Child Protection in Nigeria is making progress but not fast enough

The Katsina House of assembly in collaboration with Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), Save the Children International, embarked on a translation exercise of the Child Rights Act (2003) on 9th April. It is a win for children and the future of the nation.

The Act was only just passed by the state assembly and signed into law by Governor Aminu Masari in December 2020, removing one more state from the 11 yet to domesticate the law.

The translation into Hausa and Fulfulde will improve accessibility for the State’s population and consequently make the adoption of the law easier over time. This is an important next step that ought to be emulated as a matter of principle by the rest of the country with respect to this particular law as well subsequent laws in the country’s expanding legal framework.

Child Protection in Nigeria – in the world even, has come a long way. From the pre-Independence era of the Children and Young Persons’ Act of 1943 to the Child Right Act of 2003, Nigeria has made progress, albeit slow.

The problem …

One thing remains unchanged across the wide gulf of time since then, the intractable answer to the question ‘Who is a child?’

Reading the Nigerian Constitution will give one no idea what it means to be a child in the country.

Oxford dictionary defines a child as ‘a young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age of majority.’

The Children and Young Person’s Act defines a child as a ‘person under the age of 14,’ and a young person as a ‘person who has reached the age of 14 and is under the age of 17.’ The Labour Act  in direct contrast defines a child as a ’person under the age of 12’ and a young person as anyone ‘under the age of 14.’

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child on the other hand defines a child to mean, ‘every human below the age of 18.’ While the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as a ‘person below the age of 18 except in the law applicable to the child, the age of majority is attained earlier.’

The above UN Convention provision that makes room for legal determination based on applicable laws is noteworthy.

Perhaps because the Child Rights Act is in a group of legislative provisions called the residuary list which depend on voluntary adoption by States, the definition of a child is open to determination by each state. This has already played out.

Most of the states that have adopted the Child Rights Act had in the process of adoption changed the definition of ‘child’ to fit their specific needs. In a state like Akwa Ibom for instance, a child is a person under the age of 16, whereas in other states a child can be someone as young as 12 years old.

This raises concern about whether the promise to protect the ‘best interest of the child’ that is at the core principle of Child Protection across all the legal provisions over time will be fulfilled.

What does it mean to claim to protect the best interest of children if the definition of a child is shifting from one state to another?

The solution …

With Nigeria being home to over 8 million homeless children and over 10 million out of school kids, the pressing concern remains to have the Child Rights Act domesticated and implemented across the country.

The conversation on child protection will continue in the interim.

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