Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention states in Article 77 that “children shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against any form of indecent assault.” This provision also serves to re-affirm the numerous provisions, which contain the detailed rules in favour of children. Protocol II makes a similar provision in Article 4 in which it states that “children shall be provided with the care and aid they require” during conflicts.
Children’s rights, it must be clearly understood, are the human rights of children with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to minors. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “any human being below the age of 18 years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”
This definition is made in the realisation that children are rightly perceived as future leaders who ought to be protected against all forms of abuse and societal ills. In Nigeria, there is a Child Rights Act (CRA) of 2003, which is a domestication of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) listed the states that had yet to domesticate the CRA as Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi , Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara states respectively. Ironically, most of these states are where the Nigerian Child is exposed to the activities of terrorists like Boko Haram and other marauders who maim and kill at will.
On November 20, 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Shortly afterwards, in July 1990, the African Union Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRWC). Nigeria signed both international instruments and ratified them in 1991 and 2000, respectively. Both instruments contain a universal set of standards and principles for survival, development, protection and participation of children. These instruments recognise children as human beings and subjects of rights.
Although CRA was passed at the Federal level, it can only be effective if State Assemblies also follow the federal government’s example. The CRA was created to serve as a legal documentation and protection of Children’s rights and responsibilities in Nigeria.
The law has three primary purposes: to incorporate the rights of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights into the national law, to provide the responsibilities of government agencies associated with the law and to integrate children-focused legislation into one comprehensive law. It also acts as a legislation against human trafficking since it forbids children from being “separated from parents against their will, except where it is in the best interests of the child.”
Prior to the 2003 Child Rights Act, Nigerian child protection was as defined by the Children and Young People’s Act (CYPA), a law relating primarily to juvenile justice. Nigeria also signed on to the International Human Rights convention agreement on the rights of child.
It is pertinent to note, in our view, that failure to domesticate this law in various states has continued to expose children to untold hardships, abuses, trafficking, poor or lack of education, child labour, banditry, hooliganism and a whole lot of other issues which cannot be ignored.
As a result, it is not unusual to find under-age children roaming the streets and hawking even during school hours. These children are exposed to all forms of abuses by predators/Paedophiles, human trafficking agents, as well as accidents and deaths. The Act unequivocally states that a child may bring an action for damages against a person for harm or injury caused to the child wilfully, recklessly, negligently or through neglect before, during or after the birth of that child.
Similarly by the provisions of that law, no child shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth. This is even as it stated clearly that every Nigerian child is entitled to rest, leisure and enjoyment of the best attainable state of physical, mental and spiritual health and also that Child abduction and forced exploitative labour in an industrial undertaking are also stated as offences.
We are, therefore, of the opinion that Nigeria will be failing in her duty to lead Africa by example if she continues to play down on the right of the child as exemplified by the plight of children in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps. Furthermore, we call the states that have not ratified the CRA to see the urgent need to do so and ensure that the right of the Nigerian child is protected against abuses and abusers.
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