Public angst raised by the sexual abuse, illness and eventual death of 13-year-old Ochanya Elizabeth Ogbanje is still raging unabated. Elizabeth was allegedly raped by her uncle and his son for almost five years. She was reported to have been turned into a sex slave by both men from the age of eight.
This matter yet again brings to the fore the growing rate of paedophile cases in the country and demands a determined enforcement of the Child Rights Act.
A Chief Magistrate’s Court in Makurdi, Benue State, had since remanded 51-year-old Andrew Ogbuja, a lecturer in the Department of Catering and Hotel Management, Benue State Polytechnic, in custody.
Ochanya was just one of the pathetic cases of various heinous crimes committed against the Nigerian child in flagrant disregard for their rights as enshrined in the constitution and the Child’s Rights Act as domesticated in Nigeria and other states save Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi , Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
Despite this, the rights of the Nigerian child has continued to be flouted not only through sexual harassment, abuse, violation and rape but also through child labour, conscription as child soldiers, prostitution, denial of basic education, shelter, torture, starvation and outright murder.
In July 1990, the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government 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.
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 accorded to minors. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “any human being below the age of 18”.
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.
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 the country.
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 interest 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.
We hold that the failure to domesticate this law in some states in the country 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. This has further exposed children 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 willfully, recklessly, negligently or through neglect before, during or after the birth of that child.
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 rights of the child as exemplified by the plight of children sexually abused especially by close relations like in the case of Ochanya and others.
We, therefore, call on 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.
This can, however, come to pass if governments do the needful with the deserved urgency.
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