Edidiong Idang shares her thoughts as a facilitator on child protection and safeguarding.
Over the past three months, I have been privileged to be a part of the trainers of a Federal Government project targeted at the protection of Children in Nigeria. The At-Risk Children program (ARC-P) which is aimed at improving the overall well-being of young, marginalized and at-risk children which includes ‘almajirai’, orphans, unaccompanied children, children with disabilities and vulnerable girls; addresses the issue of unemployment, insecurity and poverty.
While I have had the opportunity of travelling and exploring the rich culture of Nigeria, I have also learned and appreciated the efforts of state and non-state actors in ensuring the protection of children in Nigeria. For this purpose, I penned down this write-up based on my field experience; hoping that this would improve the livelihood of children across Africa and the world at large.
One would not talk about Child protection without first knowing who a child is. As simple as this may be, it is important to begin such discussions with an understanding of who people think a Child is. The reason for this is not far-fetched as we all have different cultures, religions and social orientations which may influence our idea of who a child really is.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child defines a Child as People under 18 years of age, who are still considered to be growing and developing and in need of extra protection.
My experience as a resource person in the Nigerian Federal Government program has provided me with the opportunity of understanding the various challenges faced by duty bearers in implementing the Child Right Acts and various ways of effectively providing child protection services for children in rural communities.
While poverty, culture and religious biases contribute to the exposure of children to abuse, violence, exploitation, and neglect; there is a need to mention that the lack of effective implementation structures for child protection laws, is one not to be overlooked.
In Nigeria for instance, there are several laws which protect children. The Child Right Act and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition law are a few to mention. These laws which have been adopted by the various states remain a document for the shelves. For effective implementation of this law, for the protection of children, the following innovative ways should be considered.
- Identifying and equipping youth facilitators
This method is being applied by the Federal Government of Nigeria, under the At-Risk Children Program (ARC-P). Youth facilitators are drawn from each Local Government area of each state and trained on specific entrepreneurial skills as well as on Child protection and safeguarding. These young people who have been empowered are expected to engage young children who are victims of any form of abuse and act as watchdogs in their local communities; to ensure the rights of children.
The ripple effect of this method is that these youth facilitators gain entrepreneurial skills and other skills and can transfer knowledge to At Risk children within their community. They become employers of labour, gain financial freedom, and also share this knowledge gained in their communities.
- Establishment of Child Right Committee Support.
These committees can be made up of relevant stakeholders including representatives of Civil Society Organizations, Women lawyers, the media, security, and vigilante groups in rural communities. They must have basic knowledge of the laws protecting children and understand the key stakeholders and the local context in which the law must be applied.
For the sustainability of such support groups, this support group must be situated under the welfare department of the government ministry with clear terms of reference to guide their activities. Members of this group can meet regularly but most especially when cases of child abuse are brought to bear. They must also have knowledge of the referral pathways and work closely with relevant government institutions for the effective protection of children within their communities.
Protecting the right of children should be the duty of every citizen. This is because a wounded child- be it from psychological, physical, or emotional abuse, will continually seek answers and perhaps resort to revenge because of the abuse and neglect faced in childhood. While international organizations and Governments of Nations are working hard to preserve the rights of a child, let this be a collective effort by all stakeholders while thinking through innovative ways of safeguarding the rights of children in the local communities.