Children should be the centre of COVID-19 response, says Nigerian Human Rights Chief
The Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Tony Ojukwu has called on the Federal, State and Local Governments and all institutions and persons engaged in the COVID-19 response at all levels to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of children. He stated this in Abuja as Nigeria joins the rest of Africa to mark the 2020 Day of the African Child.
According to Mr. Ojukwu, “the unprecedented outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about restrictive measures by virtually every country in the world. These have led to the closure of educational and recreational facilities for children, with attendant consequences on human rights and social development.”
Shedding more light on the global and national dimensions of the impacts, Mr. Ojukwu stated that “it is estimated that about 1.5 billion children are currently out of school globally due to restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “In countries like Nigeria which already has a large population of out-of-school children, this will mean additional lack of access to education by those already in school. The introduction of online learning has further widened the access gap between rich and poor children and families.”
In terms of the impact on the health sector, the Human Rights Chief stated that the focus on COVID-19 interventions has meant that other child survival and health initiatives such as immunisation has suffered a great deal and called on the federal and state governments to resume life saving vaccination of children against the killer diseases.
On the theme of the 2020 commemoration of the Day of the African Child – “realizing access to a child-friendly justice system in Africa,” Mr Ojukwu stated that “there has never been a time when child friendly justice systems should be set up like now. The sharp rise in sexual violence and exploitation of children has reached an epidemic peak in Nigeria and every executive, judicial and legislative machinery should be deployed to stem this tide.” Above all, Mr. Ojukwu on behalf of the Commission calls on the remaining States that are yet to enact the Child Rights Law to as a matter of urgency and in the interest of justice, do so. In the same vein, States that have enacted the Law should put in place mechanisms to implement and enforce it like the family court and child rights implementation committee, especially in the light of the rise in rape cases and other violations of the rights of children.
The Commission has recently launched a national week of activism to bring attention of policy makers on the growing incidence of rape and other sexual and gender-based violence across Nigeria calling for a declaration of state of Emmergency on Rape and SGBV. According to Mr. Ojukwu, “the Commission is mobilising national actions across executive, legislative and judicial authorities as well as non-state actors to coalesce efforts to address this cankerworm.
It will also be recalled that on the 27th of May 2020, in line with its mandate, the Commission issued an Advisory Opinion on the “Protection of the Rights and Dignity of Almajiri Children in COVID-19 Response” where it declared Almajiri system a violation of multiple human rights of children and called on State Governments to “put in place financial, institutional and programmatic frameworks to urgently address the needs of the Almajiri children.” The Commission advised further called for “adequate protection programs, basic support services and empowerment programs to address poverty and other socio-economic vulnerabilities that made the parents to send out the children in the first place.”
Tony Ojukwu Esq
National Human Rights Commission