Whenever the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) releases its annual report on the state of the world’s women and children, I am tempted not to read it simply because of the starkly depressing statistics that it highlights, where there seems to be an I don’t care attitude and lack of sympathy and empathy towards the plight of women and children. The reports have become an annual ritual that seem to only feed the pockets of those carrying out the research more than finding a lasting solution to help the victims of this rather unfair world. The recent Multi-dimensional Poverty report released in Nigeria has only confirmed what we know in Nigeria; that women and children more than me, remain at the top of the poverty ladder.
The report paints a rather depressing picture of the lives of children in the country. It estimates that approximately 67.5% or 67 million of the 99 million children aged 0-17 years live in poverty, with little or no access to health services, education and are food insecure. Of this number, 19 million are aged between 0 and 5 years. It goes on to note that the picture is grimmer among girls aged 12-17 (many of them child brides), where 60% of them are poor. Importantly, the report notes even though children make up 47% of the country’s population, they make up 51% of its poor indicating that there are more poor children in the country than there are poor adults.
While adults can seek to pull themselves out of poverty, children depend on adults to get them out of the state they find themselves in and as our population keeps on rising, while living standards keep dropping, we are likely to see increases in poverty numbers by the end of the decade. Managing our children, where we ensure that they have access to shelter, education and health care should be our priority but where this continues to be ignored, we must be conscious that if we are not careful we will reach a tipping point when we will be overwhelmed by the crisis.
In major urban cities around the country, we regularly come in contact with children plying the streets begging. We are usually impatient with these children seeing them as nuisances, rather than a tool to be used to hold parents and all tiers of government accountable for the lot of children that cannot be held responsible for their plight. In Kaduna, I have engaged with many of them and when I hear their stories, I wonder how we can be so heartless, where children are left to the risks of a world where they must protect themselves as they are forced to sleep on the streets, rain or shine; forced to beg for their sustenance and are constantly physically and sexually abused and in some instances used as ritual offerings for those that need to spill some blood to get their world desires.
These children had no say in being brought into this world, yet here they are, abandoned by their parents and then also by the very state that should hold those parents responsible and accountable. The level of callousness by parents and the state is extremely disturbing and should make everyone who has an ounce of empathy speak out against this injustice.
There is always this rather false sense that social commentators can proffer solutions to all social issues, but their job is to highlight gaps in the social framework that exist, so that those tasked with policy formulation can ensure that these issues are addressed. However, having said that, we know that policies to address these social issues already exist but implementation continues to be hampered by a lack of political will that remains the main stumbling block to generating the positive traction needed to address the problems. We see those that have been elected to provide these solutions more interested in finding ingenious ways to loot the very resources that are required to fund the policies, rather than ensure the success of the policies. We must raise our voices so that policies are properly funded and those in positions of power are held more responsible and accountable for every child that slips through the cracks into a world of poverty.