Written by Michael Gbarale
Today in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, where I come from thousands of children are being abuse daily due to negligence by the Government, Oil companies’ activities, parents, caregivers, religious leaders and other members of the society that discriminate against them.
Children’s rights are being abused through child labor, female genital mutilation, child abandonment, and branding innocent and defenceless children as witches and wizards by religious leaders which sometimes leads to the children being thrown out in the streets or killed. Many such children spend their childhood years on the streets and this is evident in Port-Harcourt, Akwa lbom and Cross River State.
In Rivers and Bayelsa States where I work I am seeing high numbers of cases of rape committed against children as young as 3 years old. Sexual violence in these States is a serious problem and the Government must act now to address the issue. Children are also being abused through child trafficking, recruitment of under age children into child soldiers, child prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation that harm the growth and development of a child in the Niger Delta.
In Nigeria, the mere passage of the Child Rights Act 2003 by the National Assembly and its ratification by some States into Child Rights Law within Nigeria, such as Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River, it is regarded as the panacea to all the problems children face in Nigeria. It is common knowledge that hundreds of children are abused daily by Government and its institutions that have failed to provide adequate facilities such as health care centres for safe delivery and infants care; well equipped school; safe drinking water; and accommodation for children at risk of abuse. The recent removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government shows the height of Government’s ill-consideration towards children as they will suffer the direct consequences of the hardship being encounter by their parents and care-givers. Some will be forced to withdrawn from school because their parents and caregivers cannot meet up the harsh economic reality the masses are made to face.
Government institutions like the Ministries of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation are charged with the responsibilities of protecting children and punishing offenders who are not living up to their expectations by breaking the law. Multinational oil corporations in the Niger Delta region are also contributing largely to child abuses through their operations by flaring gas into the atmosphere and oil spills from their equipment into their land and waters destroying the eco system of the Delta. Through this destruction the livelihood of the Niger Delta people is also destroyed because farming and fishing are the main occupations in the Delta. Oil companies destroy the main sources of income for families who depend on farming and fishing as their only means of survival. Countless of spills have been reported in Niger Delta caused by the operations of oil giants like SHELL, AGIP, CHEVRON, ELF, TOTAL and MOBIL without compensation to the Niger Delta people.
Children are the ones who suffer more when Oil companies fail to take responsibility as they are made to face hardships encountered by their bread winners. As a result some drop out of school and are given out as domestic servants to care-givers, who then go on to abuse these children by forcing them into child labour or trafficking them into prostitution. Whilst millions of barrels of oil flow from the soil on daily basis our female children are being forced into prostitution in order to survive and assist their families. This is both wrong and inhumane and the Government should be ashamed of itself in allowing this to happen to our people.
The law enforcement agencies are also contributing to child abuse through their negligence in enforcing the law. When offenders are apprehended, some see it as opportunity to extort huge amounts of money for bail from the perpetrators.
Children must enjoy their legal rights to be protected from harm in every home of Nigeria because if urgent steps are not taken to prevent the abuse of children today our children, your children, will be victims of this unjust treatment and cruel conditions for many more years to come. Let’s make sure this does not happen. Together let us unite and put a stop to child abuse.
Gbarale is the Niger Delta Child Rights Watch(NDCRW) Project Officer, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa States