Nigerian children and young people feel under the most pressure to succeed globally, according to a new international survey by UNICEF and Gallup, released ahead of World Children’s Day, marked annually on 20 November.
A statement signed by Dr Geoffrey Njoku, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria, Thursday, noted that one in six young Nigerians is suffering from mental health problems.
The statement partly reads, “Data from the survey reveals that young people in Nigeria are facing a mental health challenge, with one in six young Nigerians aged 15 -24 saying they often feel depressed, have little interest in doing things, or are worried, nervous or anxious.
“As much as 85 per cent say they feel a greater pressure to succeed than their elders – the highest of all 21 countries surveyed, with young people in Lebanon a close second.”
The poll, The Changing Childhood Project, is the first of its kind to ask multiple generations for their views on what it is like to be a child today. It surveyed more than 21,000 people in 21 countries, including Nigeria. Nationally representative surveys were undertaken in countries across all regions – Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America – and income levels, across two age cohorts (15-24 years old and 40 years old and up).
The survey – conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic – examines young people’s opinions about their mental health, worldview, trust in institutions, the importance of equality, climate change, and digital benefits and risks, among others.
Findings from the survey also show that young Nigerians are more concerned than young people in any other country surveyed about personal information being collected and shared online, at 72 per cent. The next highest are young people in Indonesia, at 63 per cent, and Kenya, at 54 per cent.
Children and young people in Nigeria also show high levels of concern about the risks of meeting someone in person after meeting them online, at 84 per cent, slightly higher than children in the United States (81 per cent) and Brazil (82 per cent).
In the area of finances, young Nigerians again showed a high level of concern, with 74 per cent of females and 66 per cent of males worried they don’t have enough money for food.
“Children and young people in Nigeria clearly have a high level of concern about many and varied issues, compared to their peers in other countries,” said UNICEF Nigeria Representative Peter Hawkins.
“We cannot bury our heads in the sand and hope these concerns will go away – we need to take action. And the first step is to solicit their views, really listen closely and allow their concerns and ideas to influence our policy decisions.
“The future of Nigeria belongs to its children and young people – they have the right to be heard, have their needs addressed and their solutions explored. It is only through commitment to understanding and investing more in our children and young people’s presents and futures that we can maximize every child’s potential and ensure they have a full and happy life.”
According to the statement, the poll also shows a gender disparity in the views of young people in Nigeria.
The statement reads, “Girls are 26 per cent less likely to trust the police than boys. Girls are 10 per cent more likely to think it is equally important for both boys and girls to learn how to understand personal finances.
“Boys are 28 per cent more likely than girls to think it is acceptable for a parent to physically punish a child.
“Boys are four per cent more likely to think it is very important to treat females equally. Despite these challenges and gender divides, young Nigerians are optimistic about their future.
“Compared to their elders, they believe children and young people today receive better quality healthcare, education and access to clean water than their parents did. Almost 70 per cent of males and 80 per cent of females also believe they will be economically better off than their parents,” the statement added.
Further, it noted, “Young Nigerians also agree that the minimum age for marriage for both boys and girls should be 25, expressing a desire for more time to enjoy their independence before adulthood.
“Critically, Nigerians have one of the highest rates young and older generations believing it is very important for politicians to listen to children’s voices when making decisions, at 87 per cent.
“We cannot know what is on the minds of young people if we do not ask them. UNICEF’s survey reinforces the importance of hearing from the next generation and understanding their perspectives,” said Joe Daly, Senior Partner at Gallup. “The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow; it is crucial for older generations to do their part to ensure our children inherit a better world.”
“This is a clarion call from young people in Nigeria,” said Peter Hawkins. “A call to listen, to learn and to take action to lift Nigeria high. As we celebrate this World Children’s Day, it is critical we listen to young people directly about their well-being – both physical and mental – and their aspirations in this changing world.”