About 10 years ago, Nigeria domesticated the principles contained in both the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and AU's African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), recognising the rights of children and also enabling children with disabilities to enjoy their rights fully by making special provisions for their care and protection. The Act replaced the existing Children and Young Persons Act and broadened the law in relation to children's rights and responsibilities, protection of the rights of children, wardship of children, fostering, adoption, guardianship, institutional treatment, custody, supervision and care, survival and protection.
The Act ensures that the minimum age for criminal responsibility is applicable to all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, and guarantees the right to appropriate legal assistance and defence. The law also provides for speedier and fairer trials and for alternative measure of last resort at the shortest possible time, thereby eliminating the culture of imprisoning children on the slightest opportunity.
At the last count, 25 states of the federation have enacted their own laws consistent with the Child Rights Act within their respective jurisdictions. The remaining 11 states are still sitting on the fence. Had the issue been one of collecting federal funds, there is no doubt that all the states would have competed to be the first to belt the tape.
We live in dangerous times when children are increasingly becoming a regular part of our crime landscape. They find themselves on the other side of the law for a variety of reasons: social inequality, poverty, dysfunctional family, retrogressive cultural practices, failed education system and peer pressure. There are also the factors of social and religious upheavals in which children are used as foot soldiers. Unfortunately these child offenders are often treated like adults and mixed with adults in prisons. Many are convicted and jailed without fair hearing or having the benefit of counselling by a social worker.
Now, more than ever before, all state governments ought to mount a sustained campaign for responsible parenthood because most of the children in harm's way were sired by parents who could not be bothered about their welfare. There are 24 million children not attending school in Nigeria. Also, we need to eliminate vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), a big scourge among children married off too early in life. It is the duty of state governments to ensure that children within their geographical borders are enabled through proper nurturing and opportunities to become successful economic players in future. It is criminal neglect on the part of state governments not to enact and enforce the Child Rights Law. The children we fail to protect and groom today will lurk in dark alleys to torment our future tomorrow.