By; CARL UMEGBORO
The Child’s Rights Act and the African Children’s Charter define a child as a person below 18 years of age. Nigeria adopted the Child’s Rights Act in 2003, giving nod to both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The Act contains a number of rights of children. Among them is – Free and compulsory basic education.
On the other hand, the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) all the UN Member States agreed to achieve by the year 2030 was envisioned for a world free from poverty, hunger and disease with a special focus on women, children and disadvantaged populations.
However, quality education; the fourth in the SDGs, is the focal point here and now vis-à-vis the rights of the child. From UN data, globally, 53 per cent of 10-year-olds in low-and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple sentence or perform basic numeracy tasks.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 87 per cent of children are ‘in learning poverty’ as they do not have basic literacy by age 10.
In Nigeria, the record is terrifyingly disturbing with results being one of the lowest globally – with 70 percent of children not achieving basic foundational skills.
Though, chief of the stumbling blocks to child education in Nigeria is religion, coupled with ethnic and cultural diversity, nonetheless, there are other forces like poor funding on education considering the paltry 1.7% of GDP to education, in-adequate and under-prepared workforce as a record reveals that 27% of the teaching staff are unqualified.
Others are in-sufficient physical resources with a high classroom learner ratio of 1:55 in primary schools, and low school readiness as no less than 10 million children aged 3 to 5 are not enrolled in early childhood care and education (ECCE) with net enrolment ratio (NER) put at 30.7%.
Breaking these down, ensuring that teachers in basic education are qualified and undergo requisite training is compelling.
Qualification to teach should go beyond holding certificates to expertise and retraining.
A teacher must have teaching skills, and not as an accidental job. In fact, quality learning in basic education is as essential as in high school on account that pupils that receive quality basic education will flow in high schools with less difficulty. UNICEF Communication Specialist, Dr. Geoffrey Njoku while underlining the calamity pointed out that the majority of children enrolled in schools are as deficient as those not in school. This is terrible.
The second is the absence of preparatory classes preceding primary education in public schools.
The oversight has contributed vastly to poor education in Nigeria. No surprise the society is in disarray presently with ritual-killings, banditry, abduction and other vices.
These are the effects of oversights over the years. A preparatory class for development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing prior to primary-one is essential. UNICEF Education Specialist, Manar Ahmed Sharouda hit the hammer at the head during a workshop on ‘SDGs as Child Rights’ that “one must first learn to read, in order to read to learn”.
The third is excessive homework beyond the mental capacity of a child. The 31st clause in the UNCRC is right to leisure, recreation and cultural activities.
Thus, ensuring that children are not overloaded with homework can enhance their learning progressions as experts maintained.
More worrisome are some homework that rationally can’t be solved by children. From investigation, the disproportionate workloads on pupils result from rivalry among schools for superiority contests, and therefore, regulating all schools under basic education to run a unified curriculum may change the narrative.
Commendably, UNICEF, from record is already supporting the federal government to improve Foundational Literacy and Numeracy through tailor-made, teaching-learning practices, such as Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) and Reading and Numeracy Activities (RANA), nonetheless, a lot still needs to be done.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child while affirming that every child has a right to education emphasized that the purpose is to enable the child to develop to his or her fullest possible potential and to learn respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Dr. Anthony Chidiebere Ezinwa of the Department of Mass Communication, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu emphasized that “Children are not just objects who belong to their parents and for whom decisions are made, or adults in training. Rather, they are human beings and individuals with their own rights”.
Relatively, it was poignant listening to ordeals a then 14-year-old girl faced in the name of marriage, custom and religion on television recently.
At the age of 12, Aishatu was forcefully married to a 59-year-old man as the fourth wife, and she became pregnant two years later.
During labour, she had serious complications that her adolescent body was torn leading to other issues.
While undergoing the hell experience at such a tender age, the husband heartlessly drove her away due to offensive odour from her damaged body. Her parents too confined and isolated her in her miseries.
Providentially, an NGO intervened and facilitated her recovery. The parents, while giving their accounts, argued that their action was ‘in the best interest of the girl’ and in sync with their religion, albeit regretted their action, and reunited with their broken daughter after 5 years.
This damage was avoidable had the parents received quality education prior to parenthood considering that adults don’t fall from the sky but grown children. When children are not educated, they grow to live in delusion thereby posing great hazards to society.
No doubt, Part one of the UNCRC demands that ‘the best interest of a child to be of paramount consideration in all actions’.
However, it must be in tandem with laws. For example, UNCRC provides for compulsory access to education, prohibits sexual abuse (early and forced marriage until eighteen years) in Articles 28 and 34 respectively. Unfortunately, Child marriage remains a prevalent practice in northern Nigeria. Girls about the age of 10 or 12 years still get betrothed or married off.
Furthermore, children still engage in hawking on highways during school hours and sessions, and seemingly, little or nothing is being done to protect them or deter parents and guardians from such practices.
By ratifying the Child’s Rights Convention and African Children’s Charter, the Nigerian government has a duty to enforce these laws in a uniform and coherent manner. This submits that the major enemy of Child Rights is willpower to implement the enacted laws.
Umegboro ACIArb, a public affairs analyst and social advocate is reachable via: firstname.lastname@example.org