•According To The Child Rights Law
In the previous edition, the rights of Nigerian children were discussed extensively but not exhaustively. In continuation, other rights guaranteed by the Child Rights Law will be further discussed.
RIGHT TO LEISURE, RECREATION AND CULTURAL ACTIVITIES
In addition to what was discussed in the previous edition, every child is entitled to participate in cultural and artistic activities in the state, country and globally. Schools, parents and the government must ensure that adequate opportunities are provided for children to fully engage in all of these activities as imposed by the law. It is also recommended that for effective implementation of the law that no child is left out, free children’s leisure parks should be built in every nook and cranny of the state to encourage active participation of children in recreation especially children whose parents do not possess the financial capacity to undertake these activities privately.
FREEDOM FROM ABUSE
Child abuse is a global phenomenon which includes abuses ranging from physical, emotional, sexual abuse and child neglect often meted out to the child by parents, relatives or caregivers. An abuse is a deliberate commission of an act which inflicts actual or threatened harm on a child while neglect is the omission to protect a child from harm or a serious risk of injury. In most cultures and religions in Nigeria, smacking is an acceptable form of child discipline in society. However, if the physical discipline inflicts injuries or exposes a child to increased chances of harm, it becomes an abuse. Physical abuse is the most recognised form of abuse because of visible marks, bruises and injuries left on the bodies of children but it is not the only form of abuse. A lot of children are also victims of emotional abuse which is not evidenced by any form of injury but rather the injury is inflicted mentally. This occurs when the self-esteem, self-confidence and the emotional well being of a child is constantly attacked. It includes constant criticism, rejection, ignoring and isolation of a child. This abuse is often referred to as the most brutal of all child abuses because of the effects it has on the mental state and self-concept of a child which could last into adulthood. Further, Sexual abuse in children occurs when adults engage children in any form of sexual activity. It could be forcing a child to undress publicly, touching a child’s genitals indecently, actual defilement of a child, viewing of a child’s genitals without contact or adults exposing their genitals to children. Practices, where parents expose their genitals to their children, are a form of sexual abuse especially when the parent is of the opposite sex. While it is acceptable that for hygienic purposes, children’s genitals must be cleaned, it must be done decently to avoid any erotic stimulations in the child. It is suggested that to reduce incidences of sexual abuse in children, children should be taught to differentiate what a good touch and a bad touch is very early in life. Also, they should be taught to clean their genitals themselves early in life to forestall third parties undertaking this role for them which encourages sexual abuse. It is criminal for anyone to have a sexual intercourse with a child under the age of eighteen. It is immaterial that the adult presumed that the child was over the age eighteen or it was with the consent of the child. The Law is that a child is not capable of giving a real consent to a sexual intercourse. For this reason, the law clearly outlaws child marriages by stating that no child under the age of eighteen is capable of contracting a valid marriage. In application, it means that for every state that has domesticated the Child Rights Law and the Federal Capital Territory, it is criminal for a child to get married or for a child to be betrothed. If per chance, a child undertakes a betrothal ceremony at the instance of an adult, it shall be null and void and of no effect.
Further, Child neglect is where a child is deprived of basic necessities of life required for the survival of that child. It includes a care giver or a parent neglecting to provide hygienic care, nutritious meals, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, supervision and other instances to a child. Abandonment which is leaving young children alone for a long period of time without necessary and reasonable care by an adult is a form of child neglect. Apart from the fact that child abuse and neglect are infringements on the rights of a child, they are also criminal offences. Children who are victims of abuse and neglect often manifest emotional and behavioural reactions which could extend to adulthood. Most of them become abusers, violent, manifesting aggressive and strange behaviours, insecure, manipulative and having difficulties forming and maintaining relationships in life.
RIGHT TO IMMUNISATION
According to the Child Rights Law, it is mandatory that every child under the age of two must be immunised. Where it is the discovered that a parent or a care giver has neglected to get a child immunised, the court can grant an order compelling the parent or care giver to get the child immunised. However, despite the efforts and intervention of the government, World Health Organisation, UNICEF and some other Non-Governmental Organisations by facilitating free provisions of immunisations in all government hospitals and primary healthcare centres, a lot of children in marginalised areas still are not immunised.
RIGHT TO PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
The right to physical, spiritual and mental health of every Nigerian child is tied to many factors and cannot be considered in isolation without discussing all these factors which greatly impact negatively on the child’s access to these rights. Poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, child marriage, appalling traditional practices, conflict, in the midst of others is the greatest factors affecting the physical and mental health of most children. Child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation which are common practices that affect girls particularly are still left unbridled despite the enactment of the Child Rights Act especially in the Northern parts of the country. Most girls under the age of eighteen are not physically and mentally mature to undertake the health and physical burden of pregnancies. Health challenges like eclampsia, postpartum haemorrhage, sepsis, Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF), anaemia and infections are direct consequences of these practices which are the highest contributors to a high mortality rate of both mother and child who are both children. Children who are lucky to survive these complications are most likely to suffer malnutrition of both mother and child. Further, the mental health of the child who suddenly becomes a mother is threatened because of the inadequate preparation for such a role. These are children who should still be nurtured and catered for by their parents who suddenly find themselves in these roles which are the exclusive preserve of adults. In most situations, they become victims of domestic violence, abuse and abandonment by their spouses.
