When I moved back to Nigeria in 2011, I was appalled by the plight of underprivileged children. I remember one particular scenario where a boy that was barely 6 years old came to my car window to beg for N100. He was so small I could barely see him and I could easily have hit him over N100. What is the value of N100 in your life? Insignificant? To this small boy, it was everything. As a result, he was willing to put his life at risk to get it. Shouldn’t the protection of children’s rights in Nigeria be a priority?
Child hawking, child trafficking, child marriage, child abuse, illiteracy, discrimination against children on the basis of gender and female genital mutilation all form issues that we hear time and again being discussed in relation to the rights of children. The protection of child rights is a well-debated and sensitive issue in Nigeria with different campaigns such as #Childnotbride and #Bringbackourgirls that have come up in recent times.
Although, fundamental human rights are provided in Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution and those rights apply to children also, it does not offer a wide spectrum of protection to the Nigerian child. Please view our article on The Fundamental Human Rights in Nigeria. This is one of the reasons that necessitated the passage of the Child Rights Act in 2003 by the National Assembly. However, the law has only been domesticated in about 24 of the 36 states in Nigeria and as such it has no application in the other states.
A lot of Nigerians are not aware what rights the Child Rights Act provides for. The law makes certain provisions regarding the entitlements of a child, such as:
The law also prohibits the marriage or betrothal of children by his/her parents or guardians.
Under the law, a child is considered to be any person below 18 years of age. Anyone who marries a child, as defined under the law, or to whom a child is betrothed or who promotes the marriage or betrothal of a child is liable to punishment of 5 years imprisonment or a fine of N500,000.
The employment or use of children in carrying out criminal activities including the use, distribution, production or trafficking of narcotic or illegal drugs is strictly prohibited by the law and carries a prison term ranging from 14 years to life imprisonment with no option of fine.
Taking a child from the custody of his parents or any other persons in lawful charge of the child against the will of the said parents or lawful guardians is also listed as an offence under the law and carries a punishment of prison terms ranging from 7 – 20 years depending on the intention for which the child is taken and its severity.
The law also provides for child rape and the crime of sexual intercourse with a child both of which attract a penalty of life imprisonment.
There are specific provisions under the law forbidding the sale or hire of children in the manner of goods for sale or hire. Children are not to be used as beggars or domestic help outside their families nor are they to be trafficked or used for sexual labour or slavery. Even tattooing a child’s skin is an offence punishable under the Act.
As responsible citizens, it is our duty to report any breach of the rights of a child to security agencies to protect the child whose rights are being breached. If you reside in Lagos State, you can call any of the Lagos State Government Dedicated Helplines for child abuse- 08085753932 or 08102678442.
If for some reason, you are unable to reach these bodies or do not reside in Lagos State, you can reach NaijaLegalTalk via our contacts and we will connect you with the appropriate authorities and organizations that can help.