The Convention on the Rights of the Child launched in 1989 was supposed to change the way children in the world were viewed and treated. It set out a pioneering set of principles that placed children as human beings with a distinct set of rights.
With the Convention celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year (1989-2014) I decided to take another close look at the Child Rights Act (Nigeria) passed into law at the Federal level in 2003 which encapsulated the Convention and its principles and see if life for the Nigerian child had indeed changed for the better.
As I read the seventeen (17) rights listed, excluding the proviso, I found it difficult to reconcile the rights listed with the reality of life in Nigeria for the Nigerian child especially the following rights:
1. the right to survival and protection
2. the right to dignity
3. the right to free and compulsory basic education
The Nigerian child’s right to survival and protection was clearly violated on November 10, 2014 when a suicide bomber, suspected to have been spurred on by the terrorist group Boko Haram, murdered 47 children as they gathered for the morning assembly at their school – the Federal Government Science School in Potiskum, Yobe State. This was not a singular incident.
On the 6th of July, 2013, Boko Haram attacked a secondary school in Mamudo, Yobe State, killing 42 children.
On September 29, 2013 gun-men from Boko Haram entered the male dormitory of the Federal Government College of Agriculture in Gujba, Yobe State, killing 44 boys.
On February 25,2014 members of Boko Haram attacked the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State where they massacred 59 boys in their sleep.
The Nigerian child has been subject to murderous attacks in schools as far back as July 2013 and no visible remedial action has been taken by the Nigerian government to provide adequate security to make schools safe in the North Eastern part of Nigeria where insurgency has reached a climatic stage of terrifying proportion.
My complaint doesn’t stop there. What about the child’s right to dignity? Is there any record of the names of these innocent children that were killed? Has a memorial being set up for these children to show that their lives matter?
I recall the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 where 26 children were killed by a deranged madman in Newton, Conneticut, USA. On the CNN website there was a picture of each of the children who were killed and a short biography for each of them including personal details such as “her favorite stuffed animal was a lamb; pink and purple were her favorite colors.” Where is the memorial wall for all the children killed by the insurgents?
In recognition of the Nigeria child’s right to dignity, the Bring Back Our Girls Movement, led by Oby Ezekwesili, insisted in giving a name to each of the 276 girls abducted by terrorists in Chibok, Nigeria on April 2014, because every human being has a name and every life matters. The BBOG Movement refused to view the abductions as just another episode of : “some girls were abducted”, but a case of someone’s daughter or sister or friend. These were human beings whose lives mattered with a name, a face and an identity. This right of dignity is even more important in death.
It is ironic that in the pursuit of their fundamental right to an education, children in Nigeria have been massacred. Children in the North Eastern part of Nigeria are now afraid to go to school for fear of being killed, and according to Alkasim Abdulkadir, an international journalist who has written extensively on the Girl Child in Nigeria, there are over 500,000 children out of school in Borno State alone.
How do we enforce the child’s right to free and compulsory education in view of the real threat of insurgency? What do we mean by safe schools? Do we uproot these children from the North Eastern region and educate them in other parts of the country? Or do we keep them in their hometowns and make their schools secure with armed security, security checkpoints, secure gates and proper fencing as President Jonathan alluded to in his May 3, 2014 address to the nation.
It is likely that if adequate security had been installed at the Federal Government College in Potiskum and appropriate security checks were taken, the suicide bomber would have been discovered before he entered the school. But this is all hypothetical.
On July 16, 2014, the Federal Government of Nigeria inaugurated the Victims Support Fund Committee to manage and administer the compensation of victims of terrorism by way of a Victim Support Fund. The successful inauguration and fundraising dinner raised a sum of N58 billion naira (approximately $330 Million dollars).
The funds have not as yet being applied towards any projects as the Presidential Committee of the Victim Support Fund is still in the process of collecting data for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) nationwide. However, if a small percentage of that money can be used to set up a memorial edifice for the children killed in Gujba, Buni Yadi, Mamudo, and Potiskum and all children killed as a result of the insurgency, I think this will be a good first step to take in acknowledging that the Nigerian child has rights and that their lives have value and will mark a renewed commitment to uphold the rights of the Nigerian Child as we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, until then, we will continue to raise our voices #4TheNigerianChild until change comes.
Toyin Olakanpo is qualified Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England & Wales and a duly appointed attorney of the New York State Bar who specializes in the area of corporate social responsibility and the law, advising companies and individuals on a consulting basis especially in the area of children’s rights and business; and human rights and business. Toyin is also a passionate child rights advocate and sits on the Board of the Foundation for CSR & Children’s Rights as its President and Chief Executive Officer.
The HASHTAG #4TheNigerianChild was launched by Toyin Olakanpo in November 2014 to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and was the official hashtag for a Twitter Chat on November 20th hosted by the Foundation for CSR & Children’s Rights (“CSR Children”)
Follow Toyin on Twitter: @toyino1