The Administration of Child Justice in Nigeria is a process that involves children who are either in conflict with the law, beyond parental control or children in need of care and protection. In my first article on child justice, I mentioned the various legislations governing child justice in Nigeria and in this article we shall take a careful look at our domestic legislation. The Child Rights Act,Child Rights Law(various states) and Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) are the major legislations in Nigeria. However, these legislations have some loopholes which form part of the challenges of child justice system in Nigeria. Three categories of children fall under justice system according to CYPA and they include; Chidren in conflict with the law, Children in need of care and protection (destitute and abandoned children) Children beyond parental control (truancy and children running away from home). There are institutional care for the above category of children which includes
1. Remand Homes: Detention centre where juveniles awaiting trial are kept for maximum of three months.
2. Approved Schools: These are educational facilities for childrencin contact with the justice system and are placed there for minimum of 3years
3. Borstal Institutions. These facilities are for children between 16-21 years who are kept there for a period of 5years.
These institutional care facilities have depreciated over time. The essence of child justice is for Reformation and Rehabilitation but this may not be totally correct in practice.Children come in contact with adult criminals with no provision for a special procedure for these children in practice.
The Child Rights Act which was created in 2003 to remedy the inadequacies of CYPA has not helped so much as some states are yet to ratify this as part of their laws.
CRITIQUE OF MAJOR LEGISLATIONS ON CHILD JUSTICE IN NIGERIA.
1. Non Adoption of CRA Some States of the Federation.
This is a big issue. The CRA being a domestication of international treaties cannot be imposed on every state because of the provision of S. 12(3) of the Constitution, this provides for ratification of the bill of such laws in states of the federation before it can become a law.
2. Age of Criminal Responsibility.
The CRA does not make provision for the age requirement of criminal responsibility. It only defines the age of a child. There’s need for uniformity as regards the age of criminal responsibility of a child.
3. Cases of Abuse, Trafficking and Child Labour.
These matters are to be tried by the National Industrial Court pursuant to S. 254 CFRN which vest the power on NIC. The question is what law will apply in such proceedings? The Constitution makes no reference to CRA or Family Court in this case and this means such children would be tried in the same environment with adult offenders. This defeats international standards and the essence of child justice.
4. UNLIMITED JURISDICTION OF FAMILY COURT.
The family court whether at the Magistrate or High Court level has jurisdiction to try both criminal and civil proceedings as regards children in conflict with the law, children beyond parental control. This may lead to a congestion of cases and delay justice. S. 215 CRA provides that there must be expeditious hearing of children cases without delay but how practicable is this with congestion of children cases?
5. PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE.
A situation where a child is beyond parental control or in need of care and protection, the presumption of innocence may not be practicable because the child is already seen as a bad egg by parents or caregivers even before the court adjudicate on the matter. This is contrary to s. 210 CRA and s. 36(5) CFRN.
6. RIGHT TO LEGAL REPRESENTATION
s. 155 and 210 CRA provides for child’s right to legal representation. This most times is not practicable especially in cases where a child is beyond parental control and the complainant is the parent of the child. Instead, such children are put in remand homes.
7. RIGHT TO PRIVACY
Conventional court environment are still used in some states to try child offenders. Child offenders should not come in contact with adult offenders at all and the environment for doing this is paramount considering the vulnerability of child offenders.
8. Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA).
This was the major legislation on child justice before the enactment of the Child Rights Act. However, 11 states are yet to adopt it. This legislation emphasises more on the punitive measures rather than reformative measures for child offenders.One major issue, is the issue of death sentence against a juvenile who has not attained the age of 17. This means a person above age 17 and below 18 can be sentenced. This is contrary to the Child Rights Act which specifically prohibits sentencing.
A second issue is conflicting age definition. It defines a child as one under 14 and a young person as one under 17. This is contrary to the definition of a child under CRA which specifies a child as one less than 18 years.
There is a great need for other states which are yet to ratify and adopt the Child’s Right Act to do same with all sense of urgency as the Children and Young Persons Act is not completely in conformity with international standards. Some provisions violates the rights of the child and are not consistent with the best interest of the child. There should be uniform age definition of a child and age of criminal responsibility which must be incorporated in the constitution and other legislations. Issues of child abuse, child trafficking and child labour should be tried by family court in line with CRA and not the NIC. An environment totally different from conventional court should be set aside as family court and funding should be made available for this purpose by government.
Success Oghosa Osasogie is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner and a Professional Volunteer.
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