By Olakunle Bamisle
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a Child as a young human who is not yet an adult.
Legally, in Nigeria, according to the Child’s Rights Act 2003, a Child is someone below 18 years of age.
According to UNICEF, Nearly 1 in 10 Children are subjected to Child Labour worldwide, with some into hazardous work through trafficking.
Though, in Nigeria, it has become an elephant in the Room, the fact that Child Abuse is a significant contemporary issue cannot be overemphasized.
The millions of children who line up on the streets begging for alms? The ones Hawking? Oh. Can we just talk about the ones who get married off at tender ages? The ones who are sexually abused? Here and there, several cases of Child Abuse, and we don’t get to talk about them enough. Haba! Little wonder it has become the norm.
In July 2003, the Child’s Rights Act — an act to provide and protect the rights of a Nigerian Child; and other related matters — was passed into Law. Rather unfortunately, as is the case with several other Nigerian Laws, this all–important law is only so on paper, but not in action.
Part 2 of the Child’s Rights Act (hereinafter referred to as CRA) expressly provides for the rights of a child and they include: Right to survival and development, Right to name, Freedom of association and peaceful assembly, Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, Right to private and family life, Right to freedom of movement, Right to freedom from discrimination, Right to dignity of the child, Right to leisure, recreation and cultural activities, Right to health and health services, Right to parental care, protection and maintenance, Right of a child to free, compulsory and universal primary education, Right of a child in need of special protection measure, Right of the unborn child to protection against harm, and Contractual rights of a child
These Rights are obviously recognized and enforceable by law, however, in applying them, Parents, Guardians, Governments and/or other appropriate parties, as the case may be, have significant roles to play.
Having a critical look into these Rights as to their application, it is crystal clear that several of these Rights are being flagrantly abused. However, for the sake of time and space, only two of these Rights — Right to dignity of the child and Right of a child to free, compulsory and universal primary education, etc. — shall be discussed in this piece.
On Right to dignity of the Child, Several laws — international and local — provide for the general right to dignity of a person and now moreso, of a Child. Section 11 of the CRA provides thus: “Every child is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly, no child shall be‐ (a) subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, including sexual abuse;
(b) subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
(c) subjected to attacks upon his honor or reputation; or
(d) held in slavery or servitude, while in the care of a parent, legal guardian or school authority or any other person or authority having the care of the child”.
Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are all in corroboration of this all–important right of dignity, which is basically the existence of a person. Despite this, this Right to dignity — of the Child — is flagrantly abused, and sadly so. In Nigerian Schools, it has now become the norm for Teachers, who are simply wicked, to exhibit their wickedness by unnecessarily and deliberately causing injury to innocent pupils. Is it the frog jump, ride a bicycle, holy ghost session, stool down and so on (you can name yours) that these innocent children are made to go through that we will not consider degrading enough? Slavery and Servitude by school authorities (who claim it is ‘part of education’) and several others have now become so ‘normal’. Some people even hold the view that ‘dignity begins at 18’. Argh!
On Right of a child to FREE, Compulsory and universal primary education, etc. , Section 15 of the CRA provides thus:
“(1) Every child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education and it shall be the duty of the Government in Nigeria to provide such education.
(2) Every parent or guardian shall ensure that his child or ward attends and completes his‐
(a) primary school education; and
(b) junior secondary education.
(3) Every parent, guardian or person who has the care and custody of a child who has completed his basic education, shall endeavour to send the child to a senior secondary school, except as provided for in subsection (4) of this section.
(4) Where a child to whom subsection (3) of this section applies is not sent to senior secondary school, the child shall be encouraged to learn an appropriate trade and the employer of the child shall provide the necessaries for learning the trade”.
The language of the law here is clear and unambiguous: “Every Child”, “Every Parent or guardian shall ensure”, etc. Unfortunately, It is still not clear how there are 10.1 million out-of-school Children in Nigeria.
In any sane society, the enforcement and protection of Human Rights — including Child Rights — should be a top priority, unfortunately, the reverse seems to be the case here in our dear native land, Nigeria.
Apart from flagrant Child Rights Abuse, Child Marriage, Child Labour and Child Sexual Abuse are common forms of Child Abuse in Nigeria; and it is pertinent that we examine them as to the stance of the law.
On Child Marriage and Betrothal, the law is unwavering in its stance as Section 21 of the CRA provides thus:
“No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever”.
While Section 22 provides that:
“(1) No parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person.
(2) A betrothal in contravention of subsection (1) of this section is null and void”.
The Nigerian Law vehemently prohibits Exploitative Child Labour as Section 28 of the CRA provides thus:
“(1) Subject to this Act, no child shall be‐
(a) subjected to any forced or exploitative labour; or
(b) employed to work in any capacity except where he is employed by a member of his family on light work of an agricultural, horticultural or domestic character; or
(c) required, in any case, to lift, carry or move anything so heavy as to be likely to adversely affect his physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development; or
(d) employed as a domestic help outside his own home or family environment”.
In the same vein, section 30 of the CRA prohibits dealing in children for the purpose of hawking or begging for alms or prostitution as it provides that:
“(2) A child shall not be used‐
(a) for the purpose of begging for alms, guiding beggars, prostitution, domestic or sexual labour or for any unlawful or immoral purpose ; or
(b) as a slave or for practices similar to slavery such as sale or trafficking of the child, debt, bondage or serfdom and forced or compulsory labour;
(c) for hawking of goods or services on main city streets, brothels or highways”.
Sections 31 and 32 of the CRA prohibits Sexual Abuse while Section 33 of the same act prohibits other exploitations.
It is unfortunate that it has become a norm in Nigeria — especially in the Northern part — to marry Children off. ‘An 85–year old marrying an 11–year old’ and many other totally ridiculous marriages. The growing rate of forced and exploitative labor on innocent Nigerian children cannot be overemphasized. Oh! It has become a ‘norm’. Children being used for the purpose of hawking of begging of alms? of course, it has become abnormal to not see either a child hawking or begging on Nigerian Streets. Paedophilia has even become more normal now. Argh! Innocent Children!
It is doleful that despite these vehement legal disapprovals, Child Abuse have established itself in Nigeria and has even become a norm. The major conversation that this uncommon discourse of Child Abuse brings is that of ‘protecting the African Culture’. Well, I’d leave you to that. However, it is pertinent to note that Child Abuse should be condemned in the strongest way(s) possible as it poses a significant threat to the future of any society.
Olakunle Emmanuel Bamisile is a law student at the Lagos State University and can be reached on: email@example.com