Based on data gathered by the UN, about 82 million of the population are said to be under the age of 15 while nearly 31 million people are under the age of five. Each year, at least 7 million babies are born.
In Nigeria, the Child Rights Act 2003, which is an adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, defines a child as any person under the age of 18.
According to the National Human Rights Commission, the law, among other things, guarantees the rights of all children in Nigeria in terms of education, protection from harm, and provision of the basic amenities of life. So far, 24 of 36 states in the country have passed the law, even as experts decry that implementation remains poor.
Unfortunately, the rights of many children in the country are being violated every day – by the government, individuals, families and other institutions.
In many parts of the country, children are being raped, kidnapped, murdered, exploited, deprived of food and other social amenities, and forced out of school.
These are against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Child Rights Act 2003, which stipulate that every child, regardless of age, race, gender, wealth, or birthplace, deserves not just to live, but to thrive.
Yet millions of children’s basic rights are denied and their childhoods are stolen from them by abuse, exploitation, or slavery.
Many violations children face are a consequence of exploitative practices and education gaps in both developed and developing communities.
But with enlightened support from governments, civil society, and religious groups, vulnerable children can flourish and reach their highest potential.
Below are, therefore, some child rights parents should know and teach their children. The rights have been summarised from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Child Rights Act 2003.
Protection from abuse
Every child deserves freedom from abuse. Children should be free from harmful work, drugs, sexual abuse, human trafficking, corporal punishment, emotional and psychological abuse, harmful detention, war, and any other forms of exploitation.
Children have the right to seek legal and medical help if they get hurt or abused. They should be free to make complaints about abuse to a third party, and abusers of children should be made to bear the full weight of the law.
Protection from kidnapping
Kidnapping is one horrible fate that has affected many children in Nigeria. Terrorists and bandits have held sway, forcefully taking children from their homes and schools, particularly in northern Nigeria.
The children’s parents are forced to look for money to pay ransom while unlucky children whose ransoms cannot be raised are murdered by the criminals.
From the 2014 Chibok schoolgirls’ abduction, Dapchi schoolgirls’ incident in 2018 to the Kankara schoolboys’ abduction in 2020, and others, insurgents have always dared the government and security agents to cause parents’ untold pain.
Meanwhile, as children can also be kidnapped by familiar people and not necessarily insurgents, it is important for parents to teach their children to be cautious around strangers. They should also be taught the basics on how to avoid and escape potentially dangerous situations. This should be done without subjecting kids to fear or anxiety.
Every child has the right to family
Every child has the right to live with their family. The family can be of any structure, but the family should instill a sense of belonging, and provide a loving and nurturing environment. Children and youth deserve to feel an attachment to their caregivers.
Children should not be separated from their parents unless one or both parents are abusive or neglectful, or their home environment is unsafe. Children whose parents do not live together should remain in contact with both parents unless contact harms the child. If a child lives in a different country from their parents, the child and parents must be allowed to travel so they can be together.
Rights to health
Every child has the right to be alive. Young people deserve the best possible health care, nutritious food, clothing, clean water, electricity, and safe housing. Children should learn good health and hygiene habits in their schools and homes.
Children should have their mental, psychological, emotional, and physical health checked regularly, especially if they are away from home. Governments also have a responsibility to help families who cannot afford health expenses.
No child should be discriminated against
Every child deserves equal treatment–regardless of their gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, physical appearance, ability, socioeconomic status, nationality, creed, ideology, or other personal identities. Children with disabilities have the right to receive the accommodations they need to thrive.
Refugees should also receive help and have the same rights as children born in the country they now live in. Children from minority, disenfranchised, and indigenous communities have the right to practise their religion, language, culture, and customs.
All children must be educated
Every child has the right to an education. Primary education should be free. Secondary education should be accessible to every child–every child should receive the highest level of education available to them.
Education should prepare children to participate as active citizens, teaching them about responsibility and a sense of community. They should also develop their personalities, talents, skills, rights, and abilities while learning to respect others’ autonomy, rights, cultures and differences.
Freedom of thought
Children have the right to speak, express and share what they learn, think and feel. They may use any means of creative expression available to them unless their expression somehow harms others.
Children can determine their thoughts, means of expression, opinions, sociopolitical ideologies, religious and spiritual beliefs, provided that their thoughts do not infringe upon the rights of others. Parents should teach children to express themselves and respect the opinions of others.
Children have the right to join or create groups and organisations. They have the right to meet with others and advocate for change, as long as they do not harm others. Children have the right to give their opinions on issues that affect them. Adults should take the concerns and opinions of children seriously.
Access to information
Children have the right to transmit and receive information through the internet, radio, phone, television, books and other resources. Adults should ensure that the information children are transmitting and receiving is not harmful.
However, they should encourage and teach ways to access and critically process information. Governments should make access to information as free as possible. They should share information from multiple sources and in multiple languages.
Right to privacy
Every child deserves privacy. The law must protect children’s privacy in all areas, including online. Personal documentation of children should not be published. A child’s family, home, personal communications and reputation should be protected. Victims of abuse should not have their names, faces or information published.
Right to engage in cultural activities
Every child has the right to engage in cultural and creative activities. Children from minority populations have the right to participate in activities that the majority populations of their country do not participate in.
Cultural activities and creative works should represent children of all backgrounds. Children should be free from art designed to traumatise, provoke or disturb them. However, they should receive access to and be allowed to create art that is controversial or unpopular, without fear of censorship.
Right to reparation
If a child is victimised, traumatised, displaced, separated from their parents, or otherwise subject to harm, they should receive reparation and rehabilitation.
Children have the right to receive help after enduring any type of pain, trauma or neglect, so they can regain their health, dignity and identity. Every child has the right to receive legal help and fair treatment. Governments should provide money and resources to assist children from poor and disenfranchised communities.
Protection from harmful work
Children have the right to be protected from doing work that is dangerous or bad for their education, health, or development. If children work, they have the right to be safe and paid fairly. Also, governments must protect children from taking, making, carrying or selling harmful drugs.
Right of children in detention
Children who are accused of breaking the law should not be killed, tortured, treated cruelly, put in prison forever, or put in prison with adults. Prison should always be the last choice and only for the shortest possible time. Children in prison should have legal help and be able to stay in contact with their families.
Government’s responsibility for children
Governments must do everything possible to ensure that children enjoy all their inalienable rights and develop in a safe and free society. Governments should prioritise child rights when considering any major policy.
For instance, children have the right to food, clothing, and a safe place to live so they can develop in the best possible way. So governments should help families and children who cannot afford these things.
If the laws of a country protect child rights better than the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, those laws take higher priority. Governments should make active efforts to inform children about their rights.
Governments should also actively tell children and adults about these rights so that everyone knows about children’s rights.
Do what’s best for children
When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. All adults should do what is best for children.
Governments should make sure children are protected and looked after by their parents or by other people when this is needed. Also, governments should make sure that people and places responsible for looking after children are doing a good job.