Children’s rights in Nigeria is one of the most neglect laws as lots of the provisions of the law protecting these children are highly neglected, especially in practice.
All over the nation, lots of abused children are seen, whether on the streets, in churches, mosque, market places, schools et cetera. This makes one wonder if these children do not have rights under the law and what the government is doing to help enforce these rights. The aim of this article is to enumerate these rights as well as extensively discuss legal provisions of these rights.
The legal rights of the Nigerian child are contained in various laws, both local and international articled which Nigeria has adopted to be practiced in the country.
Nigeria is the most populous African country, and also one of the worst places to raise a child. It is always in the midst of a constant dispute, which is either political or religious, hereby making the atmosphere unconducive for a child. There are certain fundamental principles that protect the child ranging from the promotion of human survival, prevention of harm, promotion, and sustenance of human dignity and also enhancement of human development.
Definition of terms
One would wonder at the meaning of the several words used in this article of misinterpreting the wording centrally to what it was intended for in the article, hence the reason why these terms should be defined.
A right in its general sense is either the liberty (protected by law) of acting or abstaining from acting in a certain manner or the power (enforced by law) of compelling a specific person to do or abstain from doing a particular thing.
Accordingly, a Legal Right is the capacity residing in one person of controlling, with the assent and the assistance of the State, the action of others. Thus, every right involves a person invested with the right, or the person entitled, a person or persons on whom that right imposes a correlative duty or obligation.
A right therefore in general, is a well-founded claim; and when a given claim is recognized by the civil law, it becomes an acknowledged claim or legal right enforceable by the power of the State (The Hon. Justice C.A. Oputa J.S.C. (retired) Human Rights in the Political and Legal Culture of Nigeria Second Justice Idigbe Memorial Lecture, Uniben, 1986).
Under the Family Allowances Act 1965 a child is defined in its section 2 as “anyone under the age of nineteen who is an apprentice or attending full time at a school”. Also, under Article II of the O.A.U. Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 199l a child means every human being below the age of 18 years, and this we will be using as the definition of a child for the purpose of this article.
The Constitutional Provisions
The Nigerian child is also a person and as such is protected under Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). This provides for the fundamental human rights of any Nigeria citizen. These rights are contained in Sections 33 -46 and they include:
The Right to life (S.33)
Life is sacred, as none can create life. Therefore, it is highly inhumane and also a disregard of the constitutional provision to offer children’s life in exchange for anything whatsoever.
The Right to dignity of the human person (S.34)
Every child has the right to be treated as a human being, with as much dignity as is deserving of an adult. It is thus highly inappropriate to disrespect or abuse a child in the name of discipline.
The Right to personal liberty (S.35)
The Right to fair-hearing (S.36)
The Right to privacy and family life (S.37)
The Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (S.38)
The Right to freedom of expression and the press (S.39)
The Right of freedom of movement (S.40)
The Right to freedom from discrimination (S.41)
The Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria (S.42)
This right is limited to the provision of the Land Use Act which prohibits a child from acquiring landed property in this name.
The problems faced by the Nigerian child
Many will assert that the major problem faced by the majority of people in Nigeria, not just the children, is poverty. This vice many can argue is the root of most of the problems faced by children in Nigeria, despite the massive endowment of the nation with natural and intellectual resources, the misuse and destruction of these by the corrupt few have impoverished the nation. Poverty has a negative impact on the lives of Nigerian children, this has resulted in whole lots of other issues which include:
In Nigeria, the number of children living on the streets is immeasurable. Street youth can often be found taking refuge beneath bridges, in marketplaces, in buildings under construction, churches, etc. These children who grow up on the streets in Nigeria encounter quite a number of problems. Furthermore, because they live on the streets without parental guidance, they tend to be uneducated. Hence, they have very little chance of finding work and definitively escaping life on the streets.
Discrimination of handicapped children
Children suffering from physical and mental deficiencies and difficulties are often victims of entrenched discriminatory practices in Nigeria. There are very few provisions for these disadvantaged and physically handicapped children. In the various states in Nigeria which stems from lack and misappropriation of funds by those in charge and absence of laws mandating its provision. Those who are physically challenged are not welcome in scholarly establishments, while others are denied access to such institutions due to their financial situation.
In Nigeria, corporal punishment is still an acceptable social practice and is widely utilized by both families and schools. This many have argued is a good thing, saying that it will discourage children from misbehaving and disobeying their elders, saying it enforces discipline.
However, these arguments would have been tolerated if there has not been an alarming increase in the number of abused children in the nation. Lots of children have been flogged to the point of losing a staggering amount of blood, pouring hot water on children, using hot electric irons on the children, et cetera. These inhumane and abusive conducts have gained nothing but victimized these children all in the name of discipline.
To put an end to practices, it is imperative that Nigerian communities stop treating violence as a morally acceptable practice.
The massive amount of child marriages in the nation especially as found in the northern part of the country is of great concern. The frequency and normalcy of these actions are alarming as it is even practiced by the legislatures in the country, these are the people who are supposed to be passing the laws forbidding such actions.
Being a female child in the country has been made difficult as marriage is seen as the measure of the success of a female child. children are seen as a means to an end, girl children are sold in marriage to the highest bidders. These children get pregnant and encounter lots of life-threatening health challenges, and are overall prevented from exercising their rights.
Female Genital Mutilation
In some regions in the country, this is a common occurrence and lots of female children are made to go through this humiliating, infuriating and inhumane practice. The health repercussion, as well as the subsequent sexual one, makes actions like this nothing short of an obvious disregard of its victims’ rights.
This is another vice which is been practiced in the country. Lots of children are trafficked for all sorts of things ranging from sexual reasons, black magic to manual labor, some with the consent of their guardians. These leaves one with an image of the lengths these guardians will go to abuse these children.
Other Statutory provisions
Section 17 of the Constitution provides for the social objectives expected from the government by the people, amongst these are subsection 3: (3) The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that:
- (a) all citizens, without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment;
- (b) conditions of work are just and humane, and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life;
- (c) the health, safety, and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused;
- (d) there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons:
- (e) there is equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account of sex, or on any other ground whatsoever;
- (f) children, young persons, and the age are protected against any exploitation whatsoever, and against moral and material neglect;
- (g) provision is made for public assistance in deserving cases or other conditions of need; and
- (h) the evolution and promotion of family life are encouraged.
In addition to this, section 18 (3) provides:
(3) The government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide
- (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education;
- (b) free secondary education;
- (c) free university education; and
- (d) free adult literacy programme.
Exceptions to These Rights
Section 7 of the Land Use Act placed restriction persons under 21 years to be granted a Statutory right of occupancy. This is subject to his appointment of a guardian or trustee acceptable by the law. In addition, Capital punishment or life imprisonment cannot be imposed on a child, or an adult for an offense committed while still a child; et cetera.
The various laws and instruments on the rights of the child discussed so far emphasize summarily that in all actions concerning the child undertaken by any person or authority the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration.
However, despite copious provisions in our municipal laws and international instruments on the rights of the child, there appears to be a gap between law and practice resulting in a gross inability of the child to realize these rights at present. The right to education appears to be replaced by exploitative child labor in some parts of the country.
There is a need for more political will and economic power on the part of the government to implement these laws in the interest of the Nigerian child.
It is recommended that all stakeholders must be properly educated and enlightened on these rights. Parents, guardians, children, families, schools, religious heads, and the Governments should be alert to their responsibilities under these laws and pay greater attention to their implementation.