provision of recreational facilities and affordable education; protection against physical, psychological or moral injury and children’s right to special protection in the context of war or forced migration as with the case of children in IDP camps; participation in the decision–making process. Ipso facto, no Nigerian child shall be subjected to any form of violence.
However, Nigerian children are victims of violence every day, everywhere, at home, in school and in the communities at large! Those at risk cut across all boundaries of age, gender, religion, ethnic origin, disability and socio-economic status. This is a paradox because culturally Nigerians all cherish children. So, what is responsible for this? Nowadays some parents and care-givers inflict different forms of violence on children. When they become upset and have to transfer aggression because of different challenges and stresses, they shake, slap, hit, kick, burn, choke, pinch, shove, wipe, bite, pull hair, throw things, stab, and even shoot children. Also, the sexual advances by neighbours and bullying from other classmates at school are other forms of violence against children. Each exacts a devastating impact resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity.
Unfortunately, too many people turn a blind eye to violence against children; and too many children who experience violence do not have the confidence and the means to speak out. Combating violence against children is a legal obligation and a moral imperative, therefore, everybody’s business. So, collectively ordinary citizens, policymakers, governments and international stakeholders can have roles to play. As such, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development should pursue the domestication of the Child Rights Acts in the states that are yet to do so. The Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) should re-orientate Nigerians on the need to protect children, raise public awareness that violence against children is everywhere. Citizens should rise up to the reality, be vigilant and if any case is identified, report to the appropriate authority. Relevant multilateral and bilateral agencies should continue to support the government and all stakeholders to end violence against children. Silence is not an option!