Securing the Nigerian child

The Nigerian child, if lucky to be alive, has travelled the narrow path of neglect in many ways. He has been through physical, psychological, emotional and social neglects. One in five children in the country dies before the age of five due to minor preventable ailments that have long been eradicated in other climes; others have been orphaned due to AIDS related disease or inter-tribal wars or as a result of activities of insurgencies. It is estimated that over two million girls are subjected to genital mutilation every year, a practice still rampant in some parts of Nigeria and all religious groups. Intervention into the practice is considered as a violation of privacy, yet many girls face several health risks through this, including severe bleeding and contraction of HIV infection through the use of unhygienic methods in carrying out the procedure. Statistical data shows that adolescent girls have HIV rate up to five percent higher than their boys’ counterpart.

Only recently, it was disclosed that over 10 million Nigerian children are out of school and sadly over nine million of these came from the northern part of the country, the stronghold of the radical insurgents – Boko Haram. Since 2012, Boko Haram- the radical terrorist group- has targeted schools in northern Nigeria. Dozens of schools have been attacked or burnt down. In the last three months alone, the United Nations has reported that at least 15,000 children in the northern part of the country have stopped attending classes.

In a single attack in February this year in Yobe State, 45 children were killed. As if this was not enough, on  April 14, over 200 girls were abducted from their dormitory in Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State because they chose to go to school.
In Nigeria, most children contribute to the economic well-being of their families through hawking and sundry work to generate additional income. Around 15 million Nigerian children under the age of 14 work in extreme hazardous conditions.
Today, of all girls fears, that of being raped is the darkest .The rape epidemic in our society reflects the extent in which girls’ rights are being violated. Curiously, age is no longer barrier to who can be a victim. It has gone so bad that minors, as young as 4 years old, are now being raped.  Boys are not left out as they are now being recruited by militants and insurgents.
It is imperative that government at all levels ensure the safety of all children in the country. Also, we need to ensure that our children are healthy, educated and have their rights respected with supports from all stakeholders. The Chibok girls experience is a case study in ensuring a safe environment for our children to learn and it has further revealed the need for us as a nation to prioritize issues of girl- child education. This is the right time for us to ensure that no one is left behind as the country moves towards achieving the Education for All (EFA) goal. The country needs a clear set of public actions that embrace issues of gender, religious, political and mental diversity to address not only economic shocks, but also social vulnerability.

Bilkis Bakare,
Ministry of Information and Strategy,
Alausa, Ikeja