Nigerian Children mark Day of Prayer and Action for Children (DPAC) with Prayers, Drama and Songs
By Olalekan Ajia
Abuja 23 November 2012 – In Nigeria, UNICEF supported the Abuja Women of Faith - a network of Christian and Muslim women leaders - and an affiliate of Religions for Peace, to organise an interactive session with key stakeholders on "Ending Violence against Children.” About five hundred schoolchildren across Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, joined religious leaders and diplomats on Tuesday, 20 November, to celebrate the 2012 Day of Prayer and Action for Children (DPAC). The event was both sober and fun-filled, with children leading the prayers for Peace and performing an explosive dance drama on the theme of non-violence and the need for unity in ending violence against children.
The children’s dance depicted the Nigerian proverb that whilst an enemy can easily break one lone broomstick, it is very difficult to break a bunch of broomsticks held together by a common purpose.
The Archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, noted that children are highly valued in traditional Nigerian culture, as they are in the teachings of Jesus Christ. He cited Jesus’ harsh warning to those who mislead and corrupt children, that: “It would be better to tie a big stone on their necks and throw them into the middle of the sea.”
Alhaji Abubakar Jega, Executive Secretary of the National Mosque, said the issue of violence against children is totally forbidden both in Christianity and Islam. He declared, “What we have is to encourage love and understanding...There is no religion that permits you to take the life of an innocent person; that religion does not exist.” On 5 November, 2012, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika, disclosed that the Boko Haram sect operating in northern Nigeria had so far killed 3,000 people in an alleged bid to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state.
Canada’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, His Excellency, Chris Cooter, was more direct about the consequences of violence on Nigerian children “Your children, not your oil, are your real wealth. If they are harmed, the wounds they suffer – physical and psychological- will last their entire life-time. Violence, as you know, begets violence. And children against whom violence is inflicted, may, as adults, reproduce that violence in their lives, even against their own children. So it essential to break that cycle…” He therefore urged the women leaders of faith to pass on to the children the core values that the two great religions of Nigeria, Christianity and Islam, each stand for: not intolerance and rivalry, but compassion and respect.
Guest Speaker, Sharon Oladiji, a Child Protection Specialist with UNICEF Nigeria, took the gathering through various United Nations and UNICEF studies which indicate that violence against children takes place in homes, schools, orphanages, residential care facilities, on the streets, in the workplace, in prisons and in places of detention, and could even be legally and socially approved. She called for the yoke of silence to be broken by all stakeholders, including children themselves on the “hidden” and underreported incidents of violence, in particular, sexual violence against girls. Sharon called for interventions from the pulpit, in the mass media, at Parents Teachers Association meetings and through engagement with the Police, Ministries of Justice and influential community gatekeepers.
According to her, one important step in stopping the violence is ensuring that all children have birth registration certificates issued by the National Population Commission (NPopC), as this makes it easier to legally enforce children’s rights against abuse as well as facilitate their access to health, education and other basic services.
Ambassador of Germany to Nigeria, Her Excellency, Dorothy Janetzke-Wenzel, told the children that nations, including Germany and Nigeria, want all children to be treated with respect, “that you always have enough to eat; that you are not taken somewhere where there is violence against you… sometimes… even small children,, and even girls, are used in conflicts … as child soldiers, and we don’t agree with that.”
In her own appeal to religious bodies in Nigeria, Co-Chair of the Abuja Women of Faith, Sister Agatha Gladonald Chikelue, urged them to devote at least one day in the year to offer prayers together and take one concrete action to promote the well-being of children in their places of work. If they did that, she said, “it would make a significant difference in the lives of children”
To translate that wish into action and ensure that DPAC messages continue to resonate in children’s lives, UNICEF Nigeria is to collaborate with the Abuja Women of Faith, the National Population Commission and influential religious leaders in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria to disseminate birth registration messages during Friday Jumat services and Sunday Church sermons in the next three months- with special focus on the Christmas season. NPopC officials will work with the mosques and churches to monitor the number of sermons on birth registration and an end to violence against children; to direct care givers to birth registration centres, and track the increase in number of births registered through RapidSMS monitoring.
The outcome would be measured at the end of six months; if successful, documented as good practices and scaled up to states with low birth registration across Nigeria as a building block in the protection of children from abuse, violence and exploitation, as promoted by DPAC 2012.