Paul Obi in Abuja
A group of experts drawn from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), UNICEF, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other organisations have urged the federal government and leaders of West Africa to expedite action in ending child poverty in the sub-region.
The organisations, in a communiqué issued recently in Abuja, tasked the Nigerian government and other West African leaders to embrace eradication of poverty among children as a key component of their national policies.
The experts also highlighted the need to monitor child poverty with separate measurements along geographic, gender and socio-economic lines.
UNICEF Regional Advisor on Social Policy, Gustavo Newbie, who signed the communiqué stated that “child poverty is not only about monetary poverty, but about the actual deprivations children are experiencing,” noted
“Children have a right to education, healthcare, information, nutrition, housing, clean water and adequate sanitation. We must ensure our children are free from crippling deprivations today – and enable them to grow into the leaders we need for the future.”
ECOWAS Commissioner Mamadou Traore said: “Children are not only the most fragile layer in society; they are also the workforce of tomorrow.
“We must put in place a roadmap for the development and adoption of sustainable policies for the eradication of child poverty and for effective and dynamic social protection in the region,” Traore contended.
The communiqué observed that “the region’s considerable overall economic growth in recent years has not resulted in improvements in the life of vast numbers of children, many of whom still lack access to proper nutrition, basic healthcare, education, clean water and housing.
“Since the publication of a UNICEF global study on childhood poverty in 2003, there has been an expansion of policies aimed at addressing the multiple factors that feed into the problem in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Nevertheless, in most countries, inequalities and social exclusion continue to fuel the persistence of high levels of child poverty,” the groups stressed.
They maintained that “the call to action is the outcome of an International Conference on Child Poverty and Social Protection held at the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja, between May 23 and 25.
“As different sub-Saharan countries battle a range of health and environmental crises, the negative effects on child welfare deepen and expand to varying degrees across the region. Epidemics such as Ebola, natural disasters including flooding and droughts, and armed conflicts can all counteract improvements that have been made,” they added.
Also, the experts agreed that factors that can be addressed by economic policy, such as poor working conditions, low salaries and high unemployment, can actually have an even greater impact on child poverty.
They held that “putting policies in place that address these problems is critical to reducing child poverty and creating a better future”, and the experts also highlighted the urgent need for social protection measures such as providing cash grants and subsidies.
The conference was organised by ECOWAS, UNICEF and the ILO, along with academic networks, Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) and Equity for Children. It was attended by around 70 regional and global experts and academics, with primary focus on development.