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The enforcement of the Child’s Right Act has remained inadequate and unsatisfactory since its enactment in 2003. As an effort to domesticate the various provisions on the rights of a child, contained in both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child 1989, and the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1991, Nigeria enacted the Child’s Right Act which incorporates all laws in respect of the safeguard of the right of the child. With this enactment, it would be expected that the child has been given adequate protection as the most vulnerable member of the society. But that notwithstanding, the problems of implementation and enforcement had continued to persist both nationally and internationally. The question then arises as to the effectiveness or otherwise of the Act as domesticated in Nigeria, with the widespread of child abuse cases and violations of child’s rights still continuing unhindered in our society. This study therefore aimed at critically analyzing the extent of the enforcement of the Child Rights in Nigeria and in other jurisdictions. The method adopted in this study would be based on library research, consultation of books, journals, newspaper reports and useful magazines on the subject matter. Recommendations are also made for ways of ensuring appropriate enforcement and implementation of Child’s Right Act. These are re-enacting the Act into law in some states, of the federation, creation of awareness on these laws, provision of easy access to quality education by the government, eradication of poverty amongst others. Until these issues are properly addressed, the future of our children will remain grossly endangered while the society would suffer the consequence of its negligence one way or the other.
1.1 BACKGROUND OF STUDY
From the time past, children were highly treasured and seen as precious gifts to their families and communities. It was ingrained in the tradition and culture of African societies that children were to be protected right from conception in the womb till he comes of age. Thee protection may be guaranteed under normal circumstances, where however there is outbreak of war, such protection could be maimed. During this period, children are often victims of abuses as they are abandoned, killed or forced to join in the war. At most times, they were used for debt bondages, serfdom and other forms of subjugation and exploitation.
To this extent therefore, the rights of the child were not officially recognized not until November, 1989, where the United Nation realizing the necessity for the protection of the vulnerable children, adopted the convention the convention on the rights of the child. This was subsequently followed by the organization of African Union (O. A. U) now African Union (A.U) adoption of the Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child in 1990. And came into force in 1991 and 2000 respectively, Nigeria became a signatory to both instruments by undertaking to ratify the legislation through the enactment of the Child Right Act, 2003.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Though the Child Rights Act is a comprehensive legislation on the subject of child’s rights in Nigeria, there are still some identifiable problems associated with the effective implementation of the Act. These problems that inhibit the realization of the goals of this Act are multi-dimensional. They include: the re-enactment of the Child Right Act into law in some states of the Federation; Weakness of the mechanisms set out for the enforcement of the Act; The problem of corruption and lack of political will on the part of the government; Failure to establish family courts leading to ineffective child justice administration in the country; High rate of poverty and illiteracy; and Lack of awareness on the provisions of the Act.
1.3 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
Research questions to be considered in this study may include:
1. Was child’s rights recognized and protected before the enactment of the Child ‘s Right Act?
2. Is Child’s Right Act in force in Nigeria?
3. Is Child’s Right Act properly implemented and enforced in Nigeria?
4. Have the goals of Child’s Right Act been realized or being seen as mere rhetoric?
5. Is the Act a complete provision for the safeguard of the rights of children in Nigeria?
6. Is there any need for amendment of the Act?
1.4 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
The study was conducted using both analytical as well descriptive methodologies. It also involves a thorough consultation of relevant policy instruments, legal resources, journals, newspapers; magazines and internet based sources on child’s rights were also reviewed.
1.5 THE SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The research will critically analyze the historical development of the child’s rights, the provisions of the Child Rights Act, the legal mechanisms for the protection of the child in Nigeria. In addition, this study will also examine the enforcement of the Child Right Act and their attendant problems both in Nigeria and what is obtainable in other jurisdictions.
1.6 SIGNIFICANCE OF STUDY
The significance of this study is to examine the importance of Child’s Right Act and to verify the level of implementation; enforcement and general realization of the goals for which the Act was enacted. The study is also significant as a means of proffering ideas that would further the effectiveness of legal mechanisms for the protection of the rights of the child in the society. The study will also serve as a source of vital information for academic research and related intellectual investigations.
1.7 DEFINITION OF TERMS
This study deals with the enforcement of child Rights in Nigeria. It is therefore considered necessary to define the keywords or terms under this topic, namely, the word “child” and “right”.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a child is “a person under the age of majority, at common law, a person who has not reached the age of 14, a boy or girl, a young person or a son or daughter”. The word child had been defined by the Children and Young Persons Law as: “a person under the age of fourteen years of age. While a young person is a person up to fourteen years but below eighteen (18) years of age.
The Criminal Code defined a male child for the purpose of conviction for unlawful carnal knowledge, as “a person under the age of twelve (12) years”. Under this code, the child is presumed to be incapable of having carnal knowledge at this age. The Penal Code similarly provides for the purpose of conviction for an offence that a child is “a person under the age of seven (7) years”. The Labour Act, on the other hand provides for the definition of a child as, “a person under the age of twelve (12) years while a young person is a person under the age of eighteen (18) years”. The Child’s Right Act, defined a child as “a person under the age of eighteen (18) years of age”. Furthermore, both the United Nations Convention on the Right of a Child and the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child defined a child as: “a human being below the age of eighteen (18) years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.
From the above therefore, it could be observed that there is no universally accepted definition of a child and the word child may depend on the context in which it appears. Since there are many statutes concerning children which contain relevant definitions of the word child or cognate expressions like children or young person, for the purpose of this study, the definition under the Child Rights Act will be adopted.
According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, a right refers to: “Something that is due to a person by just claim, legal guarantee, or moral principle or a power, privilege or immunity secured to a person by law or a legally enforceable claim that another will do or will not do a given act, recognized and protected interest, the violation of which is a wrong”. Fitzgerald, defined “right” as interest protected by rules of right that is by moral or legal rules.” Adaramola, defined legal right as “those right conferred on the individual by rules of positive law which are enforceable through society’s approved institutions of coercion such as the court, the police etc. In the words of Oputa J.C.A; the word right is derived from the Latin word “rectum”, which mean’s correct, straight right as opposed to wrong. It may also mean in accord with law, morality and justice. As a norm, it may mean that to which a person has just and claim whether it be land, or privilege of doing something or saying something such as the right of free speech. A right in its generic sense is either the liberty (protected by the 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. A right therefore, in general is a well-founded claim, and enforceable by the power of the state.
1.8 LITERATURE REVIEW
The significance of the Child’s Right Act provisions cannot be underestimated. Child’s Rights Act, 2003 is a legislation which provides extensively and exclusively on the rights of children in Nigeria. It was spearheaded by international legislations such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, 1989 and the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1990 which encouraged nation states to incorporate the laws on the rights of children globally.
In the same vein, Nigeria alongside other states ratified the same Conventions through the enactment of The Child’s Right Act in Nov. 2003. Before this time, certain other laws existed which did not directly provide for the protection of the child. With the coming into force of the Child’s Right Act, the rights of the Nigerian child are guaranteed and protected under the Act. However, the pervasiveness of child labour, child abuse and exploitation cases including trafficking, servile marriages and baby factories has posed a threat to the realization of these ambitious provisions of the Act. This endemic situation thus, presents an obvious worry as to the justifiability of this all-encompassing legislation that is, the Child’s Right Act. A possible explanation for this is that, in spite of the existence of most rights guaranteed under the Act many children are still subjects to all forms of exploitations, physically, sexually and otherwise. The most pathetic is when the parents are the ones exploiting the children themselves. This happens when the children are given out to wealthy homes in the cities in the belief that they will be taken care of, ironically, these kids are forced into labours of all kinds including prostitution in brothels.
Nwokeocha, gave a metaphoric description of child’s right abuse and he referred to it as “a contemporary form of slavery”. According to him, despite the fact that the traditional form of slavery has been abolished by the league of Nations in 1926 followed by the United Nations in 1945 as well as other similar legislations, the rampant cases of child’s right abuse cases have pointed to the single fact that the child who is the most vulnerable in the society is still under subjugation. He further identified other forms of contemporary slavery of the child to include, the sale of children, servile forms of marriage, trafficking in persons, debt bondage as just some of the more contemporary forms of slavery. Although, the author did not make any reference to the provisions of the Child Right Act, it could be observed that any form of abuse or denial of rights of the children would amount to slavery in the true sense of it. And to eradicate this mode of subjugation which the author referred to as “the vestige of stone age culture”, there should be immediate and sustained action by every Nigerian citizen to end the enslavement.
Furthermore, Lawal identified hawking in his work, as a form of child labour. He explained that hawking include an act of offering, by outcry, goods for sale from door to door or on a public street. This mode of trading he noted further has a negative impact on the education of the children and constitutes a violation of their rights especially when this is done during school hours. He suggested that the government should do more to ensure free and compulsory education to the children at all levels as envisaged in the Child’s Right Act.
The above positions are as veritable as could be imagined much as we know that the child is the future of society. Any society that toys with the safety, good education and the sustainable development of the child is to be seen as toying with the destiny of not only the child but of the society as a whole. There is therefore need for close marking to ensure that the rights of the child are jealously guarded.
The incidence of child abuse in Nigeria and indeed the world over is caused by several factors. Ekeh, identified one of the factors to be, customary, traditional and religious factor. To him, most parents resulting from their cultural and traditional background see nothing wrong in child labour. This explains why most children in the Northern Islamic States are mostly uneducated since they are seen merely as assets of income generation for the family. And as such, they are made to engage in farm works, tending of livestocks amongst others instead of attending school. Ekeh, also pointed out that this syndrome is mostly associated with the family structure of most homes. For instance, a poor polygamous family with many children and limited income may only be interested in the survival of the children irrespective of their engagement in labour and their deprivation of right to education.
On child justice administration, Adeyemi, noted that the Child Rights Act has provided for a system of child justice administration which replaces erstwhile the juvenile justice administration. To him, the system provide for child offenders to be tried in the family court level instead of being subjected to the normal criminal justice process and sanctions. The author pointed further that the family court is the principal institution for the protection and enforcement of the rights of the Nigerian child. Unfortunately, not all the states of the federation has re-enacted the child rights into law in their states. It follows therefore that, the children in these states will continue to be deprived of the benefits of child justice administration as provided for by the Act. It is therefore suggested that the Act be replicated in these states to ensure the enforcement of the children’s rights.
On the area of enforcement of the Act, Ajankwachuku stated that: “as attractive and far reaching as the provisions of the Act are, if the rights provided for under the Act are not enjoyed, then they are not real but become an exercise in rhetoric”. He pointed further that, the rights envisaged in the Child’s Right Act only remains in the statute, without any practical relevance. It is at best mere rhetoric. Ajanwachuku, suggested that to make the rights of the child realizable the Nigerian government must endeavour to put all administrative measures in place and until this is done such rights will never be realized. Although he failed to explain the particular type of administrative measures to be put in place, one can probably explain that such measures include the utilization of both human and material machineries such as the implementation committee setup for this purpose.
With regards to the content of the Child Right Act, Igwenji
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