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Cultural practices eroding our moral values — Child activists

Cultural practices eroding our moral values — Child activists Cultural practices eroding our moral values — Child activists Ruth Ataguba is a lawyer and a…

Cultural practices eroding our moral values — Child activists

Cultural practices eroding our moral values — Child activists

Ruth Ataguba is a lawyer and a rights advocate for children who also consults for the UN and ECOWAS on child protection issues. In this interview she speaks on why children are not getting their rights, and how this can be corrected.

By Ruby Leo

What’s your experience in child rights issues?

It has been a long journey. I’ve seen things evolve over time, especially in the North where there wasn’t much awareness about present women’s and children’s rights issues. We created enlightenment and awareness programmes and now we have moved on to providing services to ensure children are protected? Presently its beyond awareness protection and getting down to the hard, dirty work. We need laws in place. We need policies, institutions to protect children. We are coordinating the activities of institutions and services so that we ensure children are better protected and they enjoy the rights they are entitled to.

Would you say violence against children has increased now in Nigeria, or in the North where you work?

It is like an invisible thing. We see the occasional reports in the papers. The report of a survey clearly shows the problem is on the increase, and I could see that as a result of environmental factors-the economic stress, violence across the continent among others. There’s conflict everywhere and it has moved into Nigeria. So it causes displacement, and people who would normally be peaceful are now violent. As the pressure continues to build up, we expect that children will become victims of some of these things. At the same time services are available if well co-ordinated, we can control the problem. For instance, child labour is on the decline from ILO statistics. That’s because of the efforts of child protection actors.

From your experience, would you say societal and family values have broken down?

The family is at the centre of everything, especially where children are concerned. That’s where they get their first value system built in; that’s where they learn socialization, skills and what they should do. So when there is a breakdown in family values, maybe as a result of all the other factors we already talked about, like economic pressures, sending mothers out to work that they become so concerned about survival that they barely give attention to children. Children are left in care of house helps and that introduces a lot of factors. And maybe the mother is very tired, by the time she gets home she can’t concentrate-things you should be seeing, you are not seeing: the language of your child, the way he communicates with other people, the way he eats or talks and all of that, the friends he has. We lose all of these things because of breakdown of family values. And then we push them to the television or to play games. These days parents buy children gadgets and powerful phones they have no business carrying around, they are on the internet. The value system is going down, and as society breaks down, community is not as cohesive as it was. It creates problems.

As a lawyer, what are your thoughts on the laws that are supposed to protect children against violence?

I don’t think we need new laws. I think there are enough laws. What we need is enforcement. If the laws can be enforced, implemented, children will be better protected. And we need cohesiveness in terms of all the different actors involved-health, agric, ministry of women affairs, sports, everything coordinated and doing what they are supposed to do, and then the police ensuring laws are enforced. I don’t personally think we should spend too much energy creating new laws.

Why do you think there is little prosecution or convictions for violence against children? And what is the way forward?

We are depending too much on culture. We tend to think some things are not culturally acceptable. We don’t see children as natural human beings with their own rights and views and opinions. We tend to force things on them. And when things go wrong, we tend to suppress some of these things because we are afraid of stigmatisation, and sometimes we feel that even if I go to court, nothing is going to happen, so we don’t have the energy to pursue a court case. I think some of the problems can be solved by awareness, just letting people know that when an issue involves a child, there are systems in place to ensure a child is not stigmatised, and confidentiality is preserved.

Investigators, if they are professionals, ought to make sure the child is not unnecessarily stigmatised. Once we know that there are safety nets within the justice system, people tend to be much more better. Enforcement is essentially the main thing why laws are failing. People think the law applies to some people and not others. When people see that when you do wrong with regards to a child, you will be punished, then the environment will become safer for children.

In which particular state do you think violence against children is more prominent?

I can only talk about the FCT. For now the FCT is under a lot of pressure. The internally displaced people are coming into the FCT every day. The economic situation is tight, things are expensive, and families are under pressure. Government should give some close attention to issues before they escalate, so that we preempt problems. If you go to the outskirts, a lot of people are coming in every day. The IDPs also live in camps. So what kind of problems can arise from this situation, we should take preemptive steps and make sure we prevent them, for instance ensuring children are in school and well fed.

What would you like to see happen that will change the future for the Nigerian child?

I want a situation where things are working for the Nigerian child, where no child goes to bed hungry and no child is out of school. In order to get this, government has to allocate enough resources to the sectors as we promised in our international instruments. If you are say you are giving a percentage of the budget to education, then please let’s do so.

I want to see child protection actors doing their job. A social welfare department is critical to children’s wellbeing. Let the police see themselves as professionals in child protection, and working in harmony with those who are interested. Let not too much be left to the NGOs.

FG move to end child marriage

By Ruby Leo

The Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs Aisha Alhassan has revealed that the Federal Government is set to launch a National Campaign to end child marriages in the country.

The women minister made this known yesterday during a two day “Technical Meeting of Experts on Girl Child Development and Capacity Building towards Ending Child Marriage in Nigeria”decried the high prevalence of child marriage in the North West with figures up to over 70 per cent.

Mrs Aisha Jummai Alhassan who was represented by Mrs Esther Mshelia, the director, Women and Gender Affairs, noted that the African Union (AU) has launched an official campaign on Ending Child Marriage in Africa in 2014.

According to her, the ministry has set up a Technical Working Group on Ending Child Marriage and other harmful practices to ensure the menace is reduced.

“In line with the continental move, ending child marriage is one of the key priorities of the government of Nigeria and indeed this present administration, thus to consolidate multi-stakeholder action against child marriage in Nigeria, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development recently inaugurated a National Working Group on Ending Child Marriage and other harmful traditional practices; and that group is called TWG.

She continued, “It has 32 members and they would support in addressing the issues and accelerate the full realisation of children’s human rights.

“The objectives of the group are to develop and implement a holistic multi-sectoral strategy for ending child marriage in Nigeria.

“They are also charged to raising awareness on issues around child marriage and encourage behavior change among the citizenry.

“And they are also charged with monitoring and implementation of the existing laws on child marriage in Nigeria and have a robust monitoring and evaluation structure.

She decried that child marriage was detrimental to the development of the girl child, adding that it robs the girl of her childhood, jeopardizes her health, education and limits her chances of actualising her potentials.

Earlier in the meeting, the Permanent Secretary, Mrs Binta Bello, said the citizenry should harness government’s economic and educational empowerment opportunity provided for the girl child.

The permanent secretary who was represented by Mrs Georgette Azogu, Director Child Development said, “The opportunity offered by Federal, State and Local governments towards the girl child development should be harnessed, especially in the area of economic empowerment through formal education, vocational training, social protection measures and second chance education opportunities designed to improve the lots of girls in this country.

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