Definition of a child: The CRA considers a child as a person below the age of 18 years (SECTION 21 of the CRA). It also states that a child’s best interest should be of upmost priority in any case involving a child (section 1 of the CRA 2003).
Chiild Rights Act (CRA): There are various laws created to guide everyone for instance the constitution. There are also human rights laws as well as laws created for both women and children in Nigeria but these laws are not specifically created for just children and it does not address the needs of children”, Thus, the creation of the Child Rights Act (2003).
The Child Rights Act was accepted by the national assembly and passed into Nigerian law in July 2003. “It was assented to by the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief OlusegunObasanjo in September 2003, and promulgated as the Child’s Rights Act 2003.”The CRA has been signed into Federal law and it is up to states to sign it individually into their state laws.
The goal for promulgating the CRA is to improve the child’s relationship with his/her family or community. The CRA broadly covers the rights, duties and responsibilities of every child. One of the most important parts of the act is it provides that the “best interest” of the child should be of paramount importance in all actions concerning the child.
Structure/content of CRA: The CRA incorporates all the rights and responsibilities of children; it also creates a forum where all laws concerning children can be incorporated into a single document. It focuses on the duties of children, parents, the government organisations, authorities and bodies. The CRA provides for different rights children should have and enjoy for instance: freedom from discrimination, right to rest, leisure and enjoyment, right to good medical care, food, shelter, drinking water, education, hygienic and sanitized environment, provides for disabled children.
It also provides for certain offences that should be considered as a violation of children’s rights for instance: maltreatment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, betrothal and child marriage, tattoos, marks, female genital mutilation, Trafficking, wrong exposures to criminal activities, prostitution and narcotic drugs, using children to hawk, beg, sell, sexual abuse. The act makes provisions for family courts in Nigeria, to hear cases in respect of children. It also provides for an active child justice administration in Nigeria. The act goes ahead to prohibit the use of capital punishments, imprisonment and corporal punishment for children under the age of 18 years.
The act provides that there should be institutions created for children living in difficulties. For instance, orphans, displaced kids, street children and those physically challenged. The act provides that there should be a child rights implementation committee at the national, state and local government level to help enable the commitment of the government at all levels to ensure the provisions of the act are implemented. The provision of this act supersedes all legislations created concerning issues involving a child. A violation of any of the provisions of the CRA is punishable under the act.
Progress since the ratification of CRA: Out of 36 states in Nigeria, only 26 states as at May 2014, have been able to sign the CRA into their state law. For most of the states that have signed it into their state laws, they have not been able to domesticate these laws in accordance with the provisions of the act. Some states have not been able to sign this law into their state laws and have given reasons why. The following are some of the challenges most states are facing with ratifying the CRA: culture, religion and custom of various tribes, as Nigeria is a Multi ethnic country.
For some states they do not accept the definition of a child as they believe a child should be married off before the age of 18 or as soon as they attain puberty in girls. Some states that have ratified it have reduced the minimum age of a child to 16 and to some, the age that best suits them.
This is a major issue as the act in section 21 defines a child as a person below the age of 18 years and frowns at early child marriage or betrothal in Section 22 and 23 of the Act. The act goes further to provide for punishments in Section 24 of the act, for violators of Section 22 and 23 of the CRA. Some states have a problem with this provision in the act as they see it as a provision that is contrary to their culture, custom and for some religion.
Reasons why the Child Rights Act should be ratified, domesticated and implemented: Children are our future leaders, whatever we teach them grows and stays with them and same will be passed on to the generations after them but now it depends on what kind of impact we are passing unto them, is it good or bad. Children are the assurance of the continuity of the human race and as Africans/Nigerians, we believe in preserving the family name.
Children deserve protection and by their nature, they lack the physical, mental and emotional maturity required to face life. The kind of rights used to guard and protect adults cannot be used to protect children because their needs are different from that of adults, Hence, the creation of the CRA.
Children are the leaders of tomorrow, for us to create good leaders with good morals, we have to start training them from the beginning when they are born until they grow into leaders. Psychologically whatever you do to a child, you might not know the consequence of your action but somehow it stays and it affectsthat child later in life or as the child is growing. An abused, neglected and maltreated child will see life differently from a child who was trained in the right way and shown the better ways to handle life. This does not mean children cannot be stubborn, but there are better ways to train a child as oppose to inhuman treatments.
Finally, by ratifying, domesticating and implementing the CRA, the rate of abuse children face daily in our society will be at its minimal and justice will be served.
Barrister Chindah is a commentator on public affairs