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Nigerian Child In A Convoluted Economy, By Alex Enemanna

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To say that the breeze of the highly contaminated economic environment of our dear country has rubbed off on all demographic strata of the society is to re-echo an already known fact. Yet the fixation to deal with symptoms of an economy in limbo has continued to gain prominence and occupy a front burner in our national discourse while the virus continues to have a field day in our system.

From time immemorial in my most humble public community primary school somewhere in Abia State, I have always known Children’s Day to be an opportunity to visit my Isialangwa South local government headquarters located in Omoba. It was a tourism opportunity every child then look forward to if you are lucky enough your parents do not schedule a special farming session that coincides with the day. Another determinant factor is, if they are generous enough to pay your own contribution of hiring a racketeering 20-seater bus that will end up stocking well over 50 children. What is our business by the way?

Sadly, since then, beyond the rhetoric, no significant difference has actually taken place in incorporating the Nigerian child as a critical stakeholder in the project Nigeria in a bid to secure her future. In earlier interventions, I have raised concerns about in impending blurry future and fate of uncertainty that awaits a country that treats the welfare of her younger generation with a vicious levity and contagious disdain.

All over the world, the Nigerian child is arguably the most disadvantaged among peers in terms of proper care, decent living and access to quality education. Nigeria’s recent unflattering status as the poverty capital of the global community may have even worsened an already precarious situation. Yet we consistently thumb our chest in vain self glorification as having done much to improve the welfare of this most vulnerable in the society.

Wherever you go, it is a common sight to see children engage in one labour or the other, hitherto considered adult jobs. Construction, mining, production, and whatever site, they are there in a bid to play a role in providing what they eat. Some of them have even taken up responsibility as breadwinners in their various families at a very tender age.

The 2010 report of US Department of Labour heavily indicted Nigeria for witnessing what they called the worst forms of child labour, particularly in agriculture and domestic service. They said most children in rural areas work in agriculture of products such as cassava, cocoa and tobacco. More worrisome, these children typically work long hours and for little pay, with their families. The report also said some children are exposed to pesticides and chemical fertilizers in cocoa and tobacco fields because of archaic farming practices or because they are deployed as forced labour without protective gear.

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UNICEF has also raised concerns about the dangerous and unhealthy environments which child workers such as street vendors, shoe shiners, apprentice mechanics, carpenters, vulcanisers, tailors, barbers and domestic servants are exposed to. Apart from the health hazards these children mostly under the age of 18 face, they also risk being exposed to anti social lifestyles that further deteriorate our corporate security situation thereby endangering our peace.

Poverty and economic depravity is in the centre of all these. The have-nots have remained in the vicious cycle of survival instinct. Hand-to-mouth status has now become a big achievement in a country where hunger has taken lives of more children than boko haram and Fulani herdsmen joined together. The middle class is gradually fizzling to the oblivion, the gap between the super rich and extremely poor continues to widen while the hope of the average Nigerian child continues to dwindle with a jet speed.

It is a common phrase in the lips of many concerned parents and guardians; “my children must not suffer what I have suffered”. This is usually followed by action plan to lay a solid foundation for the child through qualitative education, decent feeding and accommodation, access to healthcare and other mechanisms that help in bringing the best out of the child. Paradoxically, while individual families have drawn a template for a secured future for their children, our society and indeed government has not done much to mitigate the octopus challenge of starvation and malnutrition, lack of access basic education, environmentally infested hostility and lack of access to basic facilities.

Any right thinking Nigerian must be worried about the monster we are unwittingly grooming today. According to the UNICEF, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. With 13.2 million out-of-school children in Nigeria according to UBEC, we can really gloat in our new achievement of moving from sitting on a keg of gunpowder to lying and snoring aloud on it.

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The child again has become the sacrificial lamb to those who want to acquire affluence, debauchery and obscene wealth through the back door. The number of children who have been butchered to ritual killing under most crude and inhuman circumstances is startling, yet the perpetrators go scot-free.

Some families have resorted to merchandising their children for as little as N250,000. The question that readily comes to mind is, why should precious, innocent children pay for a problem they have no knowledge of? Are they now goats and chickens whose owner can choose to eat, sell or give any treatment at any point in time?

Efforts must be made to tame the ugly tide of the increasing number of children in the street hawking one thing or the other when they ought to be in school. No nation tampers with the future of her younger generations and come out it better.

In line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030, every child should survive and thrive, learn, be protected from violence and exploitation, live in a safe and clean environment and have a fair chance in life. That is the whole essence of a responsible government. States who are yet to domesticate the child’s right act must do so without further delay.

No celebration of Children’s Day is of any significant value in an environment where children are treated like less humans, where children are treated like liability and not asset, where children are tagged witches and not angels, where children are commodified, merchandised and commercialised instead of nurtured, groomed and cared for.

Great Nigerian Children!

Enemanna is the political editor, ABN TV.

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