The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. Children at birth take on the social and economic status of their parents and are generally subject to abuse if special care and attention is not given them.
They are minors who are socialised through education, formal or informal. At birth, every child by nature is said to be a “social animal” and can only attain their personality through social interaction. Through social interaction, children are taught their cultural values and duties. In the same way through education, children could be taught their fundamental rights. Not only do children know their rights through education, education also guarantees the enjoyment of those rights.
Universal Rights of Children
The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the General Assembly in 1989 and came into force September 2, 1990 and describes a number of rights of children. These rights include, but not limited to, the Right to be protected against “all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.”
It states that the best interest of children must always be the primary consideration when dealing with a child and children also have rights to protection and care for their well-being and have right to parental responsibilities. They have the right to life and development name, identity, parents and nationality and the right not to be separated from parents. They have the right to freedom of expression, thought, religion and conscience, association, privacy and have the right to information among several others.
There are similar provisions and guarantees and several other instruments such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC-OPSC), Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC-OPAC), Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child also had similar provisions for protection of children.
Widespread violation of the rights of children particularly in Africa
Needless to say, despite the numerous “bill of rights” of children enumerated above, the sad reality is that children are being enslaved and violated every day. According to the 2017 Global Estimates of Child Labour, “there are 152 million children around the world engaged in child labour, and 73 million of them are in work that “directly endangers their health, safety and moral development. According to the report, 90 per cent of all children in child labour are in the Africa and the Asia and the Pacific regions. In Africa, 20 per cent of the continent’s children are in child labour, while in the Asia and the Pacific region, seven per cent are in child labour.” Africa has the largest number of child labour; 59 million children between the ages of five and 17 are involved with hazardous work. More than one in five children in Africa are employed against their will in stone quarries, farms, and mines. Poverty remains the major reason behind this issue.” The 2017 trafficking in persons Report also identified the following as a form of modern day slavery involving children: Child Sex Trafficking, Forced Child Labour, Unlawful recruitment of child soldiers.
Education holds the key to the promotion of the rights of children
The reason for widespread violations of the rights of children guaranteed protection was giving as poverty. The only way children of Africa can escape poverty is when they are educated. Education is a potent key to unlock the enjoyments of the rights of every child in Africa. Education has the potential not only to make children aware of their rights, but also guarantee the enjoyment of those rights. Though a child may be born into a poor family, through education, that child can acquire new values for life, and rise above his poverty.
Education changes social and cultural status, as well as economic status of children. Through education children formulate new personalities different from what they inherited at birth, reform their attitudes and possibly guarantee their future carers. Education changes the political, religious, economic, family life and educational life of an individual. The child’s right to life, well-being and full participation in society can be actualised through education.
Education made a huge difference in my own life. In talking to the 14th Annual Human Rights Summit at the UN this year, I share my story on how education made a difference in my life and desire to share same in this article.
“I was the third born in a family of nine. My mother, a slave girl to a voodoo shrine and my father a desperate drunk. My eldest sister became blind at an early age having suffered measles as a result of lack of education on the situation. My parents could not find solution to her illness until it was too late. The only way I was able to survive the war of life, was through education. I began to crave and search for knowledge. I began nursery school when I was 8 years old.
As an elementary boy, I had no option than to sell on the streets while pursuing education. I lived and endured the streets even when I was in senior high school (SHS) for many years just to remain in school and gain knowledge. Apart from my usual street trade, I begged for money on the streets to supplement my daily earnings. (I must say though a difficult and risky venture, it was quite lucrative). Why? BECAUSE, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.
Knowledge made a difference in my life. Without education, life in Africa will continue to be but a dream from afar. Today, I would not have been a Human Rights Lawyer, Activist and Ambassador, reaching out to the world, if not for knowledge.
When African children are educated, they will automatically enjoy their rights fully. In conclusion, I invite the world to rally around the Sustainable Development Goal Number (SDG) 4 which is to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all in doing so we will be invariably promoting the rights of children in the world and in Africa.