The implementation of the Child Rights Act in Nigeria has been rated poor by child protection experts, even as the subject has remained knotty, considering the country’s diversity in culture and religion.
Although almost all states in Nigeria have domesticated the Child Rights Act ratified in 2003, the impact and extent of its execution in states remain uncertain.
Many children are still slaves, trafficked, caught in the web of conflict and are displaced, made child soldiers or criminals, become violent themselves, are abused, out of school or become breadwinners for their families.
There are concerns that children will continue under these severe conditions if structures for their protection as provided by the law remain inactive.
”It is not just about having laws passed, putting in place structures, systems and infrastructures for implementing such laws are also important, says Tunde Aremu, a Policy and Research expert at Plan International.
”So far, very few states have shown commitment to the Child Rights Act by developing implementation frameworks. While we are excited at having the laws in place, without relevant structures, investment and real political will for its services and mechanisms, the whole effort is in vain,” he maintains.
A 2022 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, showed that about 8,000 Nigerian children were recruited as child soldiers by terrorists, while the International Labour Organisation in 2021 recorded that 15 million others were engaged in child labour.
67.5 million children in Nigeria live in poverty, according to national statistics; with no access to healthcare, education, food or sanitation while 10.5 million others who are out of school are progressively courting illiteracy, as shown by data from the National Bureau of Statistics.
Sexual violence against children continues to thrive, with one in four girls and one in ten boys sexually abused, mostly, by relatives while 43% of girls are forced into marriage before they are 15.
These anomalies are an indication that Nigerian children remain at the mercy of the system, with their rights still not a priority for the political class or duty-bearers.
In its assessment, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF insists the implementation of the Child Rights Act in Nigeria falls below expectations.
Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF, Fatima Adamu warns that the cost of inaction in implementing children’s rights will be too grave for Nigeria to handle in the long run.
”From 2003 to 2023, it took 20 years for the Nigerian States to pass the child protection law; 19 years of continuous advocacy, she says; if we are looking at the implementation of the Child Rights Act, even from the domestication, there’s already a problem, 20 years later, we still have one more state, Bauchi, that is yet to pass the law.
”There’s a need to do more. If domestication is a challenge, certainly, implementation would be worse. Records show that some states, like Jigawa, passed the law, then repealed it, and then passed it again, the back and forth shows a controversy of some sort.
“Nigeria’s diversity in culture and religion may be playing a role but the fact remains that children are humans with feelings and rights, their rights must be respected, regardless of what culture or religion says”
With the verdict on the extent of implementation returning as poor, there are now calls to scale up child protection service delivery across sectors, and fast-track court cases involving children to ensure justice is always served.
However, scaling up these services will require a functional system that caters only to children, especially in the justice administration system, as provided in section 204 of the Child Rights Act.
Such a system, according to ‘Rights’ experts, must consist of juvenile administrative structures such as family courts, effective social welfare structures, counselling and fostering institutions, adoption services and provision of non-custodial punishments in cases of crime by minors.
Unfortunately, 20 years after the child rights law arrived, only a few states have put structures on ground in a country where about 46% of its population are children.
As succinctly explained by Aremu, ”Laws are only excellent when they have provisions for implementation, a law without structures for implementation does not exist.
”The law as it is in almost all states makes provision for certain services and facilities to protect vulnerable children from abuse, provide for their care, rehabilitate those in need and take care of other relevant emotional, psychological and physiological treatment of such children.
”Unfortunately, existing facilities and services that could serve the purpose of the anticipated ones in the interim are, in most instances, non-existent.
Experts say duty bearers must be put in check to ensure the protection of children primarily because they are bona fide individuals in society, who are vulnerable, still dependent and rely on others to decide for them.