May 27, Child Rights, Social Media and Child Development
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Every May 27, the global community celebrates one of its ‘annual rituals’ tagged Children’s Day, aimed at promoting mutual exchange and understanding among children and secondly to initiating action to promote the ideals of the United Nations Charter and the welfare of the world’s children.
Historically, the event has been celebrated since 1950; it is celebrated on June 1 in most Communist and post-Communist countries. World Children’s Day is celebrated on the 20th of November to commemorate the Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly on 20 November 1959. In some countries, it is Children’s Week and not Children’s Day.
While it defines a child as any person under the age of 18, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an agency of the United Nations responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, in one of its Convention on the Rights of the Child, outlined specific rights for children, including the right to survival, a name, family life, private life, dignity, recreation, cultural activities, health services, and education.
To further explain these provisions, the world governing body added that all children have all these rights, no matter who they are, where they live, what language they speak, what their religion is, what they think, what they look like, if they are boy or girl, if they have a disability, if they are rich or poor, and no matter who their parents or families are or what their parents or families believe or do. No child should be treated unfairly for any reason.
UNICEF insisted that when adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. All adults should do what is best for children. Governments should ensure children are protected and looked after by their parents or other people when needed. Governments, the Covenant added, must do all they can to make sure that every child in their countries can enjoy all the rights.
Even as it argued that the government of every nation should let families and communities guide their children so that, as they grow up, they learn to use their rights in the best way, UNICEF submitted that every child has the right to be alive and Governments must therefore make sure that children survive and develop in the best possible way.
For me, UNICEF’s position is well understood and appreciated, particularly when one remembers that children are not only innocent but the most treasured possessions on earth that are loved by one and all and as grown-ups, we have the job of nurturing our kids to be strong and independent. And as parents and caregivers, we are doing the most important job here. We all have a role to play in treasuring our children. No one needs to do the big job of being a parent by themselves. Friends and family is the best people to lend a helping hand.
The above fact notwithstanding, another area of concern that is as important as the celebration itself is parents’ inability to regulate the activities of their children on social media and the government’s payment of reluctant respect to quality education to these children.
To shed more light on the above, there was a veiled agreement among participants in a focused group discussion held recently in lagos, Nigeria, that what users make out of social media depends largely on their ability to perform, and engage their minds on tasks such as learning, reasoning, understanding and other activities known for its far reaching positive impacts.
But in the present circumstance in Nigeria, the vast majority of parents have at different times and places, in their concern for values such as Work, success, prestige, and money, advocated that social media, like a free press, is an organic necessity in a society and if children are precluded from using social media to ventilate their sentiment on a matter which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind; their freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent they may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
Undoubtedly, looking at the crowd of Nigerian children that fraternize with social media with ‘ ‘exiting progress’’, recorded in this direction, and instincts coming from the larger society, it is evident that social media has great power to educate, create new ideas and promote human relations. But just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, even so, uncontrolled use of social media serves but to destroy.
This is the reality confronting our nation.
If this line of reasoning is correct, it will necessitate the posers as to; how many of the children/youths in Nigeria would stand the test? Who will stop those that cannot apply the virtue of moderation in their use of social media? And who should be the judge? Or must we as a nation allow the useful and the useless, like good and evil go on together, allowing our nation to reap whatever fruit that comes?
Again, aside from the fact that many who originally supported children’s unhindered access to social media have recently realised that such judgment was plagued with moral and ethical issues, there are questions of what the parents and government are doing to regulate access from within. Why have Nigerian children for the moment lost all fear of punishment and yielded obedience to the power of social media?
The solution to these problems, urgent as they are, must be constructive and rational.
First, parents must not fail to remember that the formation of a child is a delicate one. In fact, experts have described adolescence as a period of the storm, a stage in the child’s developmental growth that drives the youths to explore and express their psychosexual selves to possibly know more about the world around them. Once the point is missed, such ignorance and mistake by the parents cause the child an opening that many a time is voluntarily but wrongly filled by the social media posing as a friend.
In the opinion of this piece, what children desire most from their parents are love, solidarity, peace, faith and not unhindered or uncensored access to social media.
Beyond the above concern lies the question of how the government contributes to children’s social media abuse.
Certainly, the not-too-impressive educational system characterized by incessant industrial action, on the one hand, and the quality of materials youths are exposed to by teachers in the name of education should be a source of worry to all.
After all, it’s established that one can be extremely educated and, at the same time, be ill-informed or misinformed.
For example, between the ‘1930s and 1940s, many members of the Nazi party in Germany were extremely well educated but their knowledge of literature, mathematics, philosophy, and others simply empowered them to be effective Nazis. As no matter how educated they were, no matter how well they cultivated their intellect; they were still trapped in a web of totalitarian propaganda that mobilized for evil purposes’
From the foregoing, it is important to underscore that the menace posed by the activities of our youths was created by the youth, accelerated by parents and the government.
An effort, therefore, must be made by all to end its existence and erase the guilt.
Catalysing the process will require parents to become more religious in monitoring the activities of their wards.
Similarly, it will be rewarding in social and economic terms if the government pays more attention to the nation’s educational sector as a way of getting these youths gainfully engaged-this; this no doubt holds the possibility of ending the fake news scourge on our political geography.
Nigerian children/youths, on their part, must develop the Spartan discipline to reorganize and go for activities with high moral values.
Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected] or 08032725374