2015 Child Rights Essay Competition: 3rd Place, Group 2 (Grades 9-12)
Benjamin Ekpunobi – Nkpor, Nigeria / Winners International School
“When I was 14, my father gave me a few dollars and a one-way train ticket to the nearest city, where there were many perils. I made friends with other youngsters who, like me, did not have anyone interested in them. Many of us became alcoholics. I became arrogant, vulgar, and aggressive. I was often without food. One winter evening my friends and I burned the furniture to keep warm. How I would have liked a family to care for me, to be interested in my sentiments, my anxieties, my fears. But I was alone, terribly alone.”
If you live in affluent lands, you will hardly understand the plight of most of us children here in Africa. The above story was from a child who left village to grow in the city with no one in company simply because his parents can no longer care for him. It was a real life story that can tell what millions of children across the globe are passing through. The simple language is that they are not wanted.
Children in some developing lands are placed on the lowest rung of the ladder of recognition and respect. In my culture, children are ordered about in threatening and authoritative tones, yelled at and insulted. It may be rare to hear an adult say a kind word to a child, not to mention courtesies such as “please” and “thank you.” It is a sin to treat children with right and small respect they deserve in this part of the world. Fathers feel they must establish their authority with strong hands; hard words are reinforced with hard blows and mothers feel they have absolute right to do anything with their children and still see it as training and inculcating values. Here we don’t know right.
Here in Africa, it is even viewed as impertinent for a child to say a greeting to a grown-up on his own initiative. It is not uncommon to see youths, weighed down with heavy loads on their heads, patiently waiting for permission to greet a group of adults. The grown-ups will carry on their idle chatter, ignoring the waiting youths until they choose to let them offer greetings. Only after those greetings have been said are the children allowed to pass. Sometimes, I wonder why this treatment. With this treatment, I am sure, it will be very difficult for many to survive into a balanced adult.
Poverty has also worked against the welfare of children. Many families are extremely poor in Africa. For children, they become bread winners at the age of their lives when they should be in school with others. At the expense of their health and schooling, youngsters are exploited as child labourers. Unreasonably heavy workloads are placed on children even at home. And when families in rural areas send their children to the big cities to be cared for by relatives while they are being schooled, they are frequently treated as virtual slaves. Surely, all this shabby treatment is irritating to children! Still to others, they are exposed so early to other abuses like sex slaves and prostitution which ruins their future. And that is why we have more children making babies. Disheartening!
From its very inception, the United Nations organization has been interested in children and their problems. That is a credit, I admit. But they should also admit that they know that their attention and interest in the rights of children are not being felt anywhere here. The more they try to educate people on the media abut child abuse and slavery, the more developing countries adopt modern slavery. What practical thing should help children secure a place in an adult world filled with brutality and uncaring heart?
The development of a global human rights culture should be adopted. What I mean is that through education we should make people more aware of rights of children. Of course, that’s a huge challenge because it involves a change of mentality, training, orientation, commitment and real effort. Hopefully, education may change the minds and hearts of people. This may almost sound like the Gospel, but when it comes to human rights education, I’m a true believer. I hope the world will adopt the human rights culture as its ideology in the next century.
Neglected and abused children globally are not asking for much. They are asking for attention and care. They are helpless and when they become balanced adult, they will be able to line up to do the work a balanced adult can do and even better. They know that as much as they might like to, they cannot furnish the crippled child with healthy limbs, activate the mind of the mentally disabled child, reunite a child with his separated or divorced parents, or place him back in the loving embrace of a deceased parent, but can just make them smile and feel life.