Section 277 of the Child Rights Act (2003) defines a child as a person who has not attained the age of eighteen (18). Children deserve to grow up in a happy, safe, healthy, productive and enabling environment for learning and development. They are entitled to security and a decent upbringing and must be treated with utmost care and respect. They are both the present and the future. The boy and girl child of today are the men and women of tomorrow. They epitomize the next generation of lawyers, doctors, teachers, presidents, senators, leaders, parents, business owners etc. Their ideas, skills and energies are very relevant for the attainment of sustainable development. Children, however, need special care and attention in social protection policy as they constitute the most vulnerable population worldwide and are naturally powerless at enforcing their rights.
Children have a right to be protected from all forms of violence, embedded in several national and international treaties and laws. The Nigerian government has made several efforts to curb child abuse and violence in the country. At the regional and international level, Nigeria has signed numerous treaties aimed at protecting children from violence, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2000) and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000). At the national level, Nigeria enacted and adopted the Child Rights Act (CRA) in 2003 to domesticate the Convention of the Rights of the Child. There is also the national Priority Agenda (NPA) for Vulnerable Children in Nigeria (2013-2020), which is the follow-up to the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (2006-2010). The NPA serves as a policy document which committed the Nigerian government to guarantee that all children will be safe from abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence. In 2015, Nigeria adopted the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act which provided sanctions for various forms of violence against children, including female genital mutilation/cutting, trafficking, and child marriage. The Nigerian government has also engaged several governmental and non-governmental partners to address issues of child protection both at the state and federal levels.
Despite the existence of such laws, treaties and engagement, violence against children have become a prevalent and worrisome issue, with six out of ten children suffering from one or more forms of emotion, physical or sexual violence daily across different classes, culture, communities, circumstances and settings including in the home and by family members before they reach the age of eighteen (UNICEF, 2016). In recent times, there has been a rapid upsurge in child rights violation and abuses in Nigeria. The media and newspaper coverage is filled with reports of children being physically and sexually abused and violated in various parts of Nigeria, including Ibadan, Benin, Lagos to mention but a few. Evidence and reports from around the world have shown that, in about 87 per cent of cases of child abuse/violence, the perpetrator is known to, and trusted by the child, as they presented themselves as extremely kind, nice and people, making it difficult for the children to report such cases.
Violence against children is a human rights issue and a public health concern because of the negative short to long term social and health consequences and implications which may vary for so many reasons, including the relationship with the perpetrator, the age of the child, the severity and duration of the abuse etc. Violence against children impinges on their human rights and threatens their development and survival. Child abuse can also harm a child’s cognitive development and may lead to language deficits.
The foremost way to protect children from all forms of violence is to prevent it from occurring hence efforts should be made at combating the root causes of child rights violation. The Nigerian government should develop an effective child protection laws and strategies. State legislature across Nigeria should enact and implement the Child Rights Act and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act as it will go a long way in protecting the welfare of children. The judiciary should also be active in the punishment of sex offenders and should not be biased in passing judgement. Family courts should be established in all states to ensure and promote justice in the family. Counselling sessions should also be made available for children and their families to provide them with information and support that they need to move forward with their lives even after such cases.
Parents have a special role to play in determining whether or not their children will be abused or violated and so it is very important for them to create time to be with these children to provide attention, training, direction and supervision. Women/mothers should be highly encouraged to report incidents of child abuse/violence without judgement or criticism from members of the public. Child protection is however not a one person’s job and should not be left strictly to mothers, parents and teachers. Everyone has a role and responsibility to safeguard children from various forms of violence. Educational measures such as public sensitization and awareness campaign should be conducted in communities across Nigeria to combat negative societal attitudes; change attitudes in society to children and their upbringing, to violence and harmful behaviour in general and especially towards children; promote positive child-rearing and make people aware of the Child Rights Act and its provision. Children are a major source of information concerning what is happening to them and so parents and caregivers must create time to listen to the spoken and unspoken word of these children. There is also a need to strengthen children’s responsiveness and ability to protect themselves from violence especially from known perpetrators and to encourage them to speak out whenever they find themselves in such situations.
Children are assets and sources of joy to the world and as such child protection should, therefore, be a major part of Nigeria’s social protection policy. Protecting the Nigerian child from violence will have a positive implication on Nigeria’s socio-economic well-being. It will go a long way in building lasting peace and help in the attainment of sustainable development goals.
Africa Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990.
Child’s Rights Act 2003: Act No. 26, Vol. 90. Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette.
Lindon, J., & Webb, J. (2016). Safeguarding and child protection: Linking theory and practice. 5th Edition. London: Hodder Education.
National Population Commission of Nigeria, UNICEF Nigeria, and the U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Violence against Children in Nigeria: Findings from a National Survey 2014. Abuja, Nigeria: UNICEF.
Sanderson, C. (2004). Seduction of children: Empowering parents and teachers to protect children from child sexual abuse. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
United Nations. (1989). United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child. New York: UN.
Stephanie E. Effevottu
Director of Welfare, Building Blocks for Peace Foundation