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In Taraba, Govt’s Apathy Stunts Children’s Rights



Children at a local restaurant waiting for leftovers PHOTO: CHARLES AKPEJI

‘We’ll Go To School If Only We Get Help’ 

NIGERIA adopted the Child Rights Act in 2003; effective only if state Assemblies enact it. Although Taraba is one of the first states in the country to sign the document into law, its vision of transforming the lives of children of ordinary citizens remains hazy.

Why? Aspects of the Act such as education and free health, among others, are still in the woods. It is, therefore, common sight in the state to find children that ought to be in classrooms, taking lessons, walking the nooks and crannies of streets, hawking water and edibles. Sometimes, they are found hanging around eateries, waiting to jump at leftovers by customers.

The extensive Act reads in part: “Every parent, guardian, institution, person and authority responsible for the care, maintenance, upbringing, education, training, socialisation, employment and rehabilitation of a child has the duty to provide the necessary guidance, discipline, education and training for the child in his or its care such as will equip the child to secure his assimilation, appreciation and observance of the responsibilities set out in this Part of the Act.”

Many of the children who spoke to The Guardian said they would go to school, if they were assisted.

Their predicament is a departure from the status of children of the affluent and top government officials, who get the best of tuition and healthcare.

Voicing their plight in the Hausa language, some of the children said they were out of school because they could not afford fees, uniforms and writing materials.

Others said they had never even enrolled in school, as a result of their parents’ poverty. Hassan, a father of one of the out-of-school children, said efforts to get his four children educated failed because of his inability to meet up with the financial demands of public schools.

“I was not privileged to go to school because my parents could not sponsor me. But knowing the importance of education, I resolved to put in my best, to give my children education,” said Hassan, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“The more I tried, the more I became frustrated by the system because the schools were always demanding one fee or the other,” he said. In the process of hawking stuff in order to earn money, some children have been maimed or dispatched to the other world by motorists.

It was a bitter situation Hassan understood so well. “I used to have five children. But one was knocked down recently by a driver, as the boy tried to sell water to some passengers,” he said, adding that things could have been different had government prioritised education for all.

Officials at both the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Women and Child Development blamed the misfortune of Taraba children on people at the helms of affairs in the state. At the Ministry of Women and Child Development, a top official accused both past and present state administrations of paying lip service to the problem.

According to the source, “The plight of children has never been given consideration by them since the creation of this state in 1991.

It is true that our state is the first or second in the country to sign the Child Rights Act into law. But it is so unfortunate that our children are still the most disadvantaged in the entire country.”

Had Taraba implemented the law, said the source: “Children in this state would have gone places. Many of these international organisations would have come to our aide. But this has not been the case because the children of persons in authority do not school, here, in the state.”

Citing an education initiative extended to the state by the Venezuelan government, the source regretted that the opportunity “was grabbed by top government functionaries and politicians,” adding: “Our children need help to become the future leaders the world always makes them believe they are. They cannot achieve this dream by hawking on the streets, but only by quality education.”

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