According to a widely publicised data from unicef.org, Nigeria is a `country of the young with almost half the entire 180 million strong population, 46 per cent, currently under the age of 15.
Importantly, the current total for children under the age of 5 the statisticians insist, stands at nearly 31 million while each year at least 7 million babies are born. From 2019 till Yesterday, 17,000 babies were born by women and girls displaced by the boko haram terrorists attacks in the North East of Nigeria.
While a little over one in three of Nigeria’s whole population lives below the poverty line, among children this proportion surges to 75 per cent, so argues the UN.
The UN say too that when considering the low levels of birth registration, in some areas up to 62 per cent, known data about child health issues are likely to underestimate the true scale.
UN says a 2016 national campaign linked to healthcare services resulted in the registration of about seven million children, but large population growth is impacting progress.
Nigeria’s 40 million women of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years of age) it submitted, suffer a disproportionally high level of health issues surrounding birth.
While the country represents 2.4 per cent of the world’s population, it currently contributes 10 per cent of global deaths for pregnant mothers.
Latest figures show a maternal mortality rate of 576 per 100,000 live births, the fourth highest on Earth.
Each year approximately 262,000 babies die at birth, the world’s second highest national total. Infant mortality currently stands at 69 per 1,000 live births while for under-fives it rises to 128 per 1,000 live births. This writer had argued that under no circumstances should women bringing forth young lives be put in the way of mortal danger. Therefore, a clearer implantable national policy on babies in Nigeria must be introduced as an enforceable legal framework. This is the import of this piece.
The aforementioned statistics by the UNICEF on the stark existential issues affecting babies no doubt represent the hard core data that necessitated this reflection alongside the unmitigated hardships that faced millions of families as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The year 2020 will therefore inevitably remain symbolic for Nigerians not necessarily because it was one period that millions of families were forced into joblessness by the imposition of restrictions to movements due largely to the Pandemic of Covid-19 that came from China.
The year 2020 will be remembered as that which compelled the children of Nigeria to stay out of schools even as millions of babies passed through the pains, penury and cruelty of mass poverty generated by the inability of their parents to access their places of employments and therefore were not economically empowered.
In the year 2020, the stark reality of the consequences of the decades of marginalization of babies emerged with the sorry pictures of thousands of street children who are left with no option than to beg for their survival.
Stories were all over the newspapers about those street kid beggars particularly in Northern Nigeria and how the state governments tossed these less privileged children around from where they were to other states under the pretext of decongesting their states of street kid beggars.
The controversies generated by the decision of some or almost all northern governors to remove street kid beggars off their states, can be summed up by affirming that what those grim pictures of neglected and abused children been taken off the streets shows is that Nigeria does not have a clear BABY’S policy as a nation.
Indeed, any nation that lacks a consensus around the theme of how to effectively support the upbringings of her kids or children’s population is doomed.
A nation that lacks clarity regarding a national blueprint on mainstreaming the Human Rights of children in the overall national planning strategy, will be a place whereby children are endangered species and if children are made to grow up in very uncertain and unstable environments, what it means is that, the future of that nation is properly not assured but definitely also endangered.
Psychologists are of the view that children who go through spectacular abuses will turn out as unruly adults and abusers themselves.
With the lack of a clearly approved Baby’s Policy in Nigeria, children substantially are subjected to the vagaries and vicissitudes of physical crimes, psychological and emotional trauma, trafficking, and many other types of dehumanizing tendencies including being sold to rich patrons. Nigeria is about one place in the globe that there exist what we call Baby’s factories whereby young girls are sexually exploited for them to take in and give birth for fees after which these children are sold. If there’s a national policy blueprint on Nigerian children made into a law of the Federation with broad-based implementation strategy, this social menace would be exterminated. Some believers in a school of thought argue that Nigeria has a national policy instrument on children just as these persons submitted that the extant child Rights Act represent it.
Honestly I do not subscribe to the idea by the editors of the Guardian that the child Rights Act can be termed the National Policy on Nigerian Babies.
Here are the positions of the Guardian: On July 6th 2018, the Guardian wrote:
“When the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on November 20, 1989 and in July 1990, the African Union Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRWC) which Nigeria also signed and subsequently ratified on 23rd July 2003, it was assumed that humanity was appropriately committed to securing its own future.
The uniqueness of the African Charter is that it enjoins State Parties to embrace not only the rights of the child but also the responsibilities towards the child.
Nigeria also did well to have enacted the principles in these international instruments into law on 31st July 2003 as the Child’s Rights Act (CRA), 2003.
However, having been enacted at the national level, the states were expected to formally adopt and adapt the Act for domestication as state laws because issues of child rights protection are on the residual list of the Nigerian Constitution, giving states exclusive responsibility.
State laws inimical to the rights of the child are also to be amended or annulled as may be required, to conform to the Act and to the CRC.
Available data show that by now, the Child Rights Act 2003 has been promulgated into law in 26 states.
The states yet to pass the bill into law are Sokoto, Adamawa, Bauchi, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Borno, Gombe, Yobe, and Zamfara.”
Whilst not accepting that the child Rights law encapsulates the National Babie’s Policy there is a policy blueprint close to that.
It is called the National Policy on infant and young child feeding in Nigeria.
The overall goal of the National Policy on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Nigeria is to ensure the optimal growth, protection and development of the Nigerian child from birth to the first five years of life.
The Specific Objectives are; i. To promote, protect and support exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life; ii. To create and sustain a positive image for breastfeeding throughout the society; iii. To empower all women (including women who work outside their homes) to adopt and practice optimal infant feeding; iv. To promote the timely introduction of appropriate and adequate complementary foods while continuing breastfeeding up to 24 months and beyond.
Other objectives are: v. To ensure the provision of specific feeding recommendations for all infants and young children irrespective of their circumstances of birth and health status; vi. To promote the provision of appropriate information for nutrition counselling and support for households in the prevention of malnutrition in children; vii. To develop and strengthen activities that will protect, promote and support adequate infant and young child feeding practices; viii. To raise awareness on issues affecting infant and young child feeding in Nigeria.
Other goals are: ix. To provide an enabling environment for mothers, family members and communities to make and implement informed decisions on optimal feeding of infants and young children; x. To support and enhance the provision of enabling environment without any form of discrimination for working mothers, fathers and other care-givers including those in part-time and domestic occupation to practice optimal infant and young child feeding.
The remaining objectives are: xi. To promote the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV through appropriate and safe measures that ensure optimal infant and young child feeding; xii. To ensure that health workers and other care providers have adequate skills and information to support optimal infant and young child feeding including in emergency situations; xiii. To support and enhance the national capacity to address issues of infant and young child feeding in different situations and circumstances.and other care-givers including those in part-time and domestic occupation to practice optimal infant and young child feeding; xi. To promote the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV through appropriate and safe measures that ensure optimal infant and young child feeding; xii. To ensure that health workers and other care providers have adequate skills and information to support optimal infant and young child feeding including in emergency situations; xiii. To support and enhance the national capacity to address issues of infant and young child feeding in different situations and circumstances.
Before finally proposing a merger of the National Policy on infant and young child feeding in Nigeria with the child Rights Act to form the National Baby’s Policy, we need to highlight key issues to be captured therein.
Basic thematic areas that should be included in any national policy on Nigerian children must look at ways and means of providing for stringent sanctions and penalties to adults who fails to comply with the provisions of the policy so it does not turn out as a mere paper tiger.
Babies in Nigeria face many social issues around the area of poverty. Only yesterday, we learnt from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) that 17,053 babies were given birth to by Internally Displaced Persons in 18 locations in Borno state alone.
The UN agency told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the figure represents information of babies who have been registered between 2019 to May 2021.
Mr Frantz Celestin, the IOM Chief of Mission, IOM, said that the agency collaborates with the National Population Commission and UNICEF to issue birth certificates to the children.
According to him, the identity of the children was very important and also falls within its Displacement Matrix data which it shares with other stakeholders intervening in the North East.
“We do biometric data collection so that we know exactly the number of people who have been displaced so that the service we provide to them can be effective.
“This is important for food distribution, for non-food items distribution, it is also important for medical provision.
“Some of the work that we do on our displacement matrix data is to work with the population commission and UNICEF to provide birth certificates to those under five who were born in the camps.
“On the number of children that were born in the camps, I know last time I checked, those we had taken the biometrics and issued with birth certificates between 2019 and May 2021 were 17,053,” he said.
The IOM’s Chief said the data helps it to identify those who have been displaced, adding that “if you don’t have an identity you do not exist in the eyes of the government and the law”.
He said that it was important for the IOM that in spite of the conditions that they find themselves, the children were identified.
Key element of the Child Rights that ought to become binding is the right to education for all children and a measure of enforceable national and states wide legal framework be put in place to check the menace of out of school children.
Around March this year, The Guardian said Contrary to the optimistic impression recently given by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu that more children in Nigeria are being enrolled into schools, there may be no cause to cheer after all, going by the more current declaration, this time by the Minister of State in the same ministry, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba that the country still holds the continental record of children who are out of school.
Specifically, The Guardian said Mr. Nwajiuba lamented, … that Nigeria has more than 10 million out-of-school children, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.
This the newspaper said contrasts sharply with Adamu’s declaration, about a month earlier, that many more Nigerian children are in school than ever before..
Adamu in fact stated that the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in the country had dropped to 6.946 million from 10.1 million; claiming that as at December 31, 2020, a total of 3,247,590 children, who were not in school, were enrolled within the space of a year and seven months, due to several activities undertaken by the Federal Ministry of Education, particularly, Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) being implemented in 17 states of the Federation, The Guardian concluded.
Incidentally, the emerging scenario of terror attacks targeting schools in the North which are yet to be tackled by the federal and state governments has added to the crises afflicting the Nigerian children. This could have been mitigated if Nigeria has enforceable national policy on children and babies. Another social crime is trafficking of children for sex and cheap labour.
Last year, U.S State department reports: “The Government of Nigeria does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included continuing efforts to train government officials and raise public awareness, collaborating with international organizations and NGOs to establish anti-trafficking task forces in Borno and Ekiti states, using new technologies to enhance collection of victim testimony, prosecuting three government officials complicit in human trafficking, and drafting memoranda of understanding (MOUs) to improve coordination between government agencies.”
The USA further stated that: “However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. Nigerian security forces recruited and used at least two children in support roles during the reporting period. In addition, there continued to be reports security officials sexually exploited, including through sex trafficking, IDPs in government-run camps in and around Maiduguri.”
The government it said did not hold criminally accountable any military officials for exploitation of IDPs in sex trafficking or recruitment and use of child soldiers. In addition, the government did not hold any Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) members criminally accountable for sex trafficking of IDPs or past recruitment and use of child soldiers.
The Nigerian military the USA said, did not always provide trafficking victim protections to female and child trafficking victims allegedly associated with insurgencies and the government convicted fewer traffickers. Therefore Nigeria was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.
My submission is that Nigeria deserves a national blueprint on mainstreaming the Human Rights of children and babies. The ministry of Women Affairs needs to be renamed the MINISTRY FOR BABIES AND FAMILIES. These calls are necessary so Nigerian Babies are protected and raised in safe environment.
EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was a federal commissioner at the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria.