The first ever conference on Safeguarding Children in Nigeria has urged Nigerian federal and state governments to establish agencies or Ministries with sole responsibilities for all children’s issues.
The conference held on 26th May 2014 in Lagos, Nigeria also called for an independent inspector to monitor the work of agencies with responsibilities for children. Such a move will ensure more focus is placed on the child with better service delivery and all children’s issues brigaded under one umbrella.
The conference was organised by the UK charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA) in partnership with CEE-HOPE, a local NGO.
The event titled “Building a Child Protection System Fit for the 21st Century in Nigeria” was billed as a transfer of knowledge event between UK based Nigerian experts in child protection and safeguarding and Nigerian professionals working with children.
It focused on a number of key issues including enhancing the protection of children in conflict areas of the country, protecting children from sexual exploitation especially in orphanages and educational institutions, building a strong structure of child protection and safeguarding across the country as well as preventing and protecting children from trafficking and exploitation.
More than 200 delegates attended the conference held in the midst of world-wide condemnation and attention on Nigeria in relation to the 230 school girls abducted by the terrorists in April 2014 and most of who are still missing.
Conference delegates deplored the growing incidence of terrorism in Nigeria and the continued risk of harm to children and families. The near total lack of support systems in place across all affected areas for children who have been affected by conflict was a source of concern as well as the lack of safeguarding measures in schools to prevent terrorist attacks and protect lives and property. Delegates expressed deep concern that if care is not taken, more of such attacks on schools will occur with further cases of child abductions.
Debbie Ariyo OBE, Director of AFRUCA UK and a Keynote Speaker at the conference implored the Nigerian government to learn from ongoing experiences in the UK. “Our UK system has been established to prevent harm to children and to protect abuse towards children. It is inconceivable that 200 children will go missing without heads rolling or without any concrete action to secure their immediate release,” Ms Ariyo said.
She called for an urgent action plan to establish support systems for families who have been affected by conflict across Nigeria and a nation-wide training programme for schools to establish effective systems and procedures to prevent and protect themselves against terrorist acts. “Since Boko Haram have an abhorrence of western education, it is clear that their acts constitute a war against the children of Nigeria and schools will continue to be their main target,” Ms Ariyo said.
Josephine Chukwura, Director of Project Alert lamented the lack of structures to monitor the activities of orphanages and children’s homes across the country. “Most of these places do not have any form of Child Protection Policies and Procedures to guide their work with vulnerable children. Children’s home workers are hardly trained in child protection which leaves the children in their care more vulnerable to abuse – especially sexual and physical abuses”.
Betty Abah, Executive Director of CEE-HOPE and conference co-organiser described the Nigerian child as an “endangered species”. She criticised the total lack of structures in place across the country to ensure children are protected from abuse and suffering. “The government is doing nothing to enhance the lives of Nigerian children. Nigeria is probably one of the worst places in the world to grow up as a child,” Ms Abah said.
Godwin Morka, an Assistant Director with NAPTIP – the Nigerian Anti Trafficking Agency said poverty and endemic deprivation are a contributory factor to children being trafficked and exploited across Nigeria. He described NAPTIP’s efforts to work hand in hand with affected communities to stem the tide of children being trafficked from their areas but concluded that unless more is done to combat poverty, children will always be at risk from human traffickers.
Gani Martins, Assistant Director of Children’s Services at Salford City Council in Greater Manchester called on the Nigerian government to adopt UK best practices in relation to child protection and safeguarding. “There are clear-cut systems and structures in place across all arms of government to ensure all children in the country are protected from abuse. In particular all agencies working with children must abide by legislation, rules and protocols on safeguarding.”
She said the government’s system of monitoring and inspection of child protection agencies by OFSTED was a very good way of ensuring agencies performed their roles effectively.
The conference recommended that all policy-makers and practitioners working with children across the country should be trained in child protection and safeguarding. This will help ensure that the right policies regarding children are made and that agencies can act better to prevent abuse towards children.
The conference also recommended putting in a place a vetting and barring system to help protect children in schools and other agencies from paedophiles and other child abusers.
Nigerian authorities were further urged by the conference to urgently develop support programmes for children and families affected by conflict in the country.
As terrorist attacks become more frequent in the country, the conference recommended that schools across Nigeria, especially in conflict areas should undergo training in terrorism in order to learn how their schools can be at risk and how to protect children, lives and properties from terrorist attacks.