Today is marked across Nigeria as Children’s Day. In 1954, the United Nations General Assembly on November 20 adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Children, and thus, declared the day as “International Children’s and Youths Day”. Member countries were, however, given the liberty to mark the Day on any day of the year that may be convenient for them. The Day, which is not a public holiday in Nigeria, is observed on May 27 every year. The theme for this year’s event is ‘A Better Future for Every Child’.
Education and health are two critical areas in which Nigerian children have continued to endure regrettable challenges. With over a century since western system of education was introduced into the country, over 10 million school-age children yet remain out of formal school system; increasing the population of illiterates in a country that should have, given its resources, wiped out illiteracy before the end of the twentieth century. Even children who manage to make it to public schools do not get the best of education because of infrastructural deficits.
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School buildings in many states are dilapidated. Library materials, workshop and laboratory tools or equipment are either obsolete or non-existent. Where parents cannot provide classroom furniture, children sit on bare floors or share desks; sometimes under a tree. Teachers are most times owed months of unpaid salaries. Pupils in public basic schools spend most part of the academic year at home due to incessant strikes by teachers.
For instance, public primary school pupils in Niger State spent almost the whole of the second term of the current academic session at home following the strike embarked upon by their teachers on January 10, 2022 over percentage salary being paid to them since April 2021. In the FCT too, primary school teachers in public schools have, this year alone, been in and out of strike for more than three times. It’s ridiculous that these disadvantaged children who are away from school more often than not are described as ‘leaders of tomorrow’. Yet, we expect the children to compete with their counterparts in countries where education is a priority. If anything, this foretells the quality of young people the country is preparing as potential leaders of tomorrow.
Not every child may have reasons to celebrate the 2022 Children’s Day today. Some may not even be aware of this special occasion. The out-of-schoolchildren in their millions who as victims of insurgency, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, malnutrition, disease, squalor, or destitution cannot be part of today’s merriments. Although the Day has been reduced to a mere ritual where even band rhythms and parade scarcely hold, children who routinely spend most part of the day begging on the street, hawking at motor parks, or scavenging at refuse dumpsites would actually be far-away from the fun that usually accompanied Children’s Day.
Daily Trust empathizes with all kidnapped schoolchildren that are still in captivity including those abducted from Federal Government College, Yauri, Kebbi State on June 17, 2021 as well as others from Bethel High School, Kujama in Kaduna State who have now spent 327 days with their captors since their abduction on July 14, 2021. We also feel pained to remember children abducted 60 days ago when gunmen on March 28, 2022 bombed the ill-fated Kaduna-Abuja bound train and kidnapped scores of passengers including kids. We urge government to safely rescue all kidnapped children.
We deeply lament how the federal government, after 10 years, failed to show enough commitment to the Almajiri Initiative it launched in 2012, which was meant to systematically address the almajiri phenomenon and integrate basic education into the Qur’anic school system. In many northern states, children still move in hordes in the street, begging for alms; making them easy prey for disrupting public peace and order. It is shameful that northern governors have allowed the inexcusable almajiri trend remain intractable in the same region where search for knowledge, ingenuity, hard work and honesty once ruled people’s lives.
While we commend government efforts, with the support of relevant UN agencies including UNICEF, for significantly succeeding in its national immunization programme against childhood diseases including polio, we encourage it to do more in reducing infant mortality rate by increasing access of rural communities to clean and safe water. Agencies responsible for combating child-trafficking, child-labour, prostitution and other forms of child abuse should ensure that Nigerian children are protected against these dangers. We call on state governments that have not domesticated the Child Rights Act passed by the county’s National Assembly in July 2003 to do so.
Parents are encouraged to prioritize the education and moral training of their children over their business and political interests. While effective monitoring of children complemented with adequate care and love could help reduce the menace of drug abuse among children and youths, leaders must equally stop paying lip service to the needs of the Nigerian child. To develop an individual into a sound citizen equipped with skills necessary for self-fulfillment in a knowledge-driven world is a basic right that must be guaranteed by both the home and the school for the Nigerian child. We hope that today renews hope in all Nigerian children as we urge them to make the best of it. Happy Children’s Day.