25 years of children’s rights

Twenty-five years ago today, the world made a commitment to all its children: That we would do everything in our power to promote and protect their rights. The world agreed and the Convention on the Rights of the Child was born. It offered and still offers a vision of the world where all children survive and develop to their full potential without discrimination, and are protected, respected and encouraged to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

Today, the Convention remains the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history. One hundred and ninety four states including Nigeria have ratified this agreement as of August 2014.The Convention changed the way children are viewed and treated – i.e., as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity. It has changed the global conversation about children, and set the agenda to ensure children’s right to survival, development, protection and participation are realised.

Nigeria signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, and with UNICEF’s support, took the important step of domesticating the CRC into a national law. A draft Child’s Rights Bill was passed by the National Assembly in July 2003. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo assented to it in September 2003 and it was promulgated as the Child’s Rights Act 2003.

The Act was informed by the mandate to consolidate all laws (including national and international laws) relating to children into a single piece of legislation that specified the rights and responsibilities of children, as well as the duties and obligations of government, parents and other authorities, organisations and bodies towards children.

The Act defines a child as one who has not attained the age of 18 years, and it categorically provides that such a child’s best interests shall remain paramount in all considerations. A child shall be given such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, retaining the right to survival and development and to a name and nationality at birth.

The states are expected to formally adopt and adapt the Act for domestication at the state Houses of Assembly as state laws. This is because issues of child rights protection are on the residual list of the Nigerian Constitution, giving states exclusive responsibility and jurisdiction to make laws relevant to their specific situations. 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 the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Instructively, in Nigeria, since the Child’s Rights Act was passed into law, only 24 states have both passed and given assent by the governors to child’s rights laws in their states. This means that millions of children in 12 states in Nigeria still do not have the appropriate legal framework for the protection of their rights. As well, millions of other children in states that have passed the law are not being cared for as they should because the laws have not been fully implemented.

As a run-up to the politics of 2015, we should be asking the pertinent questions: Where are our children in the manifestoes of our political parties? Where is the blueprint to send 10.5 million of our children who roam the streets back to school, to finally eradicate polio, immunise every child, and provide one meal a day for every schoolchild? Which political party will set a 10-year development agenda for children? That would be the Children’s people’s party and by extension the party of the people Nigeria. The worth of a society is measured by how it treats its children.

By domesticating the Convention on the Rights of the Child into local laws, a society reflects the importance it places on its children. On this important anniversary, UNICEF congratulates the states which, by adopting child rights laws, have demonstrated the maturity of their vision. Now is the time for us to work together to implement the laws everywhere so that the vision becomes a reality for all the children in Nigeria.