Government at all levels should set up appropriate institutions and strategies to address the rising incidence of cruelty towards children and minors by parents and guardians. Vincent Obia writes

Two news stories of child abuse featured prominently in the last three weeks. Both were particularly heart-wrenching. The first told of a nine-year-old boy who was chained and starved for one month at a church by his pastor-father.

Korede Taiwo was accused of stealing, and he was said to have been chained to exorcise the spirit of stealing from him. He was rescued at Ajibawo village in Atan-Ota, Ado-Odo Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State by men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. The police later arrested the “pastor”, who had bolted as soon as the story of his brutish conduct became public knowledge.

In another report, barely a week later, a 10-year-old girl, Promise Udeh, was chained by her auntie in Adigbe area of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital‎ for, allegedly, stealing N4, 000. The girl was said to have been chained and kept in an uncompleted building before she was rescued by the police after a tipoff by residents of the area.

Reports like these have become increasingly prevalent. On each occasion, there is usually a kind of curious silence and indifference by neighbours, who should know about the evil. This aggravates the cruelty. And leaves everyone wondering what has happened to the traditional communal spirit of seeing the guidance of children as the responsibility of the entire community – and not just of their parents. That the perpetrators of the wickedness are parents or guardians, like in the above cases, makes the situation all the more serious.

It is commendable that in the recent cases of mistreatment of children, the security agencies intervened to save the victims. It is also laudable that the relevant authorities moved in to bring the victims to shelter and sustenance. Taiwo, who was seriously malnourished at the time of his rescue, was adopted by the Ogun State government. The government undertook to take care of the boy’s welfare. Udeh, too, was, reportedly, taken in by the Stella Obasanjo Motherless Home in Abeokuta. Beyond that, however, more effective legal and institutional processes need to be put in place to safeguard children and minors against ill-treatment.

The Child’s Rights Act 2003, passed by the National Assembly in July 2003 and assented to by the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in September 2003, contains a generous amount of provisions aimed at preventing the abuse of children. The Act is a follow-up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the United Nations General Assembly adopted on November 20, 1989, and the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which the AU Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted in July 1990. Nigeria has signed both instruments, and it ratified them in 1991 and 2000, respectively.

The two international instruments contain a universal set of standards and principles for the survival, development, protection and participation of children in socio-economic activities.

The Child’s Rights Act basically provides, among others, “Every child is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly, no child shall be— subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, including sexual abuse; or subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or subjected to attacks upon his honour or reputation; or held in slavery or servitude, while in the care of a parent, legal guardian or school authority or any other person or authority having the care of the child.”

There are effective sanctions against the above violations. Those who perpetrated the latest brutalities against children should be made to face the full weight of the law, at least to serve as a deterrent to others.
But many states have not domesticated the Child’s Rights Act by signing it into state laws – though Ogun State is not one of them. Chief Legal Officer of National Human Rights Commission in Plateau State, Mr Kiyenpiya Mahuyai, stated in January that 12 states were yet to domesticate the Act. They are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara.

There is need for all the 36 states to rise above every cultural and religious inhibition to enact the Child’s Rights Act into their respective state laws. This would make for common purpose and coordinated strategy on the safeguard of the rights of children and minors.

Further than the Child’s Rights Act, however, there should be a more forceful system of public enlightenment to educate both victims and observers of child abuse on what they can do in such situation. This would require regular radio and television jingles as well as enlightenment programmes in newspapers and the new media.

More institutions dedicated to safeguarding the rights of children also need to be established close to the people. The federal and state governments should mandate schools to establish family desks, where children suffering abuses can relate their experiences in a more welcoming atmosphere before the cases are taken up more formally by higher authorities.

Research shows that most domestic cruelties, like mistreatment of children and minors, are not reported because many of those who fall victim or notice such ills are ignorant of what to do.
A recent public opinion poll on domestic violence conducted by NOIPolls, in partnership with Project Alert, also proves this.

There should be a deliberate attempt by the federal and state governments to make laws and institutions on the protection of minors accessible to the public.

PIX: child abuse(web)rose.jpg, The brilliant performance by some ex-agitators from the Niger Delta who graduated recently from British universities is an eloquent testimony to the great potential of the country’s youth. It also bears testimony to the huge possibilities in peace and development open to Nigeria if its leaders can engage in sincere efforts to reclaim young people from pursuits incentivised – consciously unconsciously – by idleness and insensitivity on the part of the state.

Nicholas Goodness and Terubein Fawei graduated from the University of Bedfordshire with First Class Honours in public relations, and telecommunications and networking engineering, respectively. And Lucky Azibanagein graduated, also with First Class Honours, in mechanical engineering and robotics from the University of Liverpool. Eighteen others graduated with Second Class Honours, Upper Division in various disciplines.

The graduates, who had turned their backs on armed struggle and embraced an amnesty offer by the federal government, were sponsored under the latter’s Niger Delta Amnesty programme. – Vincent Obia