WHO IS A CHILD?
A child according to Webster Third New International Dictionary: "is a young person of either sex between infancy and youth: one who exhibits the characteristics of a very young person. And a person who has not yet come of age." Put differently a child is a young human being between birth and puberty. A person under a legally specified age of 18years; somebody who is considered not to be legally responsible for his or her actions.
The above definition infers, therefore, that person under the age of 18years need to be nurtured and assisted to develop into responsible and productive adult, who will take over the running of the society. However, as children, they are physically, mentally and emotionally immature therefore, require special safeguards and care. This includes appropriate protection both before and after birth; in order to enable them develop a full and balanced personality.
This development which necessarily starts within the family environment in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding, extends to the society at large in condition of freedom, dignity and security. There is no doubt then, that these requirements when realized in a child contribute in making him or her quite unique and distinct. In most cases children are being denied of these basic requirements. Hence, the need for their right to be spelt out becomes necessary.
The child is conferred with the right to life, survival and balance development. The child has right to a name and registration at birth, right to dignity and respect. The child has right to privacy, family life and parental care, protection and maintenance. The child has right to free, compulsory and universal primary education, etc. The child has right to health and heal services, leisure, recreation and cultural activities. The child has right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly and thought, conscience and religion, with the necessary guidance and direction of his or her parents, freedom from all forms of discrimination. The child has right to be protected from child marriage and betrothal, tattoos and skin marks, exploitative labour within the family, sale, hire or use for the purpose of hawking, begging for alms, or prostitution.
THE CHILD'S RIGHT AND THE GLOBAL EXPERIENCE.
Let us briefly consider the global stand on the child's right. According to The State of the World's Children 2000 report, : "Since 1924, when the League of Nations adopted the Geneva Declaration of the Right of the Child, the international community has made a series of firm commitments to children to ensure that their rights-to survival, health, education, protection and participation, among others are met."
The most far-reaching and comprehensive of these commitments is the convention on the Right of the Child, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 and ratified by 192 countries. As the most widely endorsed human right treaty in history, the convention, together with its optional protocols, lay out in specific terms the legal duties of government to children. Hence, children's survival, development and protection now become a matter of moral and legal obligation. and no longer a matter of charitable concern.
In recent years, world leaders have not only reaffirmed and expanded these commitments, they have equally set specific goals as a road map for achieving them. The latest of such commitments are the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goal of September 2000, as well as a world fit for children of May, 2002 of UN General Assembly special session on children.
THE NIGERIA EXPERIENCE.
Following The Convention on the Right of the Child adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 and ratified by 192 countries. In July, 2000 A Child's Rights Act was passed by the National Assembly and singed into Law by the President, in the spirit of the Nigerian people's tradition of striving to meet the needs of children and enhancing their welfare. This Act incorporates all the rights and consolidates all laws which provide for the protection and care of the Nigerian child into a single legislation.
This Act recognizes the rights of children, restores their confidence and self esteem and improves their statues. It equally enables children, including children with disabilities to enjoy their rights fully, as it provides special measures for their care and protection. The Act demands that in all actions concerning the child his or her best interest, welfare and well-being must be the paramount consideration.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF GOVERNMENT UNDER THE ACT.
According to the Child's Right Act, government at all levels must strive to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates. Provide medical and health care provision, adequate nutrition and safe drinking water, hygienic and sanitized environment. They must also combat diseases and malnutrition, support and mobilize, through local and community resources, the development of primary health care for children, and provision of accommodation, maintenance, financial support, advice and other service to children and their families. Non-governmental organizations should be encouraged to render services and assistance to children and their family, and to provide policy framework that will ensure the right of the child.
Furthermore, government in order to carry out its task effectively, the Act established Child's Right Implementation Committees at national, state and the local government levels. It is the duty of each of the committees at all levels to ensure the observance of the right and welfare of children, to continually keep under review the state of implementation of the rights of the child, to develop, and recommend appropriate government specific programmes, and projects that will enhance the implementation of the right and welfare of the child, to collect, and document information on all matters relating to the right and welfare of the child, to commission inter-disciplinary assessment of the problems relating to the right and welfare of the child, to organize advocacy activities on the rights and welfare of the child, to coordinate activities of various level of government relating to the rights and welfare of the child, to prepare and submit periodic reports on the right and welfare of the child to government, the United Nation and the African Union. And to perform such other functions relating to the right of the child as may be assigned to it from time to time.
The committee membership consists of various government ministries, department and parastetals, non-governmental organizations, academia, children, child experts, United Nation agencies and the media. The underlining question here is, to what extent have this implementation committee gone in carrying out their responsibilities? You guess is as good as mine!
THE WAY FORWARD AND CONCLUSION.
Bringing child's right awareness to the grassroots requires that all members of the society be involved and committed-International donors, government, civil societies, the media, and the private sector, to take responsibility for the protection and enforcement of the Child's Right Act. The principles of the right of the child must be more consistently integrated in the development strategies.
Government must make sure that their laws promote the right of children and that they are allocating sufficient resources towards ensuring the quality of life of the next generation of citizens. Government at all levels must ensure that enlightenment campaign for the promotion of the right of the children reaches the grassroots. Civil society organizations can provide a forum for the views of children to be heard. The public sector has made some important strides towards greater cooperate social responsibility with regards to children, although continued work and vigilance is required still. The media which is the eye, the ear, and the voice of the society, can also help by putting children's right squarely on the news and media agendas-encouraging Children to report any form of abuse of their right to appropriate quarters. They should strive to draw the attention of the general public and the opinion makers to the violations of those rights, using their work to hold governments accountable. Respect for the views of children must be promoted within the family, schools and institutions.