Jail term for parents overnon-enrolment of children?

The Senate last week passed for second reading a bill that recommends a jail term for parents who do not enrol their wards for basic education.

The bill proposed by Senator Orji Kalu is titled Compulsory free Universal Basic Education Act 2004, Section 2 states that “every government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.”

It also states that: “Every parent shall ensure that his child or ward attends and completes his primary school education and junior secondary school education by endeavouring to send the child to primary and junior secondary schools.”

It further noted that a parent who fails to comply should, on the first conviction, be reprimanded.

“On a second conviction, a fine of N2,000 or imprisonment for a term of one month or both; and on subsequent conviction, to a fine of N5,000 or imprisonment for a term of two months or to both.

The Act further states that “stakeholders in education in a local government area shall ensure that every parent or person who has the care and custody of a child performs the duty imposed on him under section 2(2) of this Act,” it added.

The Act also recommended a fine of N50,000 to parents who default in providing their children with primary and secondary school education. Initially, the Senate proposed N5,000, however, in its amendment, it changed it to N50,000.

The amendment states:  “Section (4) (b) of the Principal Act is amended by deleting N2,000 and inserting N20,000.  Section (4) (c) of the Principal Act is amended by deleting N5,000 and inserting N50,000.”

“Every parent shall ensure that his child receives full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude by regular attendance at schools.”

Observers argued that this is not unconnected to the issue of out-of-school children. At present, statistics says the country has more than 20 million out-of-school children.  It is the highest rate in the world. Internationally, there is a  recommended benchmark that  countries should allocate 15-20 per cent of their national budgets on education. But in Nigeria, the budget over the years remain abysmally low. In 2021,  5.7 per cent was allocated to education by the Federal Government, in  2022, the allocation was 7.2 per cent. For the 2023 budget, 8.8 per cent was given to education.

However, stakeholders have argued that though the move may be laudable, the jail term aspect of the bill should be reviewed, and some other factors considered.

In an interview with The Nation, Vice Chancellor, Ahman Pategi University (APU), Kwara State, Prof. Mahfouz Adedimeji, noted that it was a good step in the right direction, adding that it was impressive to ‘encourage or compel’ parents to prioritise educating their wards.

However, he said ‘the bill will only treat the symptom, not the disease. The disease is extreme poverty, which conscious efforts must be made to extirpate’.

Adedimeji said beyond legislating, public school system should be made attractive and free. He added that  basic education should be considered a social service as obtainable in other climes.

He said: “It is a right step in the right direction as it is excellent to encourage or compel parents to formally educate their children. It is a responsibility that no reasonable person should shy away from.

“The ascendancy of criminality in Nigeria is traceable to the what I can call ‘poor parenting syndrome’. Now, there is ‘zero parenting syndrome’ where people just give birth to children and abandon them. There are parents, who don’t bother to cater for or train their children – a despicable development that stares us in the face. Those the society failed to train yesterday are our tormentors of today.

“Nevertheless, I still believe the bill will only treat the symptom, not the disease. The disease is extreme poverty which conscious efforts must be made to extirpate. There is a  Yoruba proverb that says lacking something equates not appreciating its worth or relevance. People rationalise what they don’t have.

“Therefore, beyond legislating, public school system should be made attractive and free. Basic education should be considered a social service as obtainable in other climes. Then, those who default in enrolling their children can be deemed criminals.

“Rwanda last year upgraded its public schools to such an extent that parents were withdrawing their children from the private schools to the public school system. Those whose children weren’t attending schools before started enrolling them because of the incentives given, environment provided and commitment displayed by government.

“Government should appreciate that investment in education yields the highest dividends even from the social point of view. As Victor Hugo said, ‘He who opens a school door closes a prison.’”

In his response, a don in the Department of English, University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Prof. Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju, described the said bill as ‘an overdramatisation of government’s concern’. He said coercive legislations may not be effective.

Oloruntoba-Oju said: “It seems to me an overdramatisation of government concern. And the approach may not be particularly effective. There are a number of issues involved here, ranging from the means or capabilities of the parents concerned, to issues of culture, problem of awareness and nature of communal involvement. Always there are push and pull factors drawing people to particular policies or pushing them away from them. You have to analyse these factors in relation to your specific context. Actually, it is the responsibility of government to provide free or affordable education for the citizens. Granted that government can only do so through the primary caregivers, but you need to realise that these caregivers (parents, etc.) need resources and incentives, not threats to start with.

“Have you analysed the rate and role of poverty? How does the family that cannot feed think of education? Have you examined other possible models apart from such coercive legislation? So, which model are you following? How was it done in Cuba, Nicaragua, or even in the old western region in Nigeria? You need to address the value systems, address social and cultural barriers, involve communities, establish programmes and give incentives. When you do all that you wouldn’t need coercive legislations.”

National President of Congress of University Academics (CONUA), Dr ‘Niyi Sunmonu, said: “If we get the basic education right, Nigeria is probably likely to solve a large portion of its challenges in the tertiary education sector.

“The perspective of CONUA is that rather than prescribing punitive measures, all-round incentives for parents and all stakeholders along the value-chain should be encouraged. It is after this is practised for years and subsequently evaluated that we can be talking of punitive measures if the result of evaluation is negative.

“To buttress CONUA’s position, the government is expected to invest and subsequently evaluate its intervention on the supply-side of its reform such as infrastructural improvements, materials needed for imparting knowledge and appointments of qualified and highly motivated and remunerated teachers. Has the government done all these before considering this punitive measure? How do you punish an individual for public defecation when you have not provided public toilets? One is not saying that the government must provide all these directly, but it must, as a matter of responsibility, provide enabling environment for such to happen!

“Are parents well remunerated? Is the country having enabling environment for parents to thrive? What are the visible incentives associated with being educated – readily available jobs (not with the government necessarily)?

“In short, all-round incentives associated with basic education should be promoted and pursued by the government and evaluated after some years before the consideration of punitive measures.”

For the Coordinator, Child Protection Network (CPN), Lagos State chapter, Mrs. Ronke Oyelakin, the bill is a welcome development, but it should be effectively implemented. She said as part of civil society organisations in the country, efforts would be made to create more awareness and let parents know the benefits of education and that  they can go for  government-owned schools if that is what they can afford. Oyelakin who expressed happiness concerning the bill,  noted that failure to send their wards to school is unacceptable and great denial of their rights to education and development to be a better citizen.

She said: “Parents take a crucial stand, when it comes to their children’s development and education as whole, as the parents themselves are the ones to take care on the overall children physical and intellectual development, till the point they get independent and ready to face the challenges of the society they live in.

“They are aware of the work on the development of children. But at the same time, they need pedagogical information on the right to education of their children. And that is where we come in as child advocates to sensitise parents and children on the right to education among other rights of children as provided in the Child Right Law of Lagos State 2007 and reviewed in 2015.

“Over 1 million children have been given this information and 2.1 million parents  have been  engaged across the state. I know what Bimbo Odukoya Foundation had done in this regard of awareness and likewise Child Protection Network and other NGOs on a daily basis.

“Parents as well as the family as whole, play the role of the direct leaders as well as supporters of the implementation of the education of their children. As this is one of the core factors of influence, it can be seen as the fundamental one which with no doubt has a greater influence on the overall development and creation of the human personality.

“When parents involve themselves in the education process of their children, usually the outcome can be qualified as a positive and encouraging one.

“I am happy about this law but unfortunately, implementation has been our major challenge in this part of the country where we find ourselves. I hope it will be fully implemented but we as CSOs will continue to create more awareness and let the parents know the benefits of education and they can go for the government owned schools if that is what they can afford but failure to send their wards to school is unacceptable and great denial of their rights to education and development to be a better citizen.”

Deputy National President Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria(NAPTAN), Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, noted that the jail term aspect of the bill was too harsh, and as such, should be removed. He said a fine was okay to make parents prioritise educating their wards.

He said: “In Africa generally,  we don’t particularly treasure education, not just in Nigeria. Likewise some tribes too, they  prefer religious education as fundamental. But beyond that, it is good to know more about the world we live in. Can we ever think of people in Europe or civilised nations who won’t send their children to school? Africa must prioritise educating her children. Sadly, some parents do not value education. When you are educated, it means you are enlightened. Education is quite key. Look at a particular group that is saying “no books” (Boko Haram). However, the bill is welcome but parents should be encouraged rather than putting a jail term. A  jail term is too harsh. It is also discretionary. A fine is okay. Parents should now be sensitised across states of the federation on why education is very important. For instance, in a viral video, a child wanted to go to school, but the parents insisted she should go and marry. The child refused the marriage offer and she was publicly flogged. At a tender age, her parents wanted to get married,while she desired going to school. Also, these days, some parents want their wards to go into trading and forget education. It is not right. Education opens the horizon; it should be prioritised. Again, the jail term should be reviewed. Fine,  it is okay to serve as deterrent to defaulters. Precisely, it is also a way to get the out-of-school children off the streets. And the nation would be better for it. There should be a massive campaign for parents to know that if they don’t send their wards to school, they would be fined instead of bagging a  jail term. It would also help to curb early marriage.”

Source: https://thenationonlineng.net/jail-term-for-parents-overnon-enrolment-of-children/