Towards making Nigeria safe for orphans and vulnerable children


    The girl hawking sachet water ran in pursuit of the bus, laying curses at the bus conductor, who had stretched out his hands and touched her breast before stealing one sachet from the plastic on her head.

    Blessing, roughly 13 years old going by her looks, cried out as she pursued the commercial bus which was already gaining speed to avoid arrest by law enforcement agents who were checking for expired vehicle particulars.

    Blessing lost both parents in a road traffic accident and has to stay with an aunt.

    Scowling at the grinning conductor in jest of her predicament, she wondered how she would replace or pay the money for the sachets of water has lost to fraudulent individuals that day, seven in all.

    The fear of receiving a beating from her aunt made her reconsider Musa, the sugarcane seller’s earlier proposed sex at least she is sure of N500 from him. The money will go a long way in defraying the shortage she has incurred after the day’s business.

    Blessing, like so many vulnerable children vulnerable to sexual
    exploitation, trafficking, organ harvesting, forced labour and other criminal and harmful practices.

    Her story reflects abuses. neglects, and exploitation that many children in developing countries go through daily and reinforces the urgent need for the society to take concrete actions towards protecting them.

    Blessing’s morbid fear of the consequences of the shortage she incurred in the course of the day’s child labour typifies that the traumatic life of abused, exploited, maltreated, and vulnerable children.

    Due to these mentally challenging situations coupled with economic hardship kids such as blessing become easy prey for hardened criminals seeking for new members to join their folds.

    This has dire consequences for the future of the kids and safety of the society.
    According to sociologists, the lack of stringent government policies and
    their effective implementation of existing have created an environment conducive for child exploitation.

    UNICEF’s statistics on abused and exploited children in Nigeria is worrisome.

    “Six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence– one in four girls and 10 per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence.

    “Of the children who reported violence, fewer than five out of a 100 received any form of support.

    “The drivers of Violence Against Children (VAC) are rooted in social norms, including around the use of violent discipline, violence against women and community beliefs about witchcraft, all of which increase children’s vulnerability”, a UNICEF report said.

    Dr Gabriel Oyediji said Nigeria is grappling with a myriad of social issues that have contributed to the increasing number of orphaned and vulnerable children within the society.

    Oyediji, National president, Association of Orphanages and Home Operators in Nigeria (ASOHON), said this during a recent conference for members of the association.

    “We cannot overlook the issue of child trafficking and exploitation,
    which poses a significant threat to the well-being of orphaned and vulnerable children.

    “Criminal elements often prey on these children, exploiting their
    vulnerability for various purposes, including forced labor, sex trafficking, and organ harvest.

    “We must be vigilant and implement stringent safeguards to protect the children under our care from such heinous acts”, he said.

    Oyediji recognises the fact that orphanage home and caregivers cannot do the job.

    “We must collaborate with law enforcement agencies, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders to create a robust child protection system that ensures the safety and security of every child”, he advanced.

    Oyediji called for a review of existing laws and policies that defined the rights and protection of orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria will address these challenges and enable the children reach their potential.

    He said the association would continue its advocacy in that regard.

    Mr Nuhu Kwajafa, Director-General and National Coordinator of the Global Initiative for Peace, Love, and Care (GIPCL), urged more governments’ commitment in addressing the plights of orphans and vulnerable individuals in society.

    He highlighted the dire circumstances faced by many Nigerian children and urged Nigerians to take the necessary steps to alleviate their suffering.

    “If every Nigerian should do the right thing, this will go a long way. So many Nigerian children are dying every day.

    “Last December, we had an end of year party for 5,000 orphans and we wrote to all the governors, ministers and MDAs asking for education materials. None of them responded.

    “We were not asking for money; we just needed education materials,” he said.

    According to Mrs Rifkatu Ademola-Bello, Founder and Executive Director of Focusing on Women and Girls Initiative for Positive Change (FOWGI), insecurity and economic hardship are major factors that expose children to labour, sexual and gender-based violence, and other negative practices.

    She advocated stringent measures to prosecute offenders and ensure the resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with economic empowerment to reduce the prevalence of girls from conflict-affected areas being exploited as housemaids.

    The Federal Government says it is not unaware of its roles in mitigating the challenge of child exploitation, abuse and trafficking, among other ills.

    The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, while meeting with the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, said in addition to domestic efforts, the government was also partnering international bodies to address the anomaly.

    The Federal Government had ratified the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD), while the Child Rights Act has also been domesticated in 35 States of the Federation; as well as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act.

    Although Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act (CRA) in 2003 to uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the effective implementation of these rights remains a challenge.

    Some of these rights include the right to health, education, family life, play and recreation, an adequate standard of living and to be protected from abuse and harm.

    Though these rights have since been adopted and domesticated in virtually all the states of the federation, and FCT, the effective implementation has remained a challenged.

    Consequently, crimes against children still persist.

    UN agency UNICEF, Save the Children International, ActionAid, among other Civil Society Organisation (CSOs) advocate effective implementation of the CRA to address child labour, sexual exploitation, human and organ trafficking affecting children and vulnerable in Nigeria.

    They are conscious of the role the Act can play in addressing the challenge posed by the menace. (NANFeaures)