Dear Naija children,
Thirty years ago-long before many of you were born – the world came together to write a document that would help to defend and protect your rights.
They did this because they recognised that childhood is a very precious time – a time when you must be able to grow as healthily as possible, learn in school, be protected from violence, be treated fairly, and have your views listened to.
This document – called the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the CRC – became the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child – recognise how important children’s rights – YOUR rights – are to the world.
In the 30 years since its adoption, the CRC has helped to transform the lives of children like you worldwide. It established that children are not the property of adults, but people in their own right, with rights of their own. It inspired governments, including the Nigerian government, to change laws and policies to protect children, and make more investments in children.
Today, more and more of you are getting the healthcare and nutrition you need to survive and develop. And more and more of you have a strong voice in your communities, participating in shaping your communities and your country.
All of these advances should be celebrated. But there are still millions of children in the world and here in Nigeria whose rights are not fully respected and protected. Too many children are still subjected to violence, discrimination or exploitation…are hungry…have not been able to go to school – especially girls. And too many of you are robbed of your childhoods due to conflict and insecurity. You may be one of them.
So, while we need to celebrate how far we have come – and Nigeria has indeed made a lot of progress – we also need to recognise how much more still needs to be done to ensure that all children – each and every one of you – have every right realised – now and for generations to come.
For example, the UN has set a goal that EVERY human being on the planet will have a legal identity by 2030, and together with your government, we are working hard to make that happen in Nigeria.
We also have goals around education. Too many young Nigerians don’t have full education that will prepare them for modern jobs and business opportunities. Many children in families with low incomes are left behind and miss out on the opportunities afforded to wealthier families – these children are in a ‘poverty trap’ determined entirely by the family she or he was born into. This is not fair.
Technological advancements have also dramatically shaped our lives since the adoption of the CRC and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and your safety online must be a priority. More and more of you are going online than ever before – joining children around the world in browsing social media, playing games, and viewing videos- and this is a good thing. We want to see Nigerian children engaging with their world and expressing their views using modern technology. But there are also risks – from online bullying to violations of your privacy that are often not clear at all – even to educated adults. False information online has deceived children into handing over money, giving away their data and being exploited. We need to work hard to ensure that you are safe offline AND online, and that you are equipped with the knowledge and skills to claim your digital rights.
Whether it is online or offline, I have been so inspired to see children in Nigeria standing up to let their voices be heard and advocating their rights, including their right to a healthy and viable planet. For example, at the United Nations in New York earlier this year, Debbie – a 12-year-old girl from Lagos – was part of a group of 15 child activists who demanded that governments take action to preserve our earth for their generation and future generations of children.
All of you – every child in Nigeria – has this same right to have your voices heard and to know and understand your rights. I have recently launched an initiative called the “Passport to your Rights” with the ambitious goal that every child in Nigeria has a copy of this Passport and knows their rights by the year 2024. We are thrilled to give copies of the passport to all of you here today, and hope you will work with us to spread the word to your brothers and sisters, family and friends.
Fulfilment of your rights also depends on leaders taking action on issues that will affect your lives: fighting poverty; ensuring that children have access to quality healthcare, nutritious food, clean water and a good education; and that no child is subjected to violence, exploitation or abuse.
The road map for this action is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a global agreement to pursue a more equal, prosperous, safe and sustainable world for all people and the planet. Young people like you are also taking action on these Global Goals. Just last week, the World’s Largest Lesson – an initiative to teach children about the Goals and inspire your action – was launched in Nigeria and already 700,000 children have learned about the Goals. Let us also work together to ensure that every child knows about the Goals – and that you are helping to make them a reality through your own actions.
The fulfilment of child rights and the success of the Global Goals go hand-in-hand – and one cannot be achieved without the other.
This year, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. And next year, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, as well as the 10-year “Decade for Action” to achieve the SDGs.
All of this together presents an urgent, triple call for action for the children of Nigeria. We cannot fail in this mission. And we need all of you here and all of those watching to work with us in protecting the rights of every Nigerian child, so that they may have a fair chance in life to fulfil their full potential and achieve their dreams.
I started this talk with some difficult information, but I am ending it by telling you that I have a lot of hope. I have hope in Nigeria – and that is mostly because I have hope in you.
Every day in my work, I see children who are fully capable of taking the lead in demanding urgent action. I see children who are excited to learn about and shape their country and the world around them. Many of you are already taking a stand, and we are listening, as you develop into the leaders of the future. Thank you for challenging and inspiring us.
We must work together – both for you and with you – to find the solutions to the challenges of today, to build better futures for tomorrow and to improve the world you and your future children will inherit.
Know your rights, hold us accountable for helping to deliver the future you want in Nigeria.
Now is your turn, now is your time and your future starts now!
Hawkins is the UNICEF Representative to Nigeria