Sleeping on the rights of our children,By Niran Adedokun



niran(1)One did not need a soothsayer to know that the hue and cry which greeted the attempt of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to amend Section 29(4) of the 1999 Constitution was just for the moment. It is our way. We spit fire and throw stones, we curse, swear and threaten for a moment and then go to sleep until something happens in another year or two and then we start our emotive outbursts all of over again.
Perhaps you need a recap of the events that I am talking about. On Tuesday, July 18, 2013, something happened on the floor of the Nigerian Senate which turned almost every Nigerian, many of whom did not have a full grasp of the issue, into some rights activist. The Senate committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution had recommended the amendment of a part of Section 29 which deals with the renunciation of Nigerian citizenship. S.29(1) prescribes that Nigerians who are of “full age” would be at liberty to renounce their citizenship provided they met certain other conditions which are enumerated in the succeeding subsections. However, while S.29 (4a) prescribes that: “full age means the age of 18 years and above”, 29(4b) states that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.” The committee sought the deletion of the clause 29 (4b) apparently with the mindset that many girls are forced into marriage before 18 and that it would be improper to afford girls who cannot obtain drivers licenses, cannot vote or be voted for, the opportunity to renounce their citizenship on the basis of their marital status.
Senator Ahmed Yerima(ANPP/APC; Zamfara West) put up an argument to the effect that Islam recognized any woman who is married to be of full age. His argument, which was as volatile as it was persuasive led to a second vote in which Senator in favour of the deletion of the clause could not muster the required 2/3 majority. And so Section 29(4) remains part of the Nigerian constitution
In a matter of hours, Nigerians went ballistic. We began to see some very unlikely activists stand up for the right of the child. People recorded videos of hate, posting same on Youtube and any other possible medium. Media interviews were granted, some hundreds of thousands of signatures were collected and then a bold group of men and women under the aegis of the Gender & Constitutional Reform Network (GECORN), marched on the Senate, confronted the Senate President with a bill of rights to Senator David Mark and other members of the Senate. Mark and his colleagues promised to look into their requests, which centred on the deletion of S29 (4) and the need to give expeditious attention to pending documents like the Violence Against Persons and Gender Equality Opportunity Bills which are before the lawmakers. That meeting, which took place on July 23, 2013 is the last that I have heard of any concerted effort made to further the promotion and protection of the rights of the Nigerian child.
It is possible to attribute this silence to the promise obtained from Senator Mark but a pertinent question is whether the deletion of 29(4) in itself solves the myriad of deprivations which the Nigeria child faces. The answer is an emphatic No.
Even after the Senate might have kept its promise to delete this evidently obnoxious provision, Section 9(2) of the 1999 Constitution states that, ‘An Act of the National Assembly for the altertion of this Constitution… shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States.’ The import of the foregoing is that when the National Assembly must have done its job, two-thirds majority of members in at least 24 of the 36 State Houses of Assembly in the country must concur with the National Assembly before S29(4) could be properly deleted.
Related to this is the fact that a lot of the issues that deal with the child are under the Concurrent Legislative List in Part II of Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution. The implication of this is that state houses of assembly have the constitutional responsibility of making laws on these issues for their individual states. For the emancipation of the Nigerian child therefore, stakeholders must push for the domestication of the Child Rights Act (CRA) (which was passed into law by the National Assembly in 2003 in line with Section 12 of the Constitution) in all states. The CRA is the domestication of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
Now the CRA deals with more than the issue of child marriage. In twenty-four parts and eleven schedules, it entrenches the rights to the child to survival and development, the right to a name, to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, to freedom of thought, freedom to a private and family life, freedom from discrimination, freedom to dignity, parental care and protection, health and health care services as well as freedom to leisure, recreation and cultural activities. It protects the child against a plethora of possible abuses. It specifies the right of the child to free, compulsory and universal primary education even as it encourages the need for secondary education for every child or the alternative opportunity to learn an appropriate trade. Not even an unwanted pregnancy should stop a girl from completing basic education in the eye of the CRA. States however have to domesticate this law for it to be operational in their states.
It is common knowledge that 12 out of the 36 states in the country have still not domesticated the Child Rights and that a lot of those who have domesticated the law merely adorn their shelves with it. Reversing this current situation is what I consider to be most paramount to Nigerians who have interest in the future of our country.
However, this cannot be a short distance race that would end with just one or two visits. It is a tedious process which must start with breaking the barrier of ignorance amongst parents and community leaders in states that have not domesticated the law. Hopefully, this would make communities begin to demand the passage and implementation of the law. This enlightenment drive, which must be ceaseless, should include legislators and even Governors of errant states.
As child rights advocate and UNICEF Consultant, Taiwo Akinlami pointed out, quoting a UNICEF document in a recent article: “responding to child abuse cases is four times expensive as child protection and protecting children against violence and abuse…’
Of course it is easy to do the best for our own children and imagine that we have no responsibility to other children but we would be grossly mistaken here, as this exposes our children to the risk of the frustration which majority of deprived children are bound to vent in future. This has actually begun to manifest in how vulnerable children have become instruments in the hands of terrorists. Borrowing the words of Mahatma Gandhi, late political and spiritual leader of India, “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” It is a tedious, long process from which we cannot retire just yet.
Adedokun, a Lagos based PR consultant, wrote in via [email protected] You can follow him on twitter @niranadedokun

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