By Philip Yatai

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), under the European Union’s Access to Justice programme is enhancing capacity of social workers for the reintegration of 113 children released from Borstal Institution in Kwara.

Dr Wilfred Mamah, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Kaduna Field Office, spoke on Thursday in Ilorin, on the sideline of the four-day training on child protection and case management.

Children on the move encompasses children moving for a variety of reasons, voluntarily or involuntarily, within or between countries, with or without their parents or other primary caregivers.

They include Internally Displaced Persons, survivors of trafficking, Almajiri and children migrating for livelihood, while vulnerable children include survivors of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation and children in conflict with the law.

The movement, while it may open up opportunities might also place them at risk of economic or sexual exploitation, abuse, neglect and violence.

The training was organised for social workers, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and service providers, by UNICEF in collaboration with Save the Future of Children Initiative (SAFIN) and Kwara Ministry for Social Development.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the training was under the EU-funded strengthening access to justice for children on the move and other vulnerable children in West Africa project.

Mamah described child protection as the prevention and response to violence, abuse, and neglect, adding that the capacity building was to enable the state to respond to child protection related issues efficiently and adequately.

“We are trying to equip them with key principles of how to approach children; how to interview a child, and how to come down to the level of a child to build trust.

“Building trust will enable the child to open up and tell you what is happening in his or her life,” he said.

Mamah said the immediate aim of the training was to provide the needed support to the children recently released from the Borstal Training Institution in Ilorin.

He said that child justice provides that when children commit offences, they should be treated differently and not like adults, but change the behaviour and reintegrate them back to the community.

According to him, the Borstal institution, created under the Children and Young Person Law is designed to look at the best interest of young person’s when they commit offences.

Mamah said that the situation at the Ilorin Borstal institution was full of anomalies, where children and adults were placed in the same institution, contrary to the provisions of the law.

According to him, the children are exposed to what he described as structural violence, where the system is actually not taking care of them as supposed to.

“Some of them were brought in by their parents and abandoned them without passing through the court, so there was nothing like a remand order.

“They were left there, locked up, coming out only to eat. There is the issue of drug abuse, leaving many of them in psychological trauma.

“UNICEF worked with the Federal Ministry of Justice, Presidential Committee on Correctional Reform and Decongestion and United Nations Office on Drug and Crime to get some of the children released.

He said that UNICEF further worked with SAFIN and the Kwara government to track 113 out of the 122 released children and work toward reintegrating them to the society.”

According to him, training the social workers, NGOs and government service providers will enable them to follow up with the children, identify their needs, provide some of the needs and reintegrate them into the society.

“We are hoping that by the end of the work, the capacity of social workers in Kwara will be expanded to handle more cases like this and help children back to the community and make them useful,” Mamah said.

Earlier, Mrs Bake Olanrewaju, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry for Social Development urged the social workers to rise up to their responsibilities to achieve the desired result in case management. (NAN)