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1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
International law takes special interest concerning children worldwide. This is due to the fact that children are the most vulnerable and powerless members of the society dominated by adults. World leaders believe that children deserve adequate protection so that they can grow to preserve the human race. Most times, children are considered to be the future of any society. The establishment of legal and institutional frameworks were being put in place by world leaders in other to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of the child.
In the antiquity, nobody gave special protection to children. In the middle age children were considered as small adults. In the middle of the 19th century, the idea appears in France to give children special protection, enabling the progressive development of “minors‟ rights”. Since 1881, French laws included the right for the children to be educated.
During the 1980s, many child rights activists claimed that, as children are human beings and the subjects of all human rights, they did not need a special human rights instrument devoted to them as a group. Yet it is clear from current histories of child rights that children are viewed as objects of rights in a discourse of welfare concern more often than they are recognised as subjects of rights. (Judith 2000) The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is innovative in making it clear that, with respect to international human rights law, children are active subjects. They not only require certain forms of protection in addition to the "normal" entitlements of human rights law, they also require special forms of protection because they are in a vulnerable position, both legally and developmentally. These entitlements include the right to have their opinion taken into consideration when adults take
decisions on their behalf (Article 12), to express their views (Article 13) and to join or form associations to represent their own interests (Article 15).
The modern era of international human rights law can be said to begin with the establishment of the UN system after the 1939-1945 Second World War, specifically with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Declaration clearly established the principle that nations that are members of an intergovernmental body, such as the UN, can intervene in the domestic affairs of other states to ensure that citizens' rights are respected. A number of other treaties followed the Universal Declaration, dealing with different groups of persons and rights. But rights are indivisible. The CRC is only conceivable, and can only be implemented, if it is seen in the context of the international human rights agenda in its entirety. In the Preamble to the Convention this is made clear through reference to preceding human rights instruments. Rights that are not spelt out in the CRC, but which applied to children before it was drafted and adopted, include consideration of their special needs and vulnerability in times of armed conflict, as well as protection against trafficking, exploitative work, torture and prostitution. (Judith, 2000).
Nevertheless, United Nations International Children‟s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was instrumental in promoting the widespread ratification of the UN Convention through organising the 1990 World Summit for Children. This meeting of 71 world leaders in New York was the largest ever meeting of heads of state and had the objective of obtaining their signatures to this new human rights document. In this respect it was supremely successful. It is part of the overall myth of the CRC (appearing to be a compulsory preface to any account -
- historical or otherwise) that no other piece of human rights law has come into force so rapidly, nor received quite so much public attention. (Judith, 2000)
A second objective of the Summit was to ensure that children actually enjoy the rights provided. (Judith, 2000) The meeting ended with agreement on a Plan of Action that included twelve broad goals to be achieved before 2000. All signatories promised to develop national plans of action to this end, and to report on progress at five-year intervals. Yet it is clear that in this respect the Summit was unsuccessful. In some cases the narrowly conceived twelve Summit goals have obscured, or well-nigh obliterated, the much broader range of rights in the CRC. In others, national plans of action have been drawn up but not provided with a budget sufficient for implementation. Sometimes the only changes made are legal. In some cases, nothing has happened at all. As Belgian lawyer Eugeen Verhellen has pointed out, it often seems as if there is more concern to protect children's rights than to protect children.
Children have not always been on the human rights agenda as a separate group. Indeed, the human rights agenda itself is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. The question of children's rights was not an issue for the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1780. Children were regarded as a residual category of person, lacking full human rights. At that time European societies simply thought of children as the property of their parents, and not particularly valuable property at that. According to Blackstone's 1758 legal commentaries in England, for instance, child abduction was not theft in the legal sense unless the child happened to be dressed. The thief was regarded as having stolen the clothes. Apart from that, child theft was tantamount to stealing a corpse. In the case of both a dead body and a live child, no legal person was involved. (Judith, 2000).
At the beginning of the 20th century, children‟s protection starts to be put in place, including protection in the medical, social and judicial fields. This kind of protection starts first in France and spreads across Europe afterwards.
Since 1919, the international community, following the creation of The League of Nations (later to become the UN), starts to give some kind of importance to that concept and elaborates a Committee for child protection. The League of Nations adopts the Declaration of the Rights of the Child on September 16, 1924, which is the first international treaty concerning children‟s rights.
It was not until the late nineteenth century that nascent children‟s rights‟ protection movement countered the widely held view that children were mainly quasi-property and economic assets. In the United States, the Progressive movement challenged courts‟ reluctance to interfere in family matters, promoted broad child welfare reforms, and was successful in having laws passed to regulate child labor and provide for compulsory education. It also raised awareness of children‟s issues and established a juvenile court system. Another push for children‟s rights occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, when children were viewed by some advocates as victims of discrimination or as an oppressed group. In the international context, “[t]he growth of children‟s rights in international and transnational law has been identified as a striking change in the post-war legal landscape. (Wendy, 2007)
Conversely, the notion that children have rights that need to be enforced and protected is a modern development. It was usually taken for granted that adults have the best interests of the child at heart and so there was no need to think of the rights of the child. Findings by UNICEF(1995) shows that all around the world, children are exploited as labourers and prostitutes, deprived of an education, denied adequate nutrition and health care and they therefore need help and protection from an adult world that carry out most of this abuses.(Ajomo & Okabgue, 1996).
The world conference on education for All (EFA) (1990), the World Conference on human rights (1993), the fourth conference on women (1995) and the millennium development goals
(2000) are other international efforts taken. Measures for protection of dignity, equality and basic human rights for children started as early as the 19th century. Since then, children have become a constituency in their own right on whose behalf laws have been enacted providing for the protection against the abuse of parents and other adults, economic exploitation and social neglect.
At the regional level, the assembly of heads of state and government of the organization of African unity (OAU) adopted a declaration on the rights and welfare of the African child at its 16th ordinary session in 1979. In 1990, the summit of the heads of state of the OAU adopted a formal convention, the charter on the rights and the Welfare of the African Child to which Nigeria is a signatory. In 1992, African states adopted the Dakar consensus which recognizes the principle of first call and exhorts African countries to incorporate the goals of child survival, development and protection in their development programmes (OAU, 1992).
Nigeria, believing in protecting the best interests of the child, signed the UN Convention in March, 1991 and by 2003, the convention and the African charter were incorporated into domestic laws through the enactment of the Child‟s Right Act (CRA) on July 31, 2003. Since then, not less than 16 states have adopted the Act (Obiagwu 2009). Prior to the 2003 Act, Nigerian child protection law was defined by the Children and Young Person‟s Act (CYPA), which was revised later and incorporated into Nigeria‟s Federal Laws in 1958 (RCW 2005). The federal government has enacted a series of other laws, policies and plans of actions in various sectors geared towards the protection of children‟s rights. Some of these laws and policies have been enacted at the state levels.
The significance of the above global, regional and national efforts lays in the fact that they demonstrate the commitment of the international community and in particular the Nigerian government to the protection of the Rights of Child.
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