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Friday, 9 September 2011


A simple walk on the street of Wuse Zone Six Abuja on a particular breezy but delectable Saturday morning last month yielded for me more than I bargained for. As I walked confidently from my residential apartment to a near-by street to pick up some copies of some of our national dailies I was confronted by an avalanche of army of teenage boys some of whom ordinarily ought to be in their kindergarten and/or nursery schools learning to become responsible adults. These teenage boys, or children if you like, just like soldier ants in an errand to invade enemy territory to steal away some sizeable chunk of meat, asked me in their sonorous voices to give them money to eat.

Wondering aloud to myself if I was day dreaming or whether it was in real life that these motley crowd of hungry, angry but yet resilient teenage boys swarmed around me like bees around honey pot demanding to extract some few cash from me for their immediate up keep.

But day dreaming was not the solution to the reality that confronts me like a colossus. Recovering swiftly, I bellowed in a loud voice to these teenage boys to disperse without further waste of my precious time. Alas! I was wrong because the more I shouted at them to disperse the more the passion in them to demand for some money increased and indeed I would have been luckier if I only respected their modest request by handing them some few cash but my new angry tone attracted an unpleasant scenario.

Reason: about two dozen other hungry and angry looking teenage boys and this time around, mark my words, including ‘girls’ as young as five emerged from near-by traffic light point to join their kits and kin in singing the chorus of ‘Oga dash us money to eat’ and to ensure that their ‘new catch’ [that is my humble self] pay my way out of the near-hostage situation. I did not wait for king Solomon of the Biblical fame to counsel me to respect the wishes of these beggars and since wishes became horses that early morning for these teenage boys and girls to ride rough shod on me to earn some meals, I never hesitated further as I surrendered the entire money I was to use to purchase the newspaper to these Nigerian children I have chosen to call ‘new kings and queens of the street’ but who ironically are described by far-distant observers from the cozy comfort of their rooms as “street urchins”.
For hundreds of thousands of people that reside in the nation’s and other states’ capital cities, the presence of dozens of hungry and angry looking teenage boys have become a regular scene.

In civilized countries, governments take it as their statutory responsibility to house homeless children on the bill of government even as several welfare packages are usually dolled out to the needy and disadvantaged. Corporate entities in developed climes compete among themselves for which of them will excel in corporate social Responsibility of rehabilitating street children.

The unusual scenario in the developed countries of seeing hundreds of the now famously called ‘street urchins’ surrounding passers-by  has become for us in Nigeria as our ‘unusual usual’.

These gory and pitiable sights of young Nigerians loitering the streets of major state capitals has indeed assumed the dimension of a national calamity and it seems successive administrations have not really succeeded in working out actionable measures and strategies for not only taking millions of disadvantaged Nigerian children off the streets and back to quality and good educational institutions but child rights in Nigeria are child plays for most policy makers and politicians.

Have you ever wondered why in almost the entire thirty six states and the nation’s capital that the so-called child welfare departments are either non-existent, grossly under funded wherever they exist and this unfortunate scenario has created the monstrous development statistic which states that nearly twenty million Nigerian children of school age are out of school because of the grinding poverty that afflicts their parents or guardians?

Abandonment of children by teenage mothers have become common scenes in all parts of Nigeria so much so that some devilish medical practitioners now violate the time-tested and time-honoured medical ethics by establishing illegal baby making factories whereby street girls in their early tens who are made pregnant are paid little money to be camped in hidden facilities run by these dare-devil medical practitioners whereby children are delivered and auctioned to highest bidders among childless couples or even child traffickers who use these children for some inexplicable money making rituals. Not long ago the media reported the arrest by the Nigeria police of a medial doctor notorious for running such baby making factories and it was said that over three dozen babies were recovered and rescued.
Incidentally, my brief but remarkable existential experience with those Abuja-based street children happened about the time that I was reading the five hundred and sixty two page book by Mrs. Hilary Clinton, the current United States Secretary of state and the beautiful book is titled “living history: Hilary Rodham Clinton memoirs”.

Hilary Clinton wrote in page 268 of that beautiful and colourful book published in 2003, her experiences when she as the then first lady of the United States by courtesy of her marriage to President Mr. Bill Clinton, embarked on a journey with her team accompanied by her then fifteen year old daughter – Ms. Chelsea to some third World and/or underdeveloped countries of Pakistan, Sri lanka, and a few other South Asian nations when according to her factual accounts, she and her team including Ms. Chelsea who she said had beautiful and good childhood’s upbringing, came face to face with child/women poverty.

Mrs. Clinton known for her forth rightness said in that book that she wanted to watch her daughter Ms. Chelsea, react to the extraordinary world they were about to enter, to see it through her eyes as well as my (Hilary Clinton) own.

Mrs. Clinton graphically lamented thus; “Women handle a large share of the responsibility for the welfare of their families. Yet their work often goes unrecognized and unrewarded inside the family or by the formal economy. These inequities are starkly visible in South Asia, where more than half a billion people live in grinding poverty-the majority of them women and children.”

American Secretary of state Mrs. Clinton further argued rightly in her book that; “poor women and girls are oppressed and discriminated against, denied education and medical care and victimized by culturally sanctioned violence. Law enforcement officials often turns a blind eye to the crimes of wife beating, bride burning and female infanticide, and in certain communities, women who are raped can be jailed for adultery”.

Reading this chapter of Mrs. Clinton’s book reminded me of the fact that hundreds of thousands of Nigerian children are serially abused, raped randomly, abandoned as child witches and mostly subjected to the most cruel of child labour and enslavement and to make matters worst, in Abuja, children who are forced to hawk wares by the excruciating/grinding poverty situation of their parents are routinely arrested by the Abuja Environmental Agency, arbitrarily and summarily charged in Kangaroo environmental mobile courts, sentenced and subjected to the most horrendous ordeals of public flogging/caning for violating the so-called edicts against street hawking. But who cares about the unwarranted state of man’s inhumanity to man that our Nigerian children go through everyday while law enforcement agents including the federal Attorney General’s office looking the other way?

In Nigeria, a serving Senator- Sani Yerima was alleged to have contracted an illegal and anti-child rights Act 2003 marriage to a thirteen year old Egyptian child bride but the then Federal Attorney General Mr. Bello Mohammed Adoke rather than defend the integrity of the Child Rights Act of 2003 passed by the National Assembly rather in a bizarre fashion sided with the ‘big-man’ Senator Yerima with an unacceptable claim as reported by the media that the Egyptian child was not entitled to the protection provided by the Child Rights Act of 2003.

That case of alleged child marriage committed by Senator Yerima has been allowed to go unchallenged because rather than face reality, Sani Yerima mobilized some of his fellow alleged religious extremists who argued that his marriage to the baby bride was acceptable even when it was a clear violation of several sections of the Child Rights Act of 2003 passed by the National Assembly which is a valid law operational in Abuja where the marriage took place and the Child Rights Act is now domesticated in more that a dozen states of the federation.

How can a country that wants to be regarded as a modern democracy allow the human rights of their children to be treated as child plays by members of the elite? Nigerian children are becoming orphans because their parents are dying of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome and Hydro Immune Virus HIV/Aids and concerted pragmatic effort are not made by states of the Federation to set up functional, well-equipped and well-managed orphanages and motherless babies’ homes under the supervision of both ministries of women/youth affairs and Health to give them quality and good childhood.

A 2006 report by the United Nations joint programme on HIV/Aids and the World Health Organization graphically reported that; “only India and South Africa have more people infected with HIV than does Nigeria, where an estimated 2.9 million (1.7million-4.2 million) people are living with the virus in 2005… the overall trend in HIV infection levels among pregnant women in Nigeria appears to be stable. Nationally, about Four point four percent (4.4%) of women attending antenatal clinics were found to be infected with HIV in 2005, but prevalence in pregnant women exceeded five percent (5%) in almost a dozen states”.

The Ekiti State Governor’s wife recently raised alarm that the incidence of rape of teenage girls has become unprecedented and most of these innocent children being raped are usually infected with HIV/AIDS by these dare -devil rapists.             

Nigeria has to come to terms with contemporary reality that child rights are not to be treated as child plays.

Writing in the journey of the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) in its February 2011 edition, a lawyer Ms. Ogom Kifordu supported my claim stated above that most component parts of the Nigerian federation have failed to adopt the child Rights Act because for those policy makers at that level, child rights are child plays.

The young lawyer stated that; “Child Rights Act of 2003 has had little true effect on child’s rights across Nigeria, due to lack of implementation among other states, which have their own administrative/executive authorities and state judiciary”.

Miss. Kifordu, an Abuja-based lawyer further stated thus; “though the National Assembly in 2003 passed the child Rights Act, there exists no provision of national force that truly protects children against abusive conditions and in many states, child protection matters are seen only as issues that should border only the organized civil society groups”.

I believe that we are collectively toying with our national security when we toy with the serious issue of ensuring strict implementation and enforcement of constitutional and legal provisions that ought to protect the human rights of our children because if we bring up our children in violent and abusive situations, then we are inadvertently creating a big monster that will destroy all of us because this army of abused children will become ready recruits for armed insurgents like religious extremist groups and other anti-social criminals who will continuously unleash terror on all of us.

In the scholarly book titled “Democratic Governance and International law”, edited jointly by Gregory Fox and Brad Roth, these experts warned of the danger of undermining child rights or rights of disadvantaged population of any nation.

They wrote thus; “In the world that emerged after the collapse of the fascists and communist Ideologies, the principal cause of war has become unfairness and anomie. How the means of a good life are distributed among peoples and persons and whether, people and persons are adequately consulted in decisions that determine their life-prospects: these are the principal determinants of war and peace”.

Thomas Franck stated rightly that; “The role of the state, in an era of increasing transnationalization of big decisions and of the localization of subsidiary ones, is to serve as the forum for that organized social discourse, leading to a high degree of consensus regarding what is fair. That consensus is essential to the avoidance of war: In particular, civil war, the principal form of belligerence in the new era”.

My candid advice to our brand new President Goodluck Jonathan and governors of the thirty six states is that they should build formidable child welfare institutions and introduce enforceable legal framework for the effective protection of the rights of our children because any nation that continues to treat child rights as child plays is in the process of building forces that would one day seek revenge for their childhood abuses and poverty “A word is enough for the wise”.

*          Emmanuel Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria, HURIWA.


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