In her 1985 R&B best seller titled ‘Greatest Love of All’, Whitney Houston began the song with the lyrics, “I believe the children are our future, Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside; Give them a sense of pride to make it easier; Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be”. Several world leaders have acclaimed children as the future of the world and leaders of tomorrow. In many parts of the world, children are planned for and care is taken to make special provisions to ensure that policies on children’s well-being and rights are well documented and implemented. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime
Minister of India, said years ago that, ‘Children are like buds in a garden and should be carefully and lovingly nurtured, as they are the future of the nation and the citizens of tomorrow.’ In the same vain, Nelson Mandela of South Africa said: ‘Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation’. The United Nations, through its various agencies like UNESCO, UNHCR and UNICEF, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, vigorously pursues policies aimed at ensuring the future of children in different parts of the world. The Convention has 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.
It also explains how adults and governments must work together to make sure all children can enjoy all their rights. Every child has rights, whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status. One of the annual goals of the UN aimed at drawing attention to the plight of vulnerable children and the achievement of set targets on behalf of children, is the celebration of the Universal or World Children’s Day on 20th November every year as an international observance. However, each country has her own date to celebrate her children.
Children’s Day was first proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954 to encourage all countries to institute a day, firstly to promote mutual exchange and understanding among children, and secondly, to initiate action to benefit and promote the protection and welfare of children’s rights all over the world. These rights include the right to health, education, family life, play and recreation, an adequate standard of living and to be protected from abuse and harm. Children’s rights cover their developmental and age-appropriate needs that change over time as a child grows up. All the UN member countries celebrate this day according to the dates they have chosen, outside of the World Children’s Day on 20th November.
Nigeria marks her Children’s Day on 27th May every year and today offers an opportunity to promote and celebrate children’s rights that will build a better world for our children. Children’s Day is a holiday for schools in Nigeria and all children get all excited as they eagerly await the day which they look forward to. It is usually a fun-filled occasion and schools, parents and governments plan different activities to celebrate our children. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, just like in other parts of the world, 2020 is a different kind of year so none of the usual activities have been organized to celebrate the day. Of course families will celebrate their children at home but the get together that usually brings all our youngsters together is absent due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But aside from the annual themes, fanfare, lectures and match-past that follow the celebration of Children’s Day, and amidst all the pomp and circumstance, we as a country seem to have lost sight of the real message of ‘Children as the future of the nation’. Yes, there is still the cliché that ‘children and youth are leaders of tomorrow’. At least the political parties and their leaders use the cliché to look for votes for the young ones. However, it seems that once new governments or leaders assume office, they forget all the promises they made with and about children and youth, including providing our children with a safe and loving environment in which to grow, as well as giving them ample and equal opportunities through which they can take great strides and contribute to the progress of the nation.
And good education is a key to achieving this goal. Children’s Day should serve as a reminder to us all to renew our commitment to the welfare of our children and teach them to live by internationally approved standards. Provision must be made for every child to have a fulfilled childhood and receive good education at all levels. The phenomena of Almajiri, street hawkers, children bus conductors and child trafficking should be addressed with all the required resources. The era of teachers and lecturers going on strike because of poor funding of schools and improper remuneration should be banished because it is our children that ultimately suffer the consequences of the strikes. The United Nations provides a theme every year for Children’s Day to promote awareness among children, togetherness and improving children’s welfare. The current UN theme for this day is: “Investing in our future means investing in our children”.
This theme plays with the words that, rather than investing in our children to guarantee their future, we should invest in, and plan the future to make it good for our children. Investing in the future with our children in mind is huge capital to ensure that we have a better nation and a better world. If we do not want vagabonds, terrorists, robbers and other criminals to take over our country, now is the time to plan for the future of our children – right from the family, community, church and mosque, to local, state and federal government levels so that we can align with best practices in the international system on how to achieve good upbringing and development of the child, so that our children will indeed be the future of the world. The children too, have a big role to play in ensuring that are willing and ready.