When former President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Child’s Rights Act (CRA) in September 2003, it was meant to enable the Nigerian child to benefit from rights enshrined in international conventions.
The two conventions are the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRWC).
On November 20, 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the CRC, while the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Governments in July 1990 adopted the CRWC.
Nigeria signed and ratified both international instruments, which contain universal set of standards and principles for survival, development, protection and participation of children. All the conventions recognise children as human beings entitled to enjoy rights.
In line with international instruments incorporated in the CRA were all the rights and responsibilities of children, while all other laws relating to children were made part of the Act. The Act specifies the duties and obligations of government, parents and other authorities, among others. A child under the Act is a person below 18 years.
The CRA provides that the best interest of the child shall remain paramount in all considerations. The Act further provides for freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex, religion or political opinion and states that the dignity of the child shall be respected at all times.
The Act also states that no Nigerian child shall be subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse or neglect, maltreatment, torture, inhuman or degrading punishment, attacks on their honour or reputation.
Every Nigerian child is entitled to rest, leisure and enjoyment of the best attainable state of physical, mental and spiritual health. Governments at all levels were mandated to put infrastructure in place for the reduction of infant mortality rate, provide medical and health care, adequate nutrition and safe drinking water, among others, for children.
The Act gives the Nigerian child the responsibilities of working toward the cohesion of their families, respecting their parents and elders, contributing to the moral well-being of society, among others. It also establishes Child Justice Administration in place of Juvenile Justice Administration.
The provisions prohibit the subjection of any child to the criminal justice, capital punishment, imprisonment and corporal punishment for children less than18 years of age.
Children’s residential centres and children’s correctional centres are to be established to replace borstal institutions created under the Borstal Institutions and Remand Centres Act, Cap 38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria,1990. Any deprivation of liberty to the child should be the last resort.
Since 2003 when the CRA became operational, 26 states have domesticated the Act. The states yet to domesticate the Act are: Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
The worry of stakeholders is not the domestication of the Act by states, but its implementation. The then Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Zainab Maina, complained in 2014, when only 23 states domesticated the Act, that only two states in Nigeria were actually implementing the CRA. The former minister named the states as Lagos and Akwa Ibom.
The situation has not changed much as the states that have domesticated the Act have yet to put in place the institutions through which the rights of the child can be enhanced.
Of concern is the failure of the states that have domesticated the Act to inaugurate their respective Child’s Rights Act Implementation Committee.
Section 260 of the Child’s Rights Act, empowers NCRIC to popularise the provisions of the law and monitor implementation in states that have domesticated the legislation.
Even at the federal level, where NCRIC was inaugurated in 1994, it was not able to meet since 2010 due to financial constraints. The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Woman Affairs and Social Development is the chairman of the committee, while members are drawn from relevant ministries, agencies and partners.
NCRIC was re-inaugurated on May 10, in Abuja through funding by Rule of Law and Anti-corruption (RoLAC) programme, funded by European Union and implemented by the British Council.
RoLAC also funded a 3-Day Retreat of NCRIC to familiarise members of the provisions of the law and their responsibilities.
At the re-inauguration of NCRIC, Mrs Ifeoma Anagbogu, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, noted that since its establishment, NCRIC had recorded landmark achievements in the promotion and protection of the rights of children in Nigeria.
According to Anagbogu, it is the responsibility of the committee to review and prepare periodic reports on the state of implementation of the rights of the child, among others.
A retired federal permanent secretary, Dr MacJohn Nwaobiala, on behalf of other members, said since the committee had been re-constituted, it should not be allowed to go moribund again.
Nwaobiala, recommended that the committee should establish a well- staffed, equipped and functional secretariat, strengthen cooperation and collaboration with relevant government ministries and agencies.
He also stressed the need for the establishment of NCRIC data base, re-establishment of link with UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, insert a budget line for NCRIC activities, among others.
Gender and Social Inclusion Manager of RoLAC, Priscilla Ankut, said that the “ road ahead of the implementation of the Child’s Rights Act is a long one.’’
Ankut, represented by Achu Wynyfred, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, said that the implementation required an inclusive approach.
“ It is a journey that demands that every organisation and institution represented here today, and even some absent, hold hands in partnership to play their part, whether big or small.
“It is also a journey that demands that we design our actions not only for children and young persons, but with children and young persons living with disabilities, carrying them every step of the way,’’ she said.
Anagbogu on her part said the retreat would give members “in-depth understanding of your roles and responsibilities as members of the NCRIC, so that you will deliver effectively towards the implementation of the rights of the child in Nigeria’’.
Anagbogu, represented by Mrs Jummai Mohammed, Director, Child Development in the Ministry, also said the retreat would provide “ a stepping stone for the development of reports toward our international commitments, such as the 5th and 6th country periodic report, which has been due for submission a long time ago.’’
She commended RoLAC of the British Council for sponsoring the retreat.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the retreat, participants stressed the need for strengthening of the committee through the inclusion of critical stakeholders as members to boost its activities.
It noted that organisations, such as National Agency for Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), among others, were not statutory members of NCRIC.
The committee members also recommended the strengthening of NCRIC secretariat domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, organisers of the retreat, to facilitate optimal discharge of its functions.
The members also recommended advocacy visits to policy makers, including the vice-president, National Assembly, media organisations, among others.
The participants resolved to carry out awareness campaigns on the Child’s Rights Act in one state each in the six geo-political zones.
The strict implementation of CRA and strengthening of the NCRIC would enable the Nigeria child harness his potential and prepare to be a future leader.
Ukoh writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.