An international organization is working hard — so children don’t have to.
by: Ellen Baverman This article first appeared in Comboni Missions Magazine Spring 2020.
As the sun rises, children dot the busy streets of Kano, Nigeria, selling fruit, nuts, and water. As he does every morning, twelve-year-old Ahmad Mohammed sloshes sachets of water through the market, and sells them one by one throughout the day.
Along with thousands of other children in Nigeria, Ahmad left school early to support his family. Each day he rises early and hawks in the streets, because his family cannot afford to send him to school. Ahmed is one of 13.2 million children out of school in Nigeria.
In 2003, Nigeria adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child—an international agreement on governmental responsibilities toward minors. By the terms of the agreement, every person under eighteen has the right to:
• Life, survival and development
• Protection from violence, abuse or neglect
• An education that enables children to fulfill their potential
• Be raised by, or have a relationship with, their parents
• Express their opinions and be listened to.
Despite the agreement, the 2019 Global Childhood Report estimates that one in every four children is denied these childhood protections. UNICEF reported that half of Nigeria’s 79 million children are working — some in very hazardous conditions like begging, and quarrying for stones and granite.
The Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) promotes child rights in Nigeria. As child labor grows, AFJN has been raising awareness of this exploitation and supporting laws that protect children in Nigeria.
AFJN advocates for just relations between the U.S. and Africa. Inspired by the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching, AFJN focuses on issues of peace building, human rights, and social justice. The Comboni Missionaries are among more than two dozen religious communities that are members — and supporters — of AFJN.
Often partnering with Catholic missionary congregations and a variety of Africa-focused coalitions, AFJN works to address political policies that, “benefit Africa’s poor majority, facilitate an end to armed conflict, establish equitable trade and investment with Africa and promote sustainable development.”
AFJN works with policy makers to resolve specific issues regarding women’s empowerment, just governance, land-grabbing, toxic dumping, and food systems. These issues are especially important in Africa, which accounts for about half of all child labor abuses.
“Child labor is growing and we have been working with sisters and other stakeholders and organizations for the past three years to promote the welfare of children and women, especially on ending child exploitation and violence against women,” Dominican Fr. Aniedi Okure, the executive director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network, told the National Catholic Reporter.
AFJN has been utilizing the energy of Catholic nuns in Nigeria who are angry about the rising cases of violence and injustice towards women and children, and the silence that surrounds these issues. They held a women’s empowerment workshop in 2019, where local organizations and community members could discuss these issues.
The group is now openly speaking out against many forms of injustice toward women and children.
“We will continue to advocate for children’s rights,” Sr. Eucharia Madueke, coordinator of AFJN’s Women Empowerment Project, told NCR. “The children don’t even know their rights and that is why we want to educate them to know this and speak out when they are abused.”
Spurred, in part, by the workshop, the government has established thirteen family courts to handle child rights. Here, children can speak and defend their cases.
“We cannot do it alone and that is why we need to train them to take charge of the campaign themselves,” Madueke said. In April 2020, the organization plans to host additional advocacy workshops across the country in hopes of training at least one hundred more to become effective advocates for women and children being exploited.