THE RIGHTS OF THE NIGERIAN CHILD AS PROTECTED UNDER THE LAW OF THE REALM: THE PROVISION OF CHILD’S RIGHTS ACT (ENFORCEMENT PROCEDURE) RULES 2015.

By M. O OLANREWAJU

INTRODUCTION

In Nigeria, children’s rights are protected by law and are therefore sacred. Not only does the law protect the child, it also stipulates punishments for adults who take advantage of children or seek to negatively influence them[i]. The law seeks to prevent cruelty against children while stating the rights and obligations of Nigerian child.

This article would be based on the rights of children under the Child’s Rights Act[ii] and the Enforcement Procedures within the Family Court in the Federal Capital Territory provided under the Child Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2013[iii].

DEFINITION OF TERMS

CHILD: Biologically, a child is a human being between the stages of birth and puberty or between the developmental period of infancy and puberty[iv]. The legal definition of child generally refers to a minor, otherwise known as a person younger than the age of majority[v].

Under the Child Rights Act[vi] no specific age was provided as the age of a child, but Section 21 of the Child’s Rights Act of 2003 states that:

“No person under the age of 18years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly a marriage contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever”

Based on the above we can assume that the legal age is 18 years.

RIGHT: Something to which one has a just claim[vii].

 

RIGHTS ACCORDED TO A CHILD

Children’s rights are the human rights of children with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to minors[viii]. Generally, children’s rights includes their right to association with both parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for physical protection, food, universal state-paid education, health care and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, equal protection of child’s civil rights, and freedom from discrimination on the basics of the child race, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, color, ethnicity or other characteristics[ix]. Interpretations of children’s rights range from allowing children the capacity for autonomous action to the enforcement of children being physically, mentally and emotionally free from abuse, though what constitutes ‘abuse’ is a matter of debate[x].

The Child’s Rights Act of 2003 provided for rights of children under the Part II of the Act:

  • Right to survival and development[xi].
  • Right to name[xii].
  • Freedom of association and peaceful assembly[xiii].
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion[xiv].
  • Right to private and family life[xv].
  • Right to freedom of movement[xvi].
  • Right to freedom from discrimination[xvii].
  • Right to dignity of the child[xviii].
  • Right to leisure, recreation and cultural activities[xix].
  • Right to health and health services[xx].
  • Right to parental care, protection and maintenance[xxi].
  • Right of a child to free, compulsory and universal primary education[xxii].
  • Right of a child in need of special protection measure[xxiii].
  • Right of an unborn child to protection against harm, etc[xxiv].

The Act[xxv] does not only provide for rights of a child but also prohibit some acts contradicting the right given or act that are hazardous to the wellbeing of a child. The Act[xxvi] prohibits child marriage as no person under the age of eighteen years is capable of contracting a valid marriage and accordingly a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever[xxvii]. In addition, parents and guardians are precluded from arranging or facilitating child betrothals[xxviii] and any person who marries a child: or to whom a child is betrothed; or who promotes the marriage of a child; or who betroths a child, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of 500,000 or imprisonment for a term of five years or both[xxix].

It is against the law to tattoo or mark the skin of a child, any person who tattoos or make a skin mark on a child commits an offence under the Act[xxx] is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding five thousand naira or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or to both such fine and imprisonment[xxxi].

Exposing a child to the use or trafficking of narcotics is a serious crime and any person found guilty is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life[xxxii]. Employing a child for the facilitation of criminal act is also an offence under the Act and any person found guilty is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of fourteen years[xxxiii].

It is unlawful to have sexual intercourse with a child; any person who contravenes this provision commits an offence of rape and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life[xxxiv]. It is immaterial that the offender believed the person to be of or above the age of eighteen years; or the sexual intercourse was with the consent of the child[xxxv].

It may be interesting to note that a child may bring an action for damages against a person for harm or injury caused to the child willfully, recklessly, negligently or through neglect before or during or after the birth of the child[xxxvi]. Also where the father of an unborn child dies intestate, the unborn child is entitled, if he was conceived during the lifetime of his father, to be considered in the distribution of the estate of the deceased father[xxxvii]. Where the mother of an unborn child dies intestate before the child is delivered, the unborn child is entitled, if he survives his mother, to be considered in the distribution of the estate of the deceased mother[xxxviii].

From all the above, it is seen that from the provision of the Act[xxxix] it was able to protect the interest of a child and through the Act, the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2013 was passed. The purpose of establishing the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2013 is to regulate the practice procedure of the court in cases on child’s rights. This enforcement procedure is a utilization tool to meet the desired excellent implementation of the Child’s Rights Act.

THE CHILD RIGHTS ACT (ENFORCEMENT PROCEDURE) RULES 2013[xl]

Prior to the 2003, Nigerian child protection was defined by the Children and Young People’s Act (CYPA), a law relating primarily to juvenile justice.

In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child’s Rights Act[xli] to domesticate the convention on the Rights of the child[xlii]. This Act was created to serve as a legal documentation and protection of children rights and responsibilities in Nigeria[xliii]. This law was also passed at the federal level in Nigeria and it is known as the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015[xliv]. This law came into existence when the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Hon. Justice Ishaq Usman Bello, in exercise of his power to make rules for regulating the practice and procedure of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja conferred on him under section 259 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), and in conjunction with Section 49 (1) of the Child’s Rights Act 2003 which gives power to the court to make rules specifying  the procedure to be followed in proceedings, made the Rules of Procedure for the enforcement of child’s rights in the Family Courts within the Federal Capital Territory[xlv].

The overriding objectives of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2013[xlvi] is provided in the preamble of the Rules and it states that:

  • The court shall constantly and conscientiously seek to give effect to the overriding objectives of these rules at every stage of child rights proceedings, especially whenever it exercises any power given it by these Rules or any other law or enactment, and whenever it applies or interprets any rule.
  • The best interest of a child shall be of paramount consideration on all actions or decisions of the court and all proceedings shall be conducted in an atmosphere of understanding for the child to participate and express himself/herself freely.
  • Cases shall be dealt with in ways which are proportionate to the nature, importance and complexity of the issues and to the needs of the child and society.
  • The court shall constantly and conscientiously interpret the Act in a manner that will safeguard the interest of the child at all times especially their personality, talents, mental and physical ability and their overall development.

The above is to make sure children in Nigeria enjoy their rights and to safe guard their interest at all times. The provision of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015 was able to achieve these goals through the step-by-step provision on how to go about the procedures in relation to the rights of children. The Rules[xlvii] was made with the best interest of children at heart. The following provisions of the Rules stated below are example of this.

The Order 2 of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015[xlviii] provides for the composition of the family court which consists of a judge and two assessors not below the rank of a chief child development officer, one of whom has attributes of dealing with children and matters relating to children preferably in the area of child psychology education.

Order 4 of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015 provides for forms and commencement of action. The mode of commencement of action is by an application in a prescribed form as contained in Form 1 of the schedule to the rules[xlix].

Order 6 of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015 provides for non-limitation of action. This means that no action filed for enforcement of the rights of the child shall be affected by any limitation statute[l].

Oder 14 Rule 4 of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015[li] provides that a child has a right to be represented by a legal practitioner and where necessary to a free legal aid in the hearing and determination of any matter concerning the child in court.

Apart from the above provisions the Rules provides for wardship[lii], fostering, guardianship[liii], possession and custody of children[liv] and adoption[lv].

The purpose for establishing the Child’s Rights Act[lvi] and the Child Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015[lvii] is to make the best interest of a child be of paramount consideration in all actions or decisions of the court[lviii].

CONCLUSION

The Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015 provides for procedures to follow in court when any right of a child has been breached. The Child’s Rights Act 2003 provides for rights of children and punishment ascribed when any of these rights is infringed. The result of the combination of these laws would be of great impact and would be of merit to the society at large. It would help in curbing crime in the society and help in building confidence in children.

[i] https://www.legalnaija.com/2014/01/legal-rights-of-nigerian-child.html?m=1

[ii] Child’s Rights Act 2003

[iii] Child’s Rights Act  (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[iv] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/child

[v] Supra

[vi] Child’s Rights Act, 2003.

[vii] https ://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/right

[viii] supra

[ix] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children’s_rights

[x] supra

[xi] Section 4 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xii] Section 5 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xiii] Section 6 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xiv] Section 7 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xv] Section 8 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xvi] Section 9 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xvii] Section 10 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xviii] Section 11 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xix] Section 12 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xx] Section 13 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxi] Section 14 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxii] Section 15 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxiii] Section 16 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxiv] Section 17 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxv] Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxvi] supra

[xxvii] Section 21of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxviii] Section 22 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxix] Section 23 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxx] The Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxxi] Section 24 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxxii] Section 25 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxxiii] Section 26 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxxiv] Section 31 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003

[xxxv] https://www.legalnaija.com/2014/01/legal-rights-of-nigerian-child.html?m=1

[xxxvi] Supra

[xxxvii] Supra

[xxxviii] Supra

[xxxix] Child’s Rights Act, 2003.

[xl] Child ’s Rights Act  (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[xli] Child’s Rights Act, 2003.

[xlii]  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_Rights_Act_in_Nigeria

[xliii] supra

[xliv] The Child’s Rights Act  (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[xlv] The Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[xlvi] supra

[xlvii] The Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[xlviii] The Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[xlix] supra

[l] The Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[li] supra

[lii] Order 24 of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[liii] Order 23 of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[liv] Order 22 of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[lv] Order 26 of the Child’s Rights Act (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2015

[lvi] Child’s Rights Act, 2003.

[lvii] supra

[lviii][lviii]  www.unicef.org/nigeria/child-protection

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