Poverty is also a factor that violates the rights of children to quality health. Children who are impoverished will often experience violence, poor nutrition, poor living conditions, poor sanitation and hygiene, overcrowding and lack of adequate medical care. When diseases occur in these situations, ignorance often hinders parents from seeking medical care for the children immediately. Some will resort to self-medication, sub-standard medications and herbs which may result in the death of the child. According to the law, while the parents and carers have responsibilities in ensuring that children in their care attain the best state of health, the primary responsibility of healthcare delivery rest squarely on the local governments. It is the main responsibility of the local governments to provide primary healthcare centres, safe drinking water, adequate nutrition, good hygiene, adequate environmental sanitation and to combat diseases and malnutrition. While it is indisputable that access to primary healthcare has increased significantly, other responsibilities of the government in the healthcare sector are patchy and barely existent. Limited access to water sources, sanitation and hygiene is are serious challenges in the society which are major contributory factors to outbreaks of diseases and early deaths experienced by children. It is distressing to note that open defecation and poor disposal of waste are still major sanitation challenges in our society today.
RIGHT TO PARENTAL CARE AND PROTECTION
Every child has a right to the protection and care of both parents and should not be separated from the parents against the wish of the child. However, the only exceptions are for the purposes of the education, welfare or on the execution of a court order. A child may be separated from his parents by the court if it will not be in the best interest of the child to be with both or either of his parents. For instance, the court can make an emergency care order in respect of a child whose mother is a habitual drunkard, a drug user and also violent towards the child. In custody matters, the best interest standard will also be applied regardless of the wish of the child. The parent who is best suited to cater to the child is often awarded the custodial rights. Nevertheless, in recent times, the court realises that the presence of both parents is very significant to the development of a child so rather than give one of the parents the sole custody, the courts are mostly disposed towards joint or shared custody between both parents. Shared or joint custody will ensure that both parents have equal access and decision making in the life of the child. This right also includes the right of a child to financial maintenance from their parents. Lone parents who shoulder the responsibilities of their children without support from the other parent should approach the family court to enforce this right against the defaulting parent.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION
It is not in doubt that education is the bedrock and instrument of change in any society. The right to free and compulsory education is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Child Rights Law. Every child irrespective of their gender, circumstances of birth, background or the financial capacity of their parents must be given the opportunity to receive quality and quantitative education. It is the responsibility of the federal and state government to ensure that free and compulsory education is provided for every child. In response to this right, the federal government introduced a universal basic education policy in 1999 to ensure that every child from between the age of six and fifteen years receive interrupted access to education for nine years. Under this policy, a child is expected to receive education throughout his primary school years and the first three years of secondary education. While it is the duty of the government to provide free education to every child, it is the duty of parents or caregivers to ensure that their children receive education up till the completion of their basic education. After the completion of basic education, parents are mandated to encourage their children to complete their secondary education. A child who refuses to further his secondary education must learn a skill or trade and girls who become pregnant during the pendency of their education should be given the opportunity to return to school to complete her education. The practice where pregnant girls are expelled from school is discriminatory and unlawful.
It is distressing to state that though education is free and compulsory under the Child Right Law, Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of out of school children in the world. The implementation of universal basic education is very marginal and poor. Inadequate planning, corruption, child marriage, insurgency, disease amongst other factors are clogs in the wheels of the successful implementation of this policy. Children in regions affected with insurgency are the worst hit with this grave violation of their right to education. Students, teachers and other educational personnel are constantly kidnapped, killed, sexually abused and some children are even recruited as child insurgents. The school building and educational facilities are constantly destroyed. Parents, teachers and students are worried about their safety and are reluctant to send or go to school. Thousands of children are forcefully internally displaced every day which interrupts and impedes their opportunity to receive an education. Most schools in these regions are closed and children can only learn in a safe and conducive environment. Child marriage is also a social and developmental menace in Nigeria which greatly impairs the right of a girl child to access to education. Despite the law forbidding child marriage, the phenomenon is still widespread in the country. Girls are deprived of the opportunity of personal development, education, full reproductive health and their well being.
Freedom against exploitative labour
No child under the age of eighteen should be employed to work in any capacity. The current practice where children under the age of eighteen are employed as domestic help or hawkers by families is exploitative, criminal, an act of human trafficking and unlawful. This is a gross violation of the rights of children to education, forceful labour, right to health, recreation and leisure, right to the care and protection of the parents, right to privacy and family life and right against abuse. If the government truly values the lives and significance of the survival and development of a child to the national development, NAPTIP should be mandated to start an immediate crackdown on all families engaging in this unlawful practice. All child hawkers should be taken off the streets and taken into the care of the government.
In conclusion, the significance of children to national development cannot be overemphasised. A strong implementation of the protection of the rights of children should never be undermined. They are the future of the society and failure to protect them will further plunge the society into poverty, disease, violence, conflict and ignorance.
Written By, Olamide Onifade, Senior Partner, Olamide Onifade & Associates, 149, Ogudu Road, Ogudu. Tel: 09093335636,
Email: barrister firstname.lastname@example.org