Ekaete Judith Umoh is the Executive Director/Founder FACICP Disability Plus, a Non-Profit Organization that works for the promotion of the welfare of women and Girl Child with disability aimed at ensuring equal right and gender. In this exclusive interview with Paul Efiong, Ekaete who speaks against the backdrop of the 2019 International Day of the Girl Child call on the government at all levels to create enabling environment through which Child Right Act can effectively be implemented in the country, She also frown at the Act which she explains lack disability component. Excerpt:
Nigerians celebrated the International Day of the Gild Child for the 2019 last Friday, with the theme: ‘Girl Force, Unscripted and Unstoppable’ What is your organization doing to ensure domestication of the Child Rights Act across all states of the federation?
First of all there are lapses in the Child Right Act. In that law, we have seen disability gap in the Act and we have been saying that with these serious observation, the law cannot work the way it should because some serious key sector have been omitted from the law.
How can the law work when children with disabilities have not been captured? We have been saying that children with disabilities are visible and issues affecting them and their wellbeing should be brought to the lime light. We also observed that disability components are lacking in the Child Rights Act, hence we wonder why that should happen. We must also note that children are not homogenous, there are boys and there are girls. Today most children hawking in the streets are girls, and we also wonder what does the Child Right Act say when it comes to gender component of the Children? These are questions we are asking, remember, the theme for this 2019 International Day of the Girl Child is “Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable”. A very fantastic topic which tend to give hope and aspiration but what about that girl child with disability? As we all know, the girl child with disability face more problems than their male counterpart. The girl child with disability must not be ignored, we must discuss about them now. Government at all levels must sit up to address and arrest the general problem of a girl child including the ones with disability. This matter must not be discussed as an afterthought issue but should be addressed now.
You are the Executive Director of FACICP Disability Plus; please tell us a little about your organization.
Yes, our Organization is nonprofit, we work for the promotion of issues of women and Girl Child with disability and equal gender, and we derive our mandate from the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW) among other UN Conventions. We believe that issues that has to do with women and Girl Children right has been boxed into one corner and we intend to address all that, which is what we stand for and has been doing.
The Child Right Act which is a law aimed at protecting the Girl Child is poorly implemented in the country, what do you think is responsible for that?
I think the issue has to do with values, what is an ideal value of an African Child? Do we have value for African Child? In real African context, how valuable are children? There are a lot of more barriers, the social, the cultures, traditional and religious barriers. There are lots of barriers in the system which has impacted negatively on the welfare and well beings of an African women or a Girl Child. Take for instance, we always see children as pieces of materials or objects that could be treated, born into the world anyhow just for the purpose of helping in farming. Some don’t really see children or a girl child as their fellow human beings with rights.
Therefore, no matter the law and the best intention of the law makers or those who drafted such laws, unless harmful practices against women and girl child arising from our culture are handle, the law remains just a piece of document with no effect on the people. If there are laws and the tradition go against such laws which one should take precedence? The Child Rights Act is indeed poorly implemented because of the values from the society, because of the values we place on our culture and religion just to mention but a few. The law for instance prohibit Child labour, that is to say, we don’t suppose to use our children for hawking, roaming the streets.
Hawking is a crime, children supposed to be in school but what is the reality on ground? Some children are forced to hawk because there is no money in the family for them to be in schools and to feed. Because there is no money at home the children have to hawk in order to have what to eat and by so doing the law becomes impractical, could not work as was envisaged by those who drafted it. Such a law I tell you cannot work well because of the poverty in our environment, how can such law be implemented in the country where we have poverty ravaging the family like wild fire? After all, the proceeds from the hawking are being used to place food on the family table. The Child Right Act could be implemented in the country perfectly well as long as there is clear cut policy from the government to address and arrest poverty; whenever parents are able to pay their children school fees without using the same children for hawking in order to make food available. All we know best is to copy and paste if not while should we imitate the Western world and their laws is in a very different environment with peculiarity like ours. Government should first of all put drastic workable policies on ground to address poverty among other problem in our country. Once, there is crucial workable system on ground to tackle poverty, then our Child Rights Act laws will work and that is the point we are making here.
In view of all you have explained, it seems your organization has been advocating for a reform or a repeal of the Child Right Act to meet realities on ground?
It may not necessarily means repealing some section of the Act but the issues affecting its implementation is what we are saying, let there be basic mechanism to tackle poverty first, then the Act will work properly. For instance, on the problem of Child Labour, because there is poverty, parents have no choice but to send their children for hawking in order to eat. If poverty is addressed in the family, it means they have a choice and may not have to send their children to street to hawk. The government must contextualize Nigerian environment and make laws that suit current realities, practical laws that could easily be implemented, laws should be practical not just to copy and paste from other climes. If parents have alternative to providing food for their children, then the issue of Child Labour will disappear entirely. What are functional and practical workable plan to address extreme poverty? yes, we don’t support evil, Child Labour is a crime, it is bad but all we are asking is what are governments at all levels doing to address fundamental problem like poverty in the country?.
You have agreed doing the cause of this interview that there are conflicts between the Child Right Act, tradition, culture and religion, so which way toward?
Yes, there are serious conflicts, the way forward is to make laws that will catch up with current realities and never to copy laws from the Western and Developed world and impose it on us that approach does not work. We want laws that are practical with our circumstances, laws that can address all the socio-cultural factors that make it extremely difficult for the laws to work. We should first of all look at our peculiar circumstances and characteristic before making the laws to make implementation easier. look at the law now, we as talking of the Child Rights Act, very beautiful piece of legislation, a very good law but not for it implementation problem. The law should be but let remove all the impairment that makes implementation extremely difficult.