Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki and a group of Civil Society Organization (CSOs) have advocated the complete domestication and strict implementation of the Child Rights Act (CRA) across the country.
This consensus, according to a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President, Sanni Onogu, was reached at a roundtable on “Advancing the Rights of the Nigerian Child” organized by the Office of the Senate President in commemoration of the 2017 Children’s Day celebration in Abuja.
Personalities and CSOs that participated in the roundtable discussion included the Speaker of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, Alhaji Kauwa Damina, representatives of the European Union (EU), The Malala Foundation, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), Youths of Africa, National Democratic Institute (NDI), Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), and a cross section of teachers, students and pupils from primary and secondary schools in Abuja.
While wishing Nigerian children a happy celebration, Saraki noted that the event was meant to celebrate the resilience and perseverance of Nigerian children in overcoming the many obstacles of childhood.
“With this in mind, we celebrate the recent release of the 82 Chibok girls and take time to make constructive and critical evaluation of our commitment to the next generation,” Saraki said.
He lamented that out of every five children, two currently live in poverty, millions in poor housing, crowded rooms, squalid conditions, on streets and affected by communal conflicts and insurgency.
“These type of beginnings,” the Senate President, who is also a trained medical doctor noted, “can hold a child back for the rest of his or her life. At just 22 months, a poor child’s skills already trail behind those of better-off toddlers. At age five, that poor child, even if he or she is very bright, will have been overtaken at school by a less talented but more privileged class mate.
“Releasing these children from that trap, unleashing their potentials is critical if we are to create a society that is truly fair. A starting point is to review what protection our laws offer this demographic vulnerability.”
He further stated that the existing laws which offer special protection to children and other vulnerable groups in the country include the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, (VAPP Act, 2015) and the Child Rights Act (2003).
Saraki said: “These laws contain specific provisions to protect the Nigerian child. In order for our objective to be realized, much more needs to be done at all levels of State governance, but particularly at the local level, through meaningful cooperation and collaboration of all actors involved in the field of protecting children.
“The need remains to establish well-functioning Child Protection Units, provide quality social services for child protection and empower families in need.
“The domestication of the Child Rights Act has been concluded in 24 States. Other States are examining it to see how it relates to local sensitivities and values, and thereby make the law more relevant and effective. It is my hope that the scrutiny of the Act will enhance its inclusiveness and the comprehensive protection and the Nigerian child,” he said.
He stated that domestication and strict implementation of CRA and VAPP are critical for success in the battle to raise a future generation of national touch bearers.
“I must also add that, domestication alone will not turn the tide; we must be willing to vigorously implement the law to match words with action,” Saraki said. “Otherwise we risk making a caricature of ourselves, government, and governance if we fail to give the law teeth to protect the vulnerable for whom we are gathered today.”
He enjoined State Houses of Assembly, traditional heads, political leaders, civil societies and all Nigerians to initiate discussion at their various levels, to ensure that all stakeholders are carried along and their views captured in the advocacy to fully domesticate and implement the CRA.
“We in the 8th Senate are willing to back you up by ensuring adequate appropriation to institutions charged with response and protection such as the police and public health agencies,” he said. “In the years to come, I want us to be able to turn around and say that Nigeria is an ideal place to raise a child.”
“I want us to be able to look back and say: We tackled the deficit, we protected the futures of our children, and we gave them the childhood they deserved. These are not big ambitions. This is what government and leaders are here to do!” he added.
Hon. Damina, in his remarks, reaffirmed the commitment of the Bauchi State House of Assembly to domesticate the CRA in view of the centrality of children to the growth and development of the country.
On her part, Professor Joy Ezillo, of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, called on the nation’s leaders to reflect their love for children with action and appropriate foster, adoption and child support laws.