29 January 2013

Nigeria: Stop Crimes Against Children


For allegedly beating his 11-year-old son, Michael, to death in September 2009, Mr Obot Friday was, last Monday, sentenced by a Lagos High Court in Ikeja to four years imprisonment. The 37-year-old man hit his son severally with a kitchen spatula (commonly called garri turner) at their residence in Ikeja for refusing to sleep at home the previous day. The offence contravenes Section 325 of the Criminal Code Law Cap C. Vol.2, Laws of Lagos State 2003. At the time Lagos State was enacting this law, Nigeria had adopted the Child Rights Law. It is a domestication of the United Nations Universal Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, which over 178 countries including Nigeria ratified. It provides a 54-article panacea to the ignoble acts on children, especially on a child's freedom from ill-treatment, sexual and economic exploitation, to the right to his or her own opinion, education, health care, and economic opportunity.

Although this law was passed at the federal level, it has not been effective in the states. Till date, only 16 out of the country's 36 states have passed the Act. This has made children in most parts of the country vulnerable to incessant abuse by irresponsible adults and severe punishment cannot be visited on them. For instance, in Kogi State, also last week, the Police command arrested a 49-year-old school principal, Mr. Christopher Ogbeun, for inflicting a high degree of burns on his 10-year-old son, Stephen Ogbeun.

The young boy was allegedly abused by his father for destroying some of his vital office documents which were kept at home. According to the state commissioner of police, Mr Mohammed Katsina, it took the intervention of an ambush squad to save Stephen's life. Last year, three buses filled with children, apparently on child trafficking mission to the west coast of Africa, were intercepted by soldiers at Okene, Kogi State. Women have been arrested for allegedly begging with hired children. A good number of children are hawking wares in traffic while their colleagues are studying in schools. These are criminal activities by adult members of society who should show these malleable kids love as well as guide and protect them so they can grow to be responsible citizens.

It is incomprehensible why our government continues to pay lip service to the Child's Right Act, while the evil perpetrated against children continues to be on the rise. Child abuse manifests in form of maltreatment of children, sexual harassment, denial of education, child labour, intimidation and molestation, physical assault, neglect, and child trafficking, among others. It constitutes a major threat to the development of children across the world and UNICEF states that sub-Saharan African and south Asia are most vulnerable because of prevalent poverty and deprivation in these countries. Children especially have been denied basic rights to dignity and human existence. We wonder what is making the implementation of the Child's Rights Act difficult and why people who abuse them are allowed to go scot-free or, at the best of times, with a spank on the wrist like it happened to the father who killed his child in Lagos.

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