Day of the African Child: highlighting the right to participate
16 June 2008, Abuja - At the commemoration of the Day of the African Child in Abuja, UNICEF Acting Representative, Dr. Robert Limlim, called on all states of the federation to pass the Child Rights Act; to date, only 18 of the country’s 36 states have enacted the law. The Act, once passed, signifies a crucial step and commitment for the protection of children in Nigeria.
The significance of this message, on a day set aside to commemorate the massacre of hundreds of children in South Africa on June 16 1976 during the apartheid era, is evident. At the time, thousands of black school children took to the streets in a march to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of boys and girls were shot down by the then South African police and the day is set aside in honour of those killed. The Day of the African Child has also come to be observed annually as a day to increase awareness on the rights of children and to draw the attention of policy makers and civil society in African countries to the plight of African children.
Present at the event was First Lady, Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua, who called on the country’s policy makers and civil society to involve Nigerian children in the process of making policies that affect them. Commenting on this year’s theme - ‘The right to participate: let the children be seen and heard’, Hajiya Yar’Adua cautioned parents about denying their children the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities. She said parents and leaders should work towards ensuring that legal measures which outlaw practices inconsistent with fundamental child participation rights are put in place.
The First Lady said “it is time to say no to harmful practices such as hawking, child molestation and all forms of abuses on our children.”
Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Saudatu Bugundu, said child participation means encouraging children to speak out on issues that affect them, involving them and giving them a say in decisions that affect them. Beyond that, she said it also includes recognising and supporting their contribution to their communities.
“Children are intelligent, excellent and can effectively contribute to issues affecting them. Therefore the non-involvement of children in decision-making on matters or issues that borders on their welfare is a big problem in the society”, stressed the Minister.
On ground, things have not really changed much for the African child. The situation for many Nigerian children is still very dire - no fewer than 15 million children are still engaged in chid labour, with about 40 per cent of them at risk of being trafficked internally and externally for domestic service, prostitution and other forms of exploitative labour; approximately 10 million children of school age are out of school; and the country currently contributes about 85 percent of the global burden of wild polio virus at a time when Polio is being kicked out of many countries and being eradicated in the world.
On the commemoration of yet another Day of the African Child, the question of when Nigeria will begin to truly hear the voices of its children begs to be answered. The time to move on from mere perfunctory celebrations to more tangible action is long overdue.
For further information, contact Media & External Relations, UNICEF Nigeria Country Office: