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Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Opinion: Enugu Children Can Now Rejoice

By Emmanuel Onwubiko (GVE) – In 2003 the Nigerian legislators whose global reputation  was then very  notorious for being some of the most overpaid political office holders Worldwide did the unthinkable -they passed a national law that guarantees the human rights of Children.
Enugu school children saying prayers before class
Enugu school children saying prayers at school assembly
Few months after this international feat was achieved, the Yerima Bakwura who proceeded to be elected Senator after serving two terms as Zamfara State governor made nonsense of this law when he defied logic and good reasoning and in clear breach of the law just passed by the National Assembly reportedly imported a teenage bride from Egypt and went into marriage in Abuja even when the Child Rights Act forbids marriage to such an underage. The bride was speculated to be between 13 or 15 years. Sani Yerima was never charged to court for this breach thus rubbishing the institution such as NAPTIP set up to enforce the provisions of this law that relates to Child marriage. The then Federal Attorney General was accused of aiding and abetting the violation of the Child Rights law for some unknown reasons. Senator Sani Yerima’s alleged breach of this law coupled with some wrong insinuations about the law by some overzealous religious extremists created some hiccups for the smooth passage of the Child Rights Act of 2003. The failure of the office of Federal Attorney General and that of the anti human trafficking agency known as NAPTIP to wage enlightenment programme on the merits of this model law did not motivate some conservative people in some state to support the domestication of the Child Rights Act.
Sadly this good piece of legislation still needed to be domesticated by the 36 States that constitute the Federation of Nigeria. ThisCHILD RIGHTS ACT specifically protects Children from such bad practices like early child marriage but female genital mutilation wasn’t included as a strategic component of this law. This is one lacuna that makes it imperfect but all in all the version passed in 2003 as Child Rights Act can be rated as one of the best things to happen to the Nigerian Children.
Asked to give her opinion on the state of Child Rights in Nigeria, a Child and Gender Rights campaigner and Lawyer Sylvia Nneka Okonkwo (Miss) stated as follow: “although children all over the world are seen as the leaders of tomorrow, they are yet to be accorded the relevant and necessary attention they deserve“.
She continued: “Millions of them across the world suffer, treated with reckless abandon and impunity, or sold into child slavery.”
But all these scenarios are about to change at least for the millions of Children in Enugu State going by the recent information that the Wife of the State Governor Mrs. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has intensified advocacy and lobby for the State Assembly to pass a broader and more comprehensive version of the Child Rights Act sooner than expected. The news that Enugu hasn’t passed this law since 2003 is pathetic but it’s better late than never.
It seems the Enugu State administration has come to deliver only the best and qualitative version of Child Rights Act which may in some ways provide a guide for the eventual better and further amendments of certain provisions that are lacking in substance in the national version of the Child Rights Act which was passed into Law in 2003 in Abuja.
Understandably, Enugu is the spiritual and regional capital of the Igbo speaking nationality that make up the South East of Nigeria so I guess that the Wife of the Enugu State governor has realized that only the best version of the Child Rights Act is good for that beautiful coal city state.
Broadly speaking, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) outlines the human rights to be respected and protected for every child under 18years and requires that these rights be implemented.
Against this background, a draft of the Child Rights Bill aimed at principally enacting into Law in Nigeria and principles enshrined in the conventions on the Rights of the child commenced in Ernest.
It was after about 10 years with several Heads of Government and heated debates by the parliamentarians that the bill was eventually passed into Law by the National Assembly on July 2003, assented by the President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on September 2003.
The African Union Charter on Rights and welfare of a Child (1990) as well as the Nigerian Child Rights Act 2003 serve as a ground- breaking legal instruments that have been enacted, serve as veritable legislative foundation for a more secured society and improved welfare conditions for the Nigerian Child. These are the precise assessment given by legal scholars in several scholarly opinions expressed which are in substantial correspondence with the views of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria which also has the thematic mandate of defending child rights in all ramifications.
Both legislations adequately crafted and duly signed into Law at respective levels of governance that is both African-wide or the continental and national levels hold a very high level of promise for the entire children’s populace in the country when duly implemented, according to the views of those who are conversant with the tenets and principles of the guaranteed rights of Children worldwide.
Specific areas addressed by the Act as ways of improving living conditions of the Nigerian Child includes outright banning of child marriage and betrothal, exploitative labor, and all other forms of child exploitation as well as improved health care provision for the children. These provisions are however flagrantly violated by persons with opaque religious theories that are so medieval and primitive.
The Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria (SCSN) protested the attempt of the Nigerian State to impose the Child Rights Act passed by the National Assembly in 2003, on state assemblies.
According to a known Northern daily on August 22nd, 2005, the SCSN was reported to be opposed to “any law that seeks equality of rights to male and female children, which ousts the jurisdiction of Shari’ah courts on all matters affecting children, is unacceptable to Muslims”. But I asked are these people living in primitive times that they think male and female children created by one God should not enjoy the same universal rights?
At the state level, there are already 24 states of the federation that have domesticated this Act,(Abia,Akwa Ibom,Anambra,Benue,Cross River, Delta,Edo,Ekiti,Imo,Jigawa,kwara,kogi,Lagos, Nassarawa,Ogun,Ondo,Osun,Oyo,Plateau, Rivers and Taraba.)
However there is still hardly any state in the federation today that numerous abuses and violations of domesticated laws are not seen, according to observations by the gender and child rights activist Miss Sylvia Okonkwo.
The implication of this passage ordinarily would mean that children are well protected and a breach of such acts attracts a punishment to the offender, even in those states where the bill has been passed, to what extent are the Child Rights protected and enforced? This is a million dollar question.
Millions of Nigerian Children lack the services of good health care and Good Health has become increasingly elusive.
Child labor is rampant in many States of the Nigerian Federation from East to West and to North. There’s no State where Children are not used to hawk wares and foodstuffs during school hours. In Northern Nigeria prior to the establishment by the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan administration of almajiri schools there were an estimated 10 million Children out of school.
In Akwa Ibom, even where the Child Rights Act has been passed by the state Assembly, children are still branded witches and wizards and beaten and starved. In virtually all of these states, there exists a record of one instance of child abuse or the other.
UNICEF Communication Officer(Media and External Relations) Mr. Geoffrey Njoku,said most states that have assented to Child Rights  Law appear reluctant to enforce it because they believe that “it would make children grow wild, and this is not true, “he added.
The same misconception probably is the root of reluctance to pass the Bill by states like,Adamawa,Bauchi,Borno,Enugu,Gombe,Kaduna, Kano,Katsina,kebbi,Niger,Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. But the current Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi led Enugu State government has started the process of passing this law and the First lady of Enugu State is the amazon championing this advocacy process.
A way to provide advocacy support for the Enugu State administration so the Child Rights law is domesticated is to call on the National Leaders, Presidency, Legislative, and Judiciary along with all stakeholders to increase their engagement on issues pertaining to welfare of children to brace up their activities in ensuring that no child of school age is left out of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme. The National Human Rights Commission must wake up and fulfill her national mandate by rapidly joining the Wife of Enugu State governor to ensure a smooth domestication of this good law.
Where there are existing gaps in the established implementing institutions or bodies of such legislation, adequate departments or agencies should be set up that can sufficiently address and redress the numerous plights and challenges of the Nigerian Child, so opined experts. I think that the Wife of the President Mrs. Aisha Buhari should be supported in her publicly pronounced zeal to fight to stop early marriage and by so doing popularize the enforcement of the Child Rights Act.
Advocacy is widely accepted as the only way out, awareness campaign on content of Child Rights Act, with proper understanding of the Act should be activated by credible civil society groups and Non Governmental organizations and the Wife of the President should support this move.
THE wife of the Enugu State Governor, Mrs. Monica Ugwuanyi has disclosed her commitment to the domestication of the Child Rights act in the state as passed into law by the Federal Government in 2003. Mrs. Ugwuanyi noted that she would collaborate with the State Ministry of Gender Affairs to fast track the domestication of the said law to alleviate problems of children in the state.
This good steps should be broadly supported. Faith based and community based groups should provide support for the smooth domestication of this Child Rights Act in Enugu State.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs,,

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