The Federal Government has okayed the establishment of a specialized court for child offenders.
The decision, which was announced by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, came barely a month after a nine-year old girl was identified as the culprit behind a fire incident that razed down a popular supermarket in Abuja.
Malami, while inaugurating the Justice for Children Coordination Forum, an European Union- UNICEF programme aimed at enhancing access to justice for vulnerable children, on Thursday, said there was need for an urgent reform of the juvenile justice system in the country.
The AGF said his office had already engaged respective Heads of Courts to ensure that the specialized courts would also guarantee the speedy and seamless trial of Rape/Gender-Based Violence Offences.
According to him, “The project’s overall objective seeks to improve children’s access to child-friendly justice through age and gender-sensitive juvenile justice mechanisms and alternatives to detention for children on the move and vulnerable children in Nigeria”.
He said the Federal Ministry of Justice has continued to partner with UNICEF and other donor agencies, as well as respective Heads of Courts, to train Judges and Magistrates on the implementation and enforcement of the Child Rights Act, especially on the effective use of Family Court Rules and Procedures.
“Every day, millions of children in Africa and around the world have their rights violated. They are denied access to school, health care and social benefits, unduly separated from their families, and affected by exploitation, abuse and violence in their homes and communities.
“Everywhere, groups of children are being left behind as victims of prejudice and discrimination.
“Among the most vulnerable are children born into poverty, children in detention, children on the street and children with disabilities.
“Yet, only a fraction of children whose rights are violated come forward and seek redress, and even fewer obtain an effective remedy.
“Today, a large number of children in Nigeria are survivors of violence, including sexual violence but very few of those cases make it to the courtrooms.
“These are issues to be addressed by the EU-UNICEF Access to Justice Programme and the Justice for Children Coordination Forum.
“It is worthy of mention that just last year, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice in partnership with UNICEF launched the 1st phase of the Amnesty and Decongestion Programme for Children deprived of liberty during COVID-19 and beyond.
“The Ministry commenced the Second Phase of the programme in May 2021 with some juveniles from the Ogun State Borstal Institute currently undergoing assessment exercise to determine their psychological needs for release and reintegration.
“The programme is aimed at reformation, reintegration and reunification of minors into the society for the development of our dear nation”, Malami added.
In his goodwill message at the event, the Chief Judge of Kano State, Justice Sagir Umar, commended FG for creating a platform he said would enhance access to justice for children.
The CJ, who was represented by Justice Maryam Sabo, decried the rising rate of out of school children in the country.
“In Kano alone as per statistics, about two years back, we had 3. 2million out of school children wandering about, some hawking, begging, truants, drug addiction etc.
“In 2018, 1,142 cases were reported at Waraka SARC, while in 2019, 741 cases were received and only 194 were disposed of because of the high demand nature of proving the offence and stigma associated with offence.
“Poverty and lack of awareness on parents are other factors. This year, the center received 57 and 68 cases of gender based violence in April and May, respectively.
“There is need for the government to strategize more on women empowerment and to make it a policy all over the country.
“Our educational sector, especially the basic, should be revamped for all children to have access to education as their fundamental rights”, the Kano CJ added.
While the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, who was represented by Mrs. Geraldine Okafor, called for stiffer sanctions for those that conscript underaged children into criminal gangs, the representative of UNICEF in Nigeria, Mr. Peter Hawkins, harped on the need for a comprehensive inter-agency assessment of children in conflict with the law.