By Abdallah el-Kurebe
Cruel happenings surrounding the child today have surged the calls for the respect of the rights of the vulnerable group. Globally, children suffer all manner of ill treatments; most are abandoned or ‘sold’ into slavery.
Man’s inhumanity to the child has drawn the attention of the United Nations General Assembly as well as the adoption by it of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on November 20, 1989. In a manner of domestication, the OAU Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRCW) in July 1990.
Being an African leader, Nigeria signed both multilateral agreements in 1991 and ratified same in 2000. The CRC outlines the rights of children under 18 to be respected and protected. It also wants the rights to be implemented.
After hues and cries, the draft Child Rights Bill was eventually passed into Law by the National Assembly in July 2003 after which President Olusegun Obasanjo gave assent to it in September 2003. The law is named, Child Rights Act 2003.
The CRA provides certain rights for the children including freedom from discrimination, right to good medical care, food, water, shelter, education. Also, it identifies certain acts as violation of child’s right. These include torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, bethrothal and child marriage, genital mutilation, etc.
It also provides for family courts to adjudicate over cases in respect of children; prohibits capital and corporal punishments for children under age 18.
Thirteen years after today, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara states have not domesticated the Rights Act.
Sokoto, which is one of the states that has not domesticated the CRA, is one state which State Assembly was said to have threw the idea of domesticating the law on conception. In effect, while there was no political will on the part of government, religious and other issues were said to have truncated the moves for the Acts’ adoption.
A former member of the House of Assembly who did not want to be quoted said that “I did not support it because many of the provisions in the Act violates Islamic religion, including the issues of marriage and child upbringing.”
UNICEF’s Chief of Field Office (CFO) in Sokoto, Mohammed Mohiuddin told me that the Fund works under the Child Rights Convention (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
He explained that although Nigeria is a signatory to the Conventions and the states were expected to domesticate them, most of those states that have not is because of what they consider ‘questionable’ clauses.
“Domestication of the CRA helps for the welfare of children but some states see some clauses as questionable. That does not however mean that they are not working for the welfare of children.
“For example in Sokoto, there are many activities on children that we are doing, led by government and supported by UNICEF. The only thing is that there is no legal framework to back our activities.
“So, I will say that there are not many challenges but it the CRA got domesticated, it will give some privileges and legal coverages towards the activities that the government is doing,” he explained.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Save the Child Initiative Nigeria, Abdulganiyu Abubakar told me that the CRA being an international, regional and national instrument that was important to assess the efforts of governments.
“It is a great concern that Sokoto had removed itself from enlightened states. Without the Act, it means that there is no instrument to assess the efforts of government,” he said.
Abubakar posits that if the state government saw anything wrong with the Act, it could look at it and modify those sections it is not comfortable with, citing the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
“If Sokoto state sees some provisions of the Act as being positive values, it has the mandate to look at the clause and expunge those sections they are not comfortable with. They did same with the NHIS law and we expected same on the CRA,” he explained.
Abubakar further said that with the rate child abuse in the state, the need for the Act was now.
“Take for example, in Sokoto state, we have handles over 100 cases of child abuse both involving girls and boys within the metropolis and local communities. The Act will do well to check these rampant cases of child abuse in the state,” he emphasised.
Therefore, there is the need for the domestication of the Act in Sokoto state. While the state government should see the need to introduce it to the House as an executive bill, the House of Assembly should also see it as a duty to provide the law that would protect our children.
Family courts should be established to try cases involving children below 18 years. All stakeholders in the rights of children should embark on sensitization campaigns for the adoption of the Act in the state.
The law itself should be translated into common language for the understanding of the general populace.