Children’s Day: Taking stock of how Nigeria fails children caught in conflict

There appears to be an existing pattern to the celebration of Children’s Day in Nigeria, and it belies the unseriousness that underlies the symbolic gestures which characterises the celebrations.

From government organised parades across the federation, to press releases by organisations whose responsibility it is to research and collate the necessary data to map the state of children’s welfare; all of it falls short of satisfactory. The data on sexual violation of Nigerian children has remained about the same for over half a decade.

UNICEF reported in 2015 that one in four girls and one in ten boys in Nigeria had experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. According to a survey by Positive Action for Treatment Access, over 31.4 percent of girls there said that their first sexual encounter had been rape or forced sex of some kind.

In the aftermath of the pandemic – some of whose implications in addition to the global mass deaths have been documented to include the worsening of gender-based violence – children’s welfare equally took a hit.

In a Children’s Day press release, The United Children Education Fund (UNICEF), through its Country Director, Peter Hawkins, revealed that the ravages of the pandemic threaten decades of progress the organisation has made in entrenching protection for children’s welfare.

The statement reads in part:

The pandemic is threatening decades of progress we have made for children.

Violence is perpetrated against one in four Nigerian children – and one in three Nigerian girls are sexually abused. This has only increased during the pandemic.

The truth is, the pandemic is only worsening the plight of Nigerian children, from Katsina to Bayelsa.

The ongoing Boko Haram insurgency, which if conflated by others as banditry and rampant kidnap across the nation, has a lot to teach us about how crises affect children directly and indirectly.

UNICEF reported in 2020 that of the estimated 1.9 million internally displaced persons in the North-East alone, about 60% are children

Meanwhile, conflict in the North Central State of Benue continues to kill and displace scores, further confounding the plight of Nigerian children.

There is something to remember when we think about these numbers – over 1 million in the case of North East IDPs – many of these children are thrust into a world where they have to fend for themselves which often exposes them to sexual predators.

 A expose revealed how many girls are forced into sexually exploitative situations for survival. Children as young as 14 are raped for puny pay that ensures their daily survival in the Government-run IDP camps that sit stone’s throw away from the seat of the Borno State government and a number of NGOs.

It begs the question- if the Nigerian Government (to begin with) can’t guarantee the welfare of children who are in its direct care; impoverished and traumatised by its negligence, what hope do the average children who aren’t have?

It is important that when we discuss Nigeria’s descent into chaos, we remember the children who are often the lone survivors of tragedy this chaos leaves. Framing intervention to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable members of our society ensures everyone is protected.

The logic is simple, any place safe enough for a child to flourish will undoubtedly be safe enough for adults to flourish. This should be a daily call to the Nigerian government, even as we leverage on Children’s Day to drive the message home harder.

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