(PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and its partners in Nigeria Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) strongly urged the government of Nigeria to take immediate steps to follow recommendations from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee) and more aggressively address the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents in the country. The CRC Committee monitors countries\' compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty requiring parties to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of the child. In a recent review, the committee criticized Nigeria for failing to take all of the necessary steps to prevent ongoing health issues among young people within the country, including widespread maternal mortality, unsafe abortion, and female genital mutilation.
"Our young people suffer from high rates of unintended pregnancy, limited knowledge of HIV prevention, and pervasive sexual violence in schools, among numerous other serious health concerns," said Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, executive director at WARDC, a women's rights organization based in Lagos, Nigeria. "Yet there's an alarming gap between the reproductive health services that the Nigerian government provides and adolescents\' health needs."
"The Nigerian government has ratified a number of major international and regional treaties which include protections for reproductive health, but lawmakers repeatedly refuse to take those obligations seriously," said Elisa Slattery, legal adviser and regional manager for the Africa Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "It is imperative that the government start to walk the walk and take immediate steps to implement these treaties. The health and lives of Nigerian young people depend on it."
The CRC Committee's concluding observations and recommendations closely follow the issues of concern raised by WARDC and the Center for Reproductive Rights in a joint shadow letter submitted to the committee in May. Here are highlights of the recommendations:
- Amend constitution to protect and promote the right to health: The committee recommended that the government amend its constitution to "guarantee the right of the child to the best attainable state of physical and mental health as a constitutionally protected right."
- Allocate sufficient money to healthcare services: The committee noted that Nigeria's 2010 budget only allocates 4% of its annual budget to develop the health sector, when it committed to allocating at least 15%. It urged the government to fulfill this commitment and further recommended that Nigeria adopt the National Health Bill which guarantees the primary health sector a "direct funding line."
- Improve access to key reproductive health services by addressing user fees: The committee expressed serious concern about the "continued high rate of infant, child and maternal mortality," and the "strong correlation between access to healthcare (including pre-and post-natal care) and the level of education and income." It strongly recommended that the government ensure free maternal and child health services in every state, and "[a]bolish user fees and take other measures to increase adolescent girls\' access to affordable healthcare services," including guaranteeing them "free and easily accessible contraceptives."
- Review and amend abortion law: The committee also relied on the recommendations set out by the Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which in 2008 took account of a joint shadow letter from WARDC and Center for Reproductive Rights calling on the government to consider reviewing and amending its abortion laws. The CRC Committee said it was greatly concerned by the "remaining health challenges facing adolescents, such as abortion complications and deaths of girls as a result of unsafe abortions, the lack of access to information and services relating to reproductive health for adolescents, the very low percentage of adolescents who use condoms at their first sexual encounter, restrictive abortion law, the existence of user fees and the prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases."
- Introduce sex education in school curricula: The committee mandated the government to introduce sex education for boys and girls in the school curricula and strengthen awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention among adolescents.
- Ensure prohibition of child marriage: To further promote adolescents\' rights, the committee charged the government with urgently ensuring that every state prohibits marriage of children who are under 18 years, in compliance with the Child Rights Act, raises awareness about the "negative implications of early marriage for the girl child's right to health, education and development," and introduces legislation banning female genital mutilation.
- Establish education campaign to address sexual violence in schools: The committee expressed grave concern at the high number of reports of sexual violence in schools and consequently prescribed that the government combat sexual exploitation of children and establish "an awareness-raising campaign on schools free from sexual violence and abuse in cooperation with parents, teachers, school administrators and children."
The Nigerian government is scheduled to report back to the committee on measures taken to implement the recommendations in six years\' time.