The rights of a child in Nigeria are enshrined in several laws both national and international.
Who is a Child
The term “child” has been described by different documents both national and international. According to Oxford Advanced Dictionary, a child is a young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines a child as a person who is under the age of majority.
In Section 29(4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a child was defined to be a below full age and “full age” means the age of eighteen years and above.
The United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child, 1989, defined a child to be any human being who is under the age of 18, unless the age majority is attained earlier under national legislation. United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child, 1989, in its article 2 defined a child to be every human being below the age of 18 years.
Before the discourse on the right of children gained worldwide recognition, children were seen as some vulnerable beings having no rights of their own.
Arguments as to whether children deserve rights of their own was taken up by two main theorists like Freeman, Holt, Eekelaar and MacCormick among others and they were of the view that children do have rights of their own and should be protected not because they are capable of exercising their rights but because they are humans. It does not matter whether those rights are exercised by their parents or guardians on their behalf.
In opposition of these theories are the Will or Choice theory which states that a right holder is one who is capable of exercising the right himself but since children cannot exercise these rights themselves, they cannot be said to be right holders.
Children belong to one of the most vulnerable members of the society. Despite their innocent nature they have been mostly abused and ignored.
National and International Documents on the Rights of a Child
Some national and international documents that contains the rights of a child are:
1. 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
2. Child Rights Act, 2003.
3. Labour Act, LFN 1990.
4. United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child, 1989.
5. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
1. 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended)
The constitution is the supreme law in Nigeria and it also contains the fundamental human rights in its Chapter IV (Sections 33-46), which also apply to children.
These rights include:
1. The Right to life (section 33)
2. The Right to dignity of human person (section 34)
3. The Right to personal liberty (section 35)
4. The Right to fair hearing (section 36)
5. The Right to privacy and family life (section 37)
6. The Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (section 38)
7. The Right to freedom of expression and the press (section 39)
8. The Right to freedom of movement (section 40)
9. The Right to freedom from discrimination (section 41)
10. The Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria (section 42)
11. The Right against compulsory acquisition of one’s property without compensation (section 43)
2. Child’s Right Act, 2003
In addition to the rights provided by the Nigerian Constitution, the Child’s Right Act, 2003 expanded and provided for more defined rights specific to the protection of the rights of the Nigerian child.
The Child’s Right Act 2003 is the law that guarantees the rights of all children in Nigeria, providing for the best interest of a child to be of paramount consideration in all actions. It also provides for a child to be given protection and care necessary for his or her wellbeing.
These rights are provided in Part II (sections 3 – 18) of the Child’s Right Act 2003 and they are as follows;
1. Application of Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution (section 3)
2. Right to survival and development (section 4)
3. Right to name (section 5)
4. Freedom of association(section 6)
5. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (section 7)
6. Right to private and family life (section 8)
7. Right to freedom of movement (section 9)
8. Right to freedom from discrimination (section 10)
9. Right to dignity of the child (section 11)
10. Right to leisure, recreation and cultural activities (section 12)
11. Right to health and heal services (section 13)
12. Right to parental care, protection and maintenance (section 14)
13. Right of a child to free, compulsory and universal basic education, etc (section 15)
14. Right of a child in need of special protection measure (section 16)
15. Right of the unborn child to protection against harm, etc (section 17)
16. Contractual right of a child (section 18)
Child marriage and child betrothal are prohibited and punished under the Child’s Right Act, 2003.
The Act further criminalizes tattoos and skin marks, exposure to use, production and trafficking of narcotic drugs, etc, use of children other criminal activities, prohibition of exploitative labour, prohibition of buying, selling, hiring or otherwise dealing in children for the purpose of hawking or begging for alms or prostitution, etc. unlawful sexual intercourse with a child, etc,forms of sexual abuse and exploitation of a child, prohibition of recruitment of children into the armed forces, and several others. The Act also adopted the provisions of sections 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63 of the Labour Act.
3. Labour Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
The Labour Act provides comprehensive legislation on conditions of work and employment.
The Child’s Right Act, 2003 adopted the provisions of sections 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63 of the Labour Act. Now we will examine those sections to know how they are related to the rights of the child.
Section 59 of the Act, prohibits the employment of a child especially in industrial, commercial or agricultural undertaking that is likely to injure his physical development. Section 60 of the Act, prohibits children from doing any night work. Section 61 of the Act, no child shall be employed in a vessel as a trimmer or stoker. Section 62 of the Act, register of young persons in industrial undertakings. Section 63 of the Act, regulations.
4. United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child, 1989
As an international human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children, the convention is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.
It has inspired governments to change laws and policies and make investments so that more children finally get the health care and nutrition they need to survive. A brief review of the provisions of the convention are provided below: Article 1: Everyone under the age of 18 years has all the rights in this convention.
Article 2: The convention applies to everyone no matter the race, religion, abilities, whatever they think or say, whatever the type of family they come from.
Article 3: All organizations concerned with children should work towards what is best for each child.
Article 4: Government should make these rights available to children.
Article 5: Governments should respect the rights and responsibilities of families to guide their children so that as they grow up they learn to use their rights properly.
Article 6: Children have the right to live a full life. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily.
Article 7: Children have the right to a legally registered name and nationality. Children also have the right to know their parents and as far as possible to be cared for by them.
Article 8: Government should respect a child’s right to a name, a nationality and family ties.
Article 9: Children should not be separated from their parents unless it is for their own good.
Article 10: Families who live in different countries should be allowed to move between those countries so that parents and children can stay in contact, or get back together as a family.
Article 11: Governments should take steps to stop children being taken out of their own country illegally.
Article 12: Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that affects them and have their opinions taken into account.
Article 13: Children have the right to get and to share information as long as the information is not damaging to them or to others.
Article 14: Children have the right to think and believe what they want and to practice their religion as long as they are not stopping other people from enjoying their rights.
Article 15: Children have the right to meet other children and young persons and to join groups and organizations as long as this does not stop other people from enjoying their rights’
Article 16: Children have the right to privacy.
Article 17: Children have the right to reliable information from the media.
5. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
The rights of the child is enshrined in the Chapter 1 of the article and they are as follows:
Article 5: Every child has the right to life
Article 6: Every child has the right to be named and registered at birth.
Article 7: Every child has a right to express his/her opinion
Article 8: Every child has the right to free association and peaceful assembly in conformity with the law.
Article 9: Every child has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Article 10: Children have right to privacy.
Article 11: Every child has right to education.
Article 12: Children have the right to play and participate fully in cultural and artistic life.
Article 13: Every child who is mentally and physically disabled has the right to special protection to ensure his/her dignity, promote his self-reliance and active participation in the community. Article 14: Every child has the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical, mental and spiritual health.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In conclusion, having critically analyzed these documents it is very obvious that some acts we engage in, whether knowingly or unknowingly, are infringements against the rights of a child. Thus there is need for more education, broadcast and awareness of these rights.
Children’s rights are also human rights and they must be treated equally with respect and dignity not just because they are leaders of tomorrow but because as small as they are, they are still human beings and all human beings are born inherent with fundamental freedoms and rights.
About the Author. Enemuo Chioma Sheila (Mrs.) is a Legal practitioner and human rights activist. She has an LL.B from Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Anambra State, LL.M in view. She is the founder and principal partner of LexDana Legal Consult, a law firm in Anambra State, versed in real estate, company, contract, election and women and minority law.
She has written several articles including articles on the rights of women and children and has taken different steps to uphold human rights especially the rights of women and children.