CHILDREN IN CONFLICT WITH THE LAW – By Success Oghosa Osasogie

The administration of justice is not just peculiar to adults but applies to children. However, considering the vulnerability of children, it is important to know that the procedure differs. There are laws governing the administration of justice for children and we are taking a careful examination of these laws and the administration system. What is the purpose of the various laws regulating child’s administration in Nigeria? Are there loopholes? Is the administration of child justice for punishment and deterrence? These and many more will be our focus in this part, while our next article will go further on the discussion.

WHO ARE CHILDREN IN CONFLICT WITH THE LAW?

Children who are conflict with the law simply means child offenders. It involves children who commit minor offences or crimes. They come in contact with the administration of justice.

LAWS GOVERNING CHILD ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE

1.         Convention on the Rights of a Child (1991)

2.         Africa Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (2001)

3.         Children and Young Persons Act

4.         Child Rights Act (2003)

5.         Penal Code

6.         Criminal Code

The Children and Young Persons Act used to be the main source alongside other laws before the Child Rights Act came into enforcement. The CYPA however was not consistent with the Convention on the Rights of a Child(CRC), Africa Charter on the Rights of a Child (ACRWC) and other international standards. This was a violation and denial of justice to child offenders as they were not treated as child offenders. The coming of the Child Rights Act was to cover the loopholes and ensure child offenders were treated in compliance with international instrument. However, the CRA has only been adopted by 25states in Nigeria with 11 states still treating child offenders with the provisions of CYPA, Penal Code or Criminal Code.

CHILD ADMINISTRATION IN NIGERIA.

The United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF) stated that child justice system is based on the vulnerability of a child unlike adults as they are immature emotionally, psychologically and physically and should not be subjected to formal criminal process.

The Child Justice administration is interchangeably used with Juvenile Justice System based on the United Nations Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules) which states and defines a Juvenile ‘as a child or young person who under the respective legal systems may be dealt with for an offence in a manner which is different from that of an adult’. The Child Rights Act also defines the administration of child justice stating that  no child shall be subjected to the criminal justice process or to criminal sanctions, but a child alleged to have committed an act which would constitute a criminal offence if he were an adult shall be subjected only to the child justice system and processes set out in this Act.

WHY ARE CHILDREN INVOLVED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES OR MINOR OFFENCES?

Crimes are not limited to adults alone, they can be committed by children for various reasons and some include but not limited to

1.         Abusive Homes:  children who are being abused by parents or caregivers have strong likelihood of being involved in crimes or minor offences. They channel their anger or bitterness by committing unlawful acts.

2.         Neglect/Abandonment: when children are neglected or abandoned by parents or loved ones, it creates a psychological trauma and they engage in all sorts of unlawful activities either to find validation or channel their hatred.

3.         Poverty: some children from poor background in a bid for livinghood and survival engage in crimes for a means to an end. Some adults influence them all,even parents and caregivers can use their children as tools to perpetrate evil and crimes

4.         Peer influence: Children who keep bad company are likely to be influenced by friends into crimes such as robbery, stealing, drugs,assault etc.

5.         Poor parenting skills: when a parent refuses to understand the emotional need of a child and fail to spend quality time with them, they seek attention elsewhere and most times in the wrong places.

ANALYSIS OF THE LAWS ON CHILD ADMINISTRATION IN NIGERIA

1.         CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF A CHILD

This is the first recognized law on child administration. The essence of this law on child justice administration is to prevent any issue that may hinder the development of a child and to accord the child respect and dignity. It also emphasises reformation and rehabilitation of the child. Section 37 to 40 are major sections on child justice administration.

Article 37 prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment of a child. It also condemns imposition of capital punishment on the child. It prohibits unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of a child’s liberty. An arrest, detention or imprisonment shall be last resort.

Article 40 states that a child shall be treated with dignity and respect for the child’s human rights while considering the child’s age with the aim of reintegrating the child to the society. It also states that children can only be accused of offences under any national or international law at the time the offences were committed.

For effective implementation of these articles, the application of the Beijing rules, Havana Rules and Riyadh Guidelines play a role which predates the CRC. Rule 11.1(Beijing Rules) provides for the diversion for juvenile offenders without resorting to formal trial by a competent authority. Rule 13.2(Beijing Rules) provides that whenever possible, detention shall be replaced by alternative measures like close supervision, intensive care,placement with a family in an educational setting or home. Some of these provisions are incorporated in the Child Rights Act of Nigeria.

2.         African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990)

This provides for the special treatment of a child and states that the essential aim is for his or her reformation, re-integration, into his or her family and social rehabilitation. Most of the provisions are in accordance with the CRC.

3.         Child Rights Act (2003)

This contains most provisions that address  the Administration of Child Justice in Nigeria. It was created to replace the Juvenile Justice Administration which was not in conformity with international standards. However, CRA has only been adopted by 25 states and 11 states still apply the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA). Section 204-237 makes provision for child justice administration. Section 209 provides that judicial proceeding shall be the last resort when dealing with offences committed by a child. The Police or Prosecutor has the power to dispose the case by settling the case without resorting to formal trial but other means as supervision, guidance, restitution, and compensation of victims. This is majorly for less serious offences and taking into consideration the best interest of the child. Section 213 provides for adjudication through the Family Court. It also prohibits the use of conviction and sentence while section 221 prohibits imprisonment or death penalty or corporal punishment.

4.         Administration of Criminal Justice Act

This law recognizes the Rights of a child particularly section 452 as it relates to bail. Section 493 repeals the Criminal Procedure Act which contains provisions that are inconsistent with international standards on child justice.

5.         The Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA)

This was the major law on child justice before the enactment of CRA. It is still applicable in 11 states of the Federation because these states are yet to adopt the CRA. It provides that a child is one under the age of 14 and a young person is one above 14 but under 17, this contradicts the CRA and other international provisions which provides that a child is one under the age of 18. Section 12 provides that children under age 17 cannot be sentenced to death. The implication is that anyone who has attained the age of 17 but below 18 can be sentenced to death. This contradicts the provisions of the CRA which prohibits dath penalty of a child.

CONCLUSION

The Nigerian government has made tremendous efforts in enacting laws in accordance with international standards as regards the child justice administration in Nigeria, however, there is need to improve in some areas. Our next article shall address some of the loopholes in these laws and the need for government and stakeholders to pay attention to these areas as regards child justice administration in Nigeria.

Success Oghosa Osasogie is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner and a professional volunteer.

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