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The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1989. The Convention defines a child as, 'A person below the age of 18, unless the relevant laws recognize an earlier age of majority.'

Children are unquestionably, one of humanity's most precious resources because it is to them that we will leave the earth to. Predicated on this universal truism, various governments across the world are continuously evolving policies and appropriate programmes that promote children's education, rights and wellbeing. In furtherance of recognizing their importance, a day, has been formally set aside to celebrate and honour them. This special day, now known as 'Children's Day,' was first proclaimed by the World Conference for the Well-being of Children in 1925 and then established universally in 1954. In Nigeria the day is marked on May 27 of every year with colorful celebration and funfair.

However, sensitive to the general mood of the nation, this year's Children's Day was observed last Tuesday without the usual funfair when the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dame (Dr.) Patience Faka Jonathan, hosted children in the State House, Abuja. The young people present used the opportunity of the occasion to express their views and unburden their minds to the First Lady. An ancient African proverb states that, 'One of the greatest gifts you can give to children is the patience of a listening ear.' This gift was generously offered to the children as Dame Jonathan sat with rapt attention, listening to the words expressed by child after child.

It is hard not to be philosophical because at times, the most perceptive remarks and uncanny wisdom comes from the simple purity of a child's mind. The children spoke freely, sometimes emotionally and as children often do, they asked questions such as: 'Do we not all worship the same God?' 'Does any religion ask adults to hurt or kill children?' 'Why is Boko Haram kidnapping our innocent sisters?' 'If we were not educated, would we be able to make the guns and cars that Boko Haram makes use of?' Their questions were as numerous as their appeal to the insurgent group - 'Please let our sisters in your captivity come home; please Boko Haram, let us go to school so that we can have an education and contribute to our communities; Boko Haram, please stop killing us.'

A letter written by some children to Boko Haram was read out by a child representative. The passionate appeal to the militant sect to release the Chibok school girls left many who listened, enveloped with emotion. The letter was subsequently presented to the First Lady who promised to ensure it gets to the National Security Adviser or the Chief of Defence Staff, 'Who will submit your letter accordingly.'

One of the significant features of the celebration was a special sitting of the National Children's Parliament, with children representing their various Federal constituencies in attendance. The young parliamentarians at times spoke far beyond the wisdom of their years. They came with the message of hope, peace, and unity. Their discourse centered on current national issues. At the end of the deliberations, their resolutions were presented to the First Lady for onward delivery to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

The young parliamentarians resolved, among others, that Federal Government should set up a Safety Assurance Committee that will be tasked with assuring the children of government's commitment to child safety in Nigeria and their role to ensure safety. Also, in view of the security challenges, they resolved that all public and private schools nationwide should be properly fenced and their premises adequately secured, while there should be training for Child Protection Officers as experts to be deployed to all schools to complement the efforts of the Police and Army.

In order for individuals of different faiths to better appreciate one another so as to prevent religious misunderstanding, the young parliamentarians resolved that Federal Government should consider the establishment of a Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs that will have the mandate of sensitizing and creating awareness of religious issues, which will help to further unite all religious sects in Nigeria. All of the resolutions passed reflected the concerns of young school children.

The First Lady used the occasion to counsel the youths, stressing that it was the right of every child to go to school. She observed that it is only by acquiring education that children will be able to realize their dreams and contribute meaningfully to the nation. Dame Jonathan, who is an indefatigable proponent of peaceful coexistence, repeated her appeal for peace across the length and breadth of Nigeria. 'We desire peace in our communities, we desire peace in our local governments, we desire peace in our states and we desire peace in our nation' she declared.

She advised young people to strive to be ambassadors of peace at all times and practice good moral habits. While reiterating the importance of patriotism and commitment to the nation, the First Lady asked children to rededicate and strengthen their covenant with Nigeria as outlined in the nation's National Pledge.

The importance of according respect to parents was reaffirmed when Dame Jonathan made reference to the Bible quotation, ' Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.' In reminding them of the biblical injunction, she stated that God's instruction to mankind to honour their parents was not limited to biological parents alone. She affirmed that, 'It is bad to abuse our country and the president because God has made him the head. The Almighty God commands us to pray for our leaders. We therefore, need to pray for the development of our country and the President.'

To my mind the First Lady's remarks to the children echoed Proverbs 22:6. 'Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he would not depart from it.'

The 2014 Children's Day hosted by the First Lady was a priceless demonstration of the children's rights to freedom of expression. As they spoke, their voices resonated; they expressed themselves movingly and shared the essence of their youthful wisdom. Listening to them, one could easily recall the old Gaelic saying, 'Blessed is childhood, which brings down blessings from heaven into the midst of our rough earthliness.'

Written By Joy Bello

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