When she was 7, Amina watched her father lament of financial woes as he sat by the fireplace, it was also there he shared his plan to ensure financial gain by withdrawing her from school and gifting her in marriage to a much older rich man. She watched on silently as her life automatically became one of endurance. In that instant, her chances of completing an education diminished, her father’s decision put her at higher risk of being abused by her much older rich husband or developing fistula during labour and even dying in pregnancy or child birth.
It is for the reason that the above scenario can easily be any Northern Nigerian girl that the El-Rufai led Kaduna State Government considered it a priority to domesticate the Federal Child Rights Act 2003 and make it state law. The law was passed by the Kaduna State House of Assembly and assented to by the State Governor in March 2016.
Over 3 million children live in Kaduna and as opposed to being in school gaining knowledge that ultimately will benefit society, a good number of them work as street hawkers, child labourers or are being used for criminal activities. At its very core, the Child Rights Act aims to ensure that the dignity and right to a decent living, education and protection is restored to these children.
After all, if we expect these children to grow into law abiding citizens, it is only required that society provides them with every necessary protection.
Make no mistake, there is a direct correlation between violence and poverty, Kaduna State knows this and is therefore committed to creating economic options that lift families out of poverty. The thinking is that as more families are lifted out of poverty and conditions that allow violence thrive are diminished, relevant laws are alongside enacted to ensure accountability.
Northern Nigeria has the highest rate of child indignities anywhere in the country, particularly street begging and hawking, this rate has dropped in recent time due to increased sensitizations and concerted efforts at speaking out against this injustice by community leaders and social media influencers.
As at 2011, 24 Nigerian States had domesticated the Child Rights Bill and 12 were yet to develop a Child Rights law.
Of these 12 states, 11 are Northern and would not even consider this bill as it was seen to be at odds with religious and cultural provisions. The twelfth is the South-Eastern state of Enugu.
Now, there is still much more progress to be made but seven of the 12 states are studying the bill with a view to domesticating it. While Kaduna State has passed the bill, Kaduna is one of only 2 North Western States that have domesticated the bill, the other is Jigawa State.
In addition to prohibiting child marriage and child betrothal, the Child Rights Law categorically states that the best interest of the child shall be of paramount importance in all considerations. The law emphasizes the child’s right to survival and development, its right to a name and registration at birth, and the right to protection and all necessary care.
The law also provides for freedom from discrimination on the grounds of community, ethnicity, origin, sex, religion or the circumstances of birth.
The goal for the Kaduna State Government is to reduce the infant mortality rate by providing adequate medical and health care, improved nutrition and safe drinking water. These efforts will lead to hygienic, better sanitized environments and a reduction in disease prevalence and malnutrition.
For the Kaduna State Government, enacting such a law that is beneficial to child development is an investment in its future: safer, more accessible and free education translates as more children in school and therefore a more knowledgeable population capable of contributing to the growth of society. Also, when you empower children with knowledge, they are less likely to be abused or be abusers themselves.
This is where Kaduna heads with its future, a state where every child is empowered, informed and protected to the extent that they have all the opportunities they need to ensure that there is no limit to their aspirations.
Abdulhassan Rabiu is an architect based in Abuja (firstname.lastname@example.org)