Children’s Day: Any hope for the Nigerian child?

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Today is another children’s day, celebrated all over the world. As usual, Nigeria joins the global community to perform the yearly ritual, albeit with unfulfilled promises from government at different levels.

The day is declared by the United Nations (UN), to pay special attention to the needs of children and prepare them for a secure and better future in a way that they could contribute significantly to world growth and development. But in Nigeria, as in many African countries, the day hardly means much beyond rhetorical effusions poured before the children on parade grounds. These incidentally evaporate as quickly as they are poured— never to be reflected on nor fulfilled. Therein lies the myriad questions on many Nigerian children’s lips as the 2011 edition of the annual ritual is here again. To them and premised on empirical evidence, 50 years after independence they still have cause to ask: ‘wither the future?
Poverty, child labour and abuse, insecurity, worsening education standard and inadequate medical attention leading to high maternal mortality rate among other denigrating living conditions are still the lot of the Nigerian children.
Although absence of comprehensive data has made it difficult to determine the level of children’s involvement in crime in the country, reports have continued to indicate that most violent crimes committed in Nigeria are carried out by either young adults or teenagers.
According to investigations, common diseases that lead to death among children in the country are: vaccine preventable diseases (VPD); diarrhea, Acute Respiratory Tract Infections ( ART); Typhoid, malnutrition.  It was also gathered that infant mortality rate at 2011: total: 91.54 deaths/1,000 live births;  male: 97.42 deaths/1,000 live births; female: 85.31 deaths/1,000 live births.
More so, morbidity and mortality in children from developing countries, including Nigeria are primarily due to preventable infections such as measles, poliomyelitis, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus, diphtheria, and tuberculosis.
Apart from children who die through these diseases, there are others who get physically or mentally scarred for life. And many of such children who are from poor homes also end up being denied benefits of western education. These categories of children are seen daily on Lagos roads and other major cities in the country engaging in hawking wares or begging for alms.
The Human-Immuno Deficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/Aids) have also made many children orphans with no special attention from the government at all levels.
When United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived the country on May 22 on a two-day visit, as parts of his campaign against maternal mortality and other development issue tagged “Every Woman, Every Child” global health campaign, which he launched last September during the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit at the UN Headquarters in New York, he commended Nigeria’s effort towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while pointing out that the figures still remained high.
The eight MDGs include: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and women empowerment; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.
According to UN Secretary-General, Sub-Saharan Africa, which includes Nigeria, has the slowest progressive rate of MDGs 4 and 5, on child and maternal mortality, as 100 women still die from childbirth daily while 22,000 children die from malaria and other preventable diseases .
Many people have expressed the view that the future of this generation of children really looks bleak since they are denied education which imbues their counterparts in other parts of the world with basic life-supporting skills.
Observers believe that the only way the society’s future could be protected from this type of unfolding anarchy is for the state governments to incorporate the Child Rights Act into their body of laws. Unfortunately, very few states have adopted the Child Rights Act, while many of the states are yet to buy into the idea. Thus, the fate of children in most states of the federation hangs on the balance.
The children are therefore calling on the relevant authorities to go beyond rhetoric and begin to sit down to address the issues and challenges facing the Nigerian child.
“I want good education for all children. Children should not be allowed to beg for alms. Government and parents should ensure that the children are given quality education because we are the leaders of tomorrow,” said Master Chinedu Okoro, a primary four pupil.
“When I see children on television looking very pale, I feel very sad, so I want the government to equip the hospitals so that children can get quality health care services,” said Rose Omotayo.
“I want to say no to child abuse and child trafficking. Our rights as children should be respected,” stated another.
As Nigerians therefore today mark Children’s Day today, the challenge before the government at all levels and the public at large is to help them become true future leaders who would be proud to contribute their quota to societal development and growth.
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