In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although this law was passed at the Federal level, it is only effective if State Assemblies also enact it. To date, only 16 of the country’s 36 States have passed the Act. Intense advocacy continues for the other 20 States to pass it.
This explains that this landmark legislative achievement has not yet translated into improved legal protection throughout the Federation. Nigeria has been unable to deal with several issues hindering the protection rights of children such as children living on the streets, children affected by communal conflict, drug abuse, human trafficking and the weaknesses of the juvenile justice system amongst others.
Children conflict with the law for a variety of reasons. Poverty, social inequality, failed educational system, family problems, peer pressure, social and religious conflicts in which children are used as the foot soldiers are some of the factors that account for the number of children in conflict with the law. Unfortunately these child offenders are often treated like adults and mixed with adults in prisons. Many are convicted and jailed without making contact with a social worker or getting the opportunity to be heard.
The most recent report to the African Union on the rights and welfare of the Nigerian child showed that about 6,000 children are in prison and detention centres across the country. Girls make up less than 10 per cent and they mainly come into contact with the law as a result of criminal acts committed against them such as rape, sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Increased participation of children in issues affecting their lives can have positive and far reaching effects on their health and socio-economic conditions. When children participate in decision making, they tend to be more creative, positive and energetic, offering ideas devoid of prejudices and stereotypes.
The Federal Government inaugurated the Children’s Parliament in 2003 to enhance children’s participation. Since then, 26 States have inaugurated children’s parliaments. The main challenge is to make these Parliaments truly representative of the broad categories of Nigerian children, including the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
There is also an increased participation of children in the media and their opinion at the public domain is now sought and publicized to give them some measure of participation and responsibility.