WE are in a landmark year. We mark the centenary. The National Conference is Nigeriaâ€™s future. We are building the future with minimal attention to children who the United Nations Assembly started celebrating in 1954, 60 years ago.
Our children, our leaders say, are our future. Volumes of speeches, deliberately long and windy to provide cover for their emptiness, help our leaders celebrate their elevated duplicity.
Has anyone mentioned the rights of our children â€“ our future â€“ as the debates rage about the future of Nigeria? Nothing shows the neglect of the future better than the reluctance of some States to implement the Child Rights Act, CRA, 11 years after it became law. The illegality of various State Houses of Assembly having to pass or reject a federal law is one case our fiery lawyers shun.
The CRA has, as one of its goals, the elimination, or at least reduction of child labour. Child labourers are house helps, apprentices, hawkers, street traders, market/shop assistants, bus conductors, motor park touts, â€˜portersâ€™, beggars for themselves or aides to adult beggars.
Section 28 of the Act states, â€œNo child shall be a. Subjected to any forced or exploitative labour; or b. Employed to work in any capacity except where he is employed by a member of his family on light work of an agricultural, horticultural or domestic character; or c. Required, in any case to lift, carry or move anything so heavy as likely to adversely affect his physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development; or d. Employed as a domestic help outside his home or family environmentâ€.
Subsections (3) and (4) prescribe a fine of N50, 000 or five yearsâ€™ imprisonment or both, for individual offenders while a corporate organisation and its members would be liable on conviction to a fine of N250, 000.
CRA also prohibits child marriages and betrothals. In Section 21, any marriage contracted by anyone under 18 years is invalid. Under Section 22: â€œ(1) No parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person. (2) A betrothal in contravention of subsection (1) of this section is null and voidâ€. Both provisions are in the Criminal and Penal Codes, though they are hardly enforced.
If States, since 2003, implemented the CRA, with its provisions for education and well-being of the child, Nigeria could really be optimistic about its future.
The height of the hypocrisy is that Governors whose States have refused to implement childâ€™s rights join in trumpeting the importance of children to Nigeriaâ€™s future.
We have to halt the national hypocrisy that equates conducting elections to a future for Nigeria. We can only build a fractured, fractious future without our children.