May 27 Celebrations: Little To Cheer For Nigerian Children

Photo Credit: allAfrica.com
Photo Credit: allAfrica.com

Out of the sum of N7.44 trillion budgeted for 2017, without money for vaccines, only N1.7 billion is earmarked for programmes and activities directly targeting children.

By Chikezie Omeje

As the country joins the rest of the world to mark the International Day for the Protection of Children, better known as Children’s Day, Nigerian children and their parents have little to cheer this year.

The 2017 budget of N7.44 trillion has low provisions to ensure adequate child care and protection in the country.

While the Federal Ministry of Education will spend N205.8 million to purchase three exotic Toyota LC V8 2016 model at the rate of N68.6 million each, it will spend just N7.2 million for all the activities to improve early childhood education of about 30 million children who are five years old and below.

Part of the N7.2 million earmarked for early childhood education will also go to fund capacity building for caregivers across the states of the federation.

Early childhood education as stated in the National Policy on Education covers the pre-primary school (day-care and nursery) until a child reaches the official school age of 6 years to start primary school.

As important as this formative education is in a child’s cognitive and psychosocial development, less than 30 per cent of children within the age range attend nursery or day-care despite the fact that government has a policy that requires every primary school to have pre-primary school.

But the biggest challenge to early childhood education is the overwhelming number of unqualified caregivers which the government is dedicating part of the N7.2 million to train.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, about 85 per cent of these caregivers do not possess basic qualifications and more than half have no formal education.

In addition to the poor qualification of caregivers, the poor state of the infrastructure, equipment, facilities and learning resources are also glaring problems.

But as much negligence shown in early childhood care and development by government is extended to school age children.

In a country where 10.5 million children are out of school, the highest in the world, the federal government will spend the miserable sum of N10 million on “national drive activities, campaign and advocacy to 36 states of the federation and FCT for increased access to basic education for out of school children.”

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About 10.5 million Nigerian children are out of school. Photo Credit: axisoflogic.com
About 10.5 million Nigerian children are out of school. Photo Credit: axisoflogic.com

Also, the federal government will spend additional N10 million on “high-level advocacy and sensitisation of political, religious and community leaders in the South-East and South-South zones on curbing the out of school boy child syndrome in the zones.”

Another N10 million is provided for “advocacy and sensitisation of key policy makers, community and religious leaders on some cultural practices that hinder girl-child access to education, the importance and benefit of girls’ education in all states of the federation.”

The federal government will also spend N5 million for “collaborating with other agencies on checking/regulating the Almajiri education programme in Nigeria to increase enrolment.”

Altogether, the budget for all the activities for improving early childhood care and development for about 30 million children and improving access to education for 10.5 million out of school children is N42.2 million – a sum far less than N205.8 million earmarked for the purchase of the three cars for officials of the education ministry.

The same elsewhere

The federal health budget makes provision of N23 million for infant and young child feeding in a country where 32 per cent of children under the age of five years are stunted.

Ironically, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency will spend a higher amount of N38.8 million on “plant/generator fuel cost”.

Perhaps the only positive note is the provision to buy Ready to Use Therapeutic Food, RUTF, for severely acute malnourished children, but the money is too negligible compared to the severity of the situation.

According to UNICEF and Federal Ministry of Health, 2.5 million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and all it takes to nurse each affected child to normal is just N50, 000.

This year, the federal government is required to make a provision of N95 billion in the budget to reach out to 1.9 million of these severely acute malnourished children, while the UNICEF will cater for the remaining 600,000 children.

Unfortunately, the federal government provided the paltry sum of N1.2 billion for “contribution and counterpart funding for UNICEF for procurement of RUTF”.

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Child eating ready-to-use therapeutic food for treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Photo credit: unicefstories.org
Child eating ready-to-use therapeutic food for treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Photo credit: unicefstories.org

Without treatment, more than 300,000 of these severely malnourished children will die this year alone.

According to UNICEF, WHO, and Federal Ministry of Health, 2,300 children under the age of five die every day in Nigeria and malnutrition accounts for more than a half of these deaths.

Child protection

As in other parts of the world, Children’s Day is celebrated on May 27 in Nigeria to honour children and initiate action to improve their welfare.

The theme of this year’s Nigerian Children’s Day is “Child protection and the Sustainable Development, SDGs: Issues and opportunities.”

One of the targets of SDGs 3 is “By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.”

This target is unlikely to be achieved in Nigeria due to inaction on child-survival interventions by the government just as the country failed to achieve any of the goals in the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs.

One of the targets of MDGs was to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

In 1990, the under-five mortality rate in Nigeria was 213 deaths per 1,000 live births. If Nigeria had achieved the MDG goal, under-five mortality would have been reduced to 71 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2015.

The Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, NDHS 2013, shows that under-five mortality rate is 128 deaths per 1000 live births. This means that one in every eight Nigerian children still do not survive to celebrate their fifth birthday.

With the current statistics, the target of reducing under-five mortality to at least 25 by 2030 may not be achieved with the little investments in child-survival interventions by government.

Most of the child-survival interventions in the country are led by development partners while the political elite squander the national wealth on themselves.

The Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition, CMAM, started in 2009 by UNICEF in the North East and North West where malnutrition is alarming, has averted more than 200,000 deaths and reached more than a million children with RUTF.

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The cost of inaction by the leaders manifests in a situation where Nigeria accounts for 13% of all global deaths of children under the age of five years, second only to India at 21%.

The excuse

When it comes to child-survival interventions, government complains of the paucity of fund.

In 2015, the new administration of Muhammadu Buhari promised to build 10,000 Primary Health Centres, PHCs, across the country. The government later changed the plan to the revitalisation of 10,000 existing primary health centres. But the same government later announced it would not be able to rehabilitate all the 10,000 PHCs but would use a “phase out approach”.

Two years into the administration of Buhari government, the federal government has budgeted only N3 billion to revitalise and make functional 1,000 PHCs but between last year and this year, N12.4 billion has been budgeted for repairs and rehabilitations in the Presidential Villa.

Last year, over 3 billion was provided as the capital budget for the State House Clinic, which caters for top political leaders and their families.

It is unlikely that the 10,000 PHCs will be rehabilitated and revitalised by the end of the tenure of this administration in 2019, thereby depriving millions of children access to quality health care.

The National Health Facility Survey carried out last year revealed that only 20 per cent of the PHCs in the country are functional.

According to UNICEF, preventable or treatable infectious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and HIV/AIDS account for more than 70 per cent of the estimated one million under-five deaths in Nigeria.

UNICEF said the coverage and quality of healthcare services in Nigeria continue to fail children.

As sad as the realisation that essential interventions for children will avert most of the under-five deaths, the Nigerian leaders would often point out the lack of funds for not investing in child-survival interventions.

The National Assembly could not approve as little as N50, 000 for each of the severely acute malnourished children but could comfortably approve for itself N120 billion for its 469 members and their aides.

On this Children’s Day, it appears that there is little to cheer yet.