Committee on Rights of Child examines report of Nigeria

Committee on the Rights of the Child
26 May 2010

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the combined third and fourth periodic report of Nigeria on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report, Iyom Josephine Anenih, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, said that Nigeria had mainstreamed the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into national legislation and practice with a 2003 law, the Child’s Rights Act. Thirty six states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had adopted the law as well, and efforts were being stepped up to ensure the remaining 12 states adopted the law so that all Nigerian children could enjoy the rights guaranteed in the Convention.

As it pursued universal adoption of the Child’s Rights Act, Nigeria was also addressing the challenges associated with effective implementation at all tiers of government. Great strides had been made in the area of providing an enabling policy environment, including a National Child Policy, which translated the Child’s Rights Act into specific objectives and targets. Guidelines had been established for the management and monitoring of orphanages and other childcare institutions and were being disseminated nationwide. Ms. Anenih was pleased to point out that family courts had been established in eight states and the Federal Capital Territory to ensure the effective enforcement of the Child’s Rights Act.

In preliminary concluding remarks, Committee Expert Kamel Filali, who served as Rapporteur for the report of Nigeria, said that the Committee was pleased with the candid and direct discussion that enabled them to exchange information and enabled the Committee to gain a picture of the situation of the rights of the child and how they were applied in Nigeria. The Committee was pleased with the passage of the Child’s Rights Act and felt that efforts were being made to promote this instrument despite difficulties encountered due to the diverse nature and size of Nigeria.

Other Experts raised a series of concerns and questions pertaining to, among other things, the juvenile justice system, the harmonization of Sharia law with international treaty law, harmful traditional practices, particularly in the area of female genital mutilation, childhood marriages, the status of children with disabilities, child labour and accusations of witchcraft against children. Committee Experts also expressed concerns about child trafficking, street children in Nigeria, the lack of access to free education and the low completion rates for primary and secondary school.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Nigeria towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 11 June 2010.

The delegation of Nigeria included representatives from numerous governmental bodies including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Federal Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Senate Committee on Women Affairs, the National Child Rights Implementation Committee, the Nigeria Immigration Service, the National Population Commission, the National Commission for Refugees and the Children’s Parliament.

As one of the 193 States parties to the Convention, Nigeria is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the treaty. The delegation was on hand throughout the day to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Thursday, 27 May 2010 at 10 a.m., when it will begin consideration of the second periodic report of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (CRC/C/MKD/2) as well as its initial reports under the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/MKD/1) and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/MKD/1) in Chamber A. In Chamber B the Committee will begin review of the third periodic report of Japan under the Convention (CRC/C/JPN/3) as well as the initial reports of Japan under the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/JPN/1) and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/JPN/1).

Report of Nigeria

According to the combined third and fourth periodic report of Nigeria (CRC/C/NGA/3-4), HIV/AIDS has had an enormous impact on the nation’s children. According to the 2006 report published by the Federal Ministry of Health, there were about 2.9 to 3.3 million adults living with HIV/AIDS. The number of children orphaned and others made vulnerable by the HIV/AIDS epidemic has increased drastically since 2003. The estimated orphan population in Nigeria was 7 million in 2003, out of which 1.8 million was due to AIDS. It is projected that the numbers will increase exponentially to 8.2 million by 2010.
A pilot survey of street children revealed that more than 50 per cent of street children covered in the three pilot states were reportedly living with Malams (Islamic teachers) while 17.6 per cent lived under the bridge. Those found living or staying in their parental homes were between 6 to 10 per cent. These children (23.4 per cent) were found to have stayed on the street for up to 6 months; whilst less than 10 per cent of them had stayed between 3 to 4 years on the street. The major problems faced by street children were trafficking, automobile accidents, kidnapping and ailments such as fever, skin diseases and hunger. About 80 per cent of street children were faced with the problem of arrest/harassment with sexual harassment being a major issue in Lagos State.
The Immigration Service recently established a specialised Anti-Human Trafficking Department. The Nigeria Police Force also has a unit dealing with internal and external trafficking. Several NGOs have undertaken awareness programmes on the issue of human trafficking, especially of women and children. The impact of Nigeria’s cooperation with countries of destination has resulted in an increase in the number of arrests and prosecution of those involved in women and child trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation. Development partners and international agencies and NGOs have given material and technical support to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons to assist in the rescue, rehabilitation and social reintegration of trafficked persons.
Presentation of Report

IYOM JOSEPHINE ANENIH, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, presenting the report, said that it encapsulated the actions taken as well as the measures put in place to give effect to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It also highlighted the challenges that Nigeria faced in the process of domestication and implementation of the Convention.

Ms. Anenih went on to say that Nigeria mainstreamed the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into national legislation and practice with a 2003 law, the Child’s Rights Act. Thirty six states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had adopted the law as well, and efforts were being stepped up to ensure the remaining 12 states adopted the law so that all Nigerian children could enjoy the rights guaranteed in the Convention.

As it pursued universal adoption of the Child’s Rights Act, Ms. Anenih said that Nigeria was also addressing the challenges associated with effective implementation at all tiers of government. Great strides had been made in the area of providing an enabling policy environment, including a National Child Policy, which translated the Child’s Rights Act into specific objectives and targets. Guidelines had been established for the management and monitoring of orphanages and other childcare institutions and were being disseminated nationwide. Ms. Anenih was pleased to point out that family courts had been established in eight states and the Federal Capital Territory to ensure the effective enforcement of the Child’s Rights Act.

As part of the national response to address the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria, a National Plan of Action on Orphans and Vulnerable Children had been approved and disseminated widely to local and international partners to guide intervention efforts.

According to Ms. Anenih, the lack of data on the status of children had hindered their efforts to implement the Convention, but this was being addressed. As part of this effort, a National Situation Assessment and Analysis on Orphans and Vulnerable Children had been conducted and the country now had the statistics to facilitate a coordinated response to the phenomenon of orphans and vulnerable children. Other data generation efforts included baseline studies on child health indicators, child protection, children with disabilities, and a national demographic health survey. Instruments for these surveys were scrutinized and monitored to ensure that the data gaps in child development programmes were being bridged.

Ms. Anenih informed the Committee that Nigeria had a vibrant Children’s Parliament at both the national and state levels to give children the right of participation and inclusion.

Nigeria’s three tier system of government included federal, state and local governments. Ms. Anenih said there were serious challenges in the coordination of child development programmes at all three levels of government, but consultations had been initiated to address these issues. There would be an analysis of structures at this level, capacity building of key personnel, promotion of community participation, and coordination among government ministries, departments and agencies.

Ms. Anenih said that the State party had received and responded to the list of issues raised by the Committee. The questions that were raised focused on the domestication and implementation of the Child Rights Act, obstacles posed by religion and culture in the implementation of the Act, the compatibility of the county’s development plans with child rights, and budget allocation to social sectors among other topics. Ms. Anenih was pleased to inform the Committee that comprehensive responses to the list of issues had been provided on what Nigeria had done and would do to improve the situation of the Nigerian child.

Ms. Anenih acknowledged that there were challenges posed by Nigeria’s ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, but these were not insurmountable. The new administration was committed and willing to improve on the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Questions by Experts

KAMEL FILALI, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the Report of Nigeria, said that the report would be the basis for a frank and open discussion of the successes and challenges faced by Nigeria in implementing the Convention, and he thanked the delegation for their extensive and timely response to the list of issues. Mr. Filali said there were 157 million inhabitants in Nigeria, 40 per cent of whom were under the age of 15, and Nigeria was making monumental efforts to promote the development of children in the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Rapporteur also acknowledged that Nigeria was making progress, particularly in the area of legislation and policy framework, despite unfortunate events that took place from time to time in the country that rendered children victims.

There were, however some areas of concern which the Rapporteur wanted to discuss. Mr. Filali said that preceding recommendations of the Committee were not taken into account such as coordination measures, data collection, the definition of the child in terms of age, the use of the death penalty in juvenile justice, children with disabilities, and corporal punishment.

The Rapporteur pointed out that Nigeria had signed the two Optional Protocols to the Convention 10 years ago and they were still not ratified. Mr. Filali felt that the two Optional Protocols would provide for improved application of the rights of the child in Nigeria and he wanted to know when the country planned to ratify them.

Another issue related to the 12 states in the country which had yet to introduce the rights of the child into their legislation. Sharia law was also practiced in Nigeria and this could make it difficult to find areas of agreement. He noted that the country had waged publicity campaigns, but sometimes this was not enough. What was being done specifically at the level of these 12 states to introduce and apply the law as well as harmonize Sharia with international treaty law?

Mr. Filali then asked what was happening to the bill on the protection of witnesses and how did Nigeria work with sultans, emirs and chiefs to apply the Convention?

The Rapporteur welcomed the efforts of the State and civil society to work together, but wanted to know if the State was shedding some of its responsibