International Children’s Day: The imperative of Investing in our Children

 Patience Momoh

The theme for the 2023 Children’s Day is “Investing in our future means investing in our children”. The present dispensation has not fared too well in the area of investing in our children.

For 103 years and counting, international Non-Governmental Organisation Save the Children, a UK-based non-governmental organization(prominently in Nigeria)  focusing on the issues that affect children and their survival, has been at the forefront of making life better for children all over the world.  Every year, it releases a Global Childhood Report. Its Global Childhood Report 2021 shed light on the toughest places to be a child in the world. Of course, Nigeria was caught in the glare of the report like a deer caught in the headlights.

The report which examined the many factors that robbed children of their childhood and revealed where greater investments are needed to save children from poverty, discrimination and neglect, compared the latest data from 186 countries and assessed where the most and fewest children were missing out on childhood.

 It certainly rung the alarm bells that the 10-bottom-ranked countries all came from sub-Saharan Africa with children in Madagascar, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, South Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Central African Republic and Niger least likely to experience childhood, a time that should be dedicated to emotional, social and physical development, as well as play. However, in these bottom-ranked countries among which Nigeria features prominently, children were shown to have been robbed of significant portions of their childhood.

For children, Nigeria remains a harrowingly hard place. Conflicts manifesting in different forms have already complicated what is no doubt difficult circumstances to tie children in knots. According to the 2021 Global Childhood Report by Save the Children, Nigeria remains one of the most difficult places to be a child, ranking below veritable hellholes like Yemen and Syria.

As Nigeria has continued to cascade into chaos, one fact has become more obvious than others, and it is that children are disproportionately caught in the middle of the crises.

Recently, a group of 21 children were abducted by gunmen from a farm in Katsina state.

Kidnapping has become endemic in recent years in Katsina – the home state of the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari – as roving gangs of armed men abduct people from schools, hospitals, roads and farms and demand ransom cash from their relatives.

Imagine a Country in which children who are even exposed to child labour are kidnapped and the government is so helpless so much so that the parents have to pay to secure the freedom of these innocent kids.

The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, regrets his ministry could not completely eradicate the rising number of out-of-school children in the country after seven years as minister.

The minister, in his keynote address at the meeting of the National Council on Education recently, blamed the rising figure on the “state governors’ lukewarm response to the suggestion for the declaration of an emergency on education, especially at the basic education level.”

The meeting of the National Council of Education, the highest decision-making body in the sector, began with technical sessions with the theme: “Strengthening of Security and Safety in Nigerian Schools for the Achievement of Education 2030 Agenda”.

The minister said the choice of the theme is the prevailing security situation in the nation’s educational system “and the inevitable challenges it poses to the public and private sectors alike.”

He said the meeting would be an opportunity to “take stock of progress in the education sector, identify the challenges and consider policy options that will enable us move rapidly towards achieving our twin global agenda – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Charter 2063.”

There were about 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria in 2015 when Mr Adamu became Nigeria’s education minister, according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).

Upon assumption of office, Mr Adamu said he wanted a declaration of emergency on basic education, but the decision could not be taken at the Federal Executive Council because it was deemed to be the responsibility of state governments.

The Nigerian government maintained that the number of out-of-school kids in the country remains 6.9 million, dismissing the 18.5 million and 20 million figures given by UNICEF and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) respectively.

Mr Adamu also listed his ministry’s efforts at reducing the number of out-of-school children to include 

the development of e-learning portal to cater for students in basic and senior secondary schools across the country, the development of Nigerian Learning Portal designed to close the learning gaps and to enable continuous access to quality education.

The minister said his ministry has trained over 200 almajirai by the National Arabic Language Village, to be integrated into formal basic schools in Borno State.

He also stated the implementation of Adolescent Girls’ Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) in seven pilot states with $500 million funding support from the World Bank. The AGILE programme supports the provision of secondary education, critical life skills and digital literacy to adolescent girls.

He added that the ministry has secured a $20 million funding for accelerated emergency funding for the North-east zone from Global Partnership for Education.

Meanwhile, the minister has called on all stakeholders to unite in addressing the security challenges facing the country and the educational institutions.

He said: “Security is a collaborative effort and should not be left in the hands of the law enforcement agents alone. As such, all stakeholders in education sector should interface and be involved, through the National Council on Education, in order to address the menace of insecurity in our country, which remains one of our biggest challenges.”

 Adamu said his ministry has so far carried out sensitisation on the implementation of the Safe School Declaration (SSD) Initiative; conducted vulnerability survey on schools in order to devise robust security strategies, constructed perimeter walls around schools, installed CCTV/alarm systems in schools, temporarily abolished boarding in rural areas, coached students and teachers on emergency security measures and created a special security unit for schools. 

Nigerian government has failed the children of our generation. Also these are children who are deprived of educational opportunities and risk being kidnapped even whilst being exposed to child labour, they are also buffeted and tormented by absolute poverty and mass hunger.

The 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI) report revealed the gravity of Nigeria’s hunger crisis. Published by Germany’s Welthungerhilfe and Ireland’s Concern Worldwide, to mark the World Food Day, the GHI ranked Nigeria 103rd out of 121 countries. Nigeria has held this ranking for the second year in a row.

The GHI outlines five levels of hunger: low, moderate, serious, alarming, and extremely alarming. Nigeria’s score of 27.3, which places it right above Ethiopia and right below Rwanda, indicates ‘serious’ hunger levels.

As of 14 June 2022, the World Bank had stated that Nigeria’s inflation rate of 16.95 per cent, already one of the world’s highest, was set to increase due to the war in Ukraine and the resultant rise in fuel and food prices. Furthermore, the World Bank predicted that an additional one million Nigerians would fall into poverty due to the increase in inflation. This is apart from the six million Nigerians that the World Bank determined would fall into poverty resulting from the inflation that was present before the Ukrainian war.

Nigeria certainly needs to do more for its children. Education, the great equalizer, is in a debilitating crisis state in Nigeria today. With the world`s highest out-of-school children, poor funding and management, poor teaching quality, and incessant strike actions by the staff of tertiary institutions, the Giant of Africa has steadily rendered millions of her citizens intellectually stunted.

There is no doubt that the state of the Nigerian children during the current political dispensation headed since the year 2015 to vacate office on May 29th 2023 by Muhammadu Buhari has been the one of torpsy turvy.

I say so because, first and foremost, the executive arm of government led by President Muhammadu Buhari cannot in any way be credited with vigorously pursuing the widespread domestication of the child’s rights Act which was passed by the National Assembly since 2003. To put it much more in practical format, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development lacks any primary child’s rights contents even in the naming of that federal agency that ministry of woman affairs and social development should rightly be identified as the ministry for family Affairs and children development.

In England, there is a child protection system in which case the Department for education (DFE) is responsible for how child protection system should work. Local safeguarding partners in England are responsible for child protection policy procedure and guidance at the local level.

Besides, the local safeguarding arrangements are led by three statutory safeguarding partners; the local authority; the integrated care board (ICB; previously Clinical Commissioning group or CCG); and the police.

The above is how England care for her children. In Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of woman Affairs is primarily responsible for the protection of the Nigerian children. The Nigeria Police is basically not adequately trained professionally to play any sort of role to safeguard child protection in Nigeria. Infact we’ve heard of cases in Nigeria, where police even takes children in vicinity of arrest into custody till suspect shows up.

In theory, the broad mandate of the ministry of women Affairs is to advise the government on gender, children issues and issues affecting persons with disabilities and the elderlies.

This sort of a framework does not practically capture the real child-friendly obligations that the government owes to the Nigerian children under several international Human Rights laws.

Also, the National Human Rights Commission is too administratively weak to vigourously play positive role in protecting the human rights of the Nigerian children.

The current leadership is laid back and lethargic and is more concerned about mundane issues unrelated to the core issues of protecting and promoting the rights of the Nigerian children. This administrative lacuna and ambiguities on which specific national institution should carry out the mandate of child protection in Nigeria similar to the simplified format adopted in Britain, is the fundamental reason children in Nigeria are mostly affected by insecurity of lives, food insecurity, lack of educational opportunities, poor healthcare, poor welfare progammmes and protection from human rights abuses such as child trafficking and child labour. Nigeria is dotted with what we call baby factories whereby kids are born by single girls who are quartered illegally in a settlement strictly for procreation of babies. This impunity is happening and even when there are institutions to combat such criminality, nothing much is done.

A state like Anambra is a possible exception because the current ministry of Women Affairs is very proactive coupled with the enabling environment for child rights enforcement put in place by the government of Anambra State Professor Charles Soludo-led administration.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that 64 per cent of Nigerian children between 0 to 5 years of age do not attend Early Childhood Education (ECE), which the UN agency said is a critical foundation for all forms of child learning.

UNICEF Education Specialist, Yetunde Oluwatosin, made this known in Sokoto at a two-day media dialogue on Early Childhood Education (ECE) in Nigeria organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

She disclosed that globally 1 in 3 children are enrolled in pre-primary education while in Nigeria only 36 per cent of children attend early childhood education accounting for 1 in every 3 children.

Quoting the 2018 National Personnel Audit (NPA) report conducted by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Oluwatosin lamented that wide disparity exists between rich households accounting for 78 per cent attendance and children from poor households where only 8 per cent attend early childhood education.

She said the situation is exacerbated by the fact that there is low public spending on early childhood education in spite of the huge benefits for child development and the nation’s economic growth, adding that at least over 10 million school-age children are not enrolled in Nigeria.

She noted that with the current statistics, Nigeria is far from achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while also listing some of the barriers to early childhood education to include, lack of data for effective planning, lack of infrastructure and limited play-based facilities within the school environment as well as a shortage of trained teachers to handle early learners in the country.

She further noted that from the NPA report, Nigeria has over 7 million learners in early childhood education to 154,000 available teachers.

“This pupils/teachers ratio is low, and we must do something to improve this. This disparity is there, and we are still far behind in achieving the SDG goals,” she said.

The Federal Government should take steps to reposition early childhood education in Nigeria to make it a strong and resilient national system in development and humanitarian context.

The Nigerian media should create space for issues relating to children,  ECE remains the bedrock of a child’s development and that attention must be focused on ensuring that children are exposed to learning at an early stage for proper brain development.

The incoming government should avail Nigerians a blueprint to address the concerns about the welfare and right of children, one of them is the issue of early childhood education that is not given adequate attention in the country.

Momoh is the anchor of kiddieslegate whose outfit IPONY is geared at children, youths and women advocacy.

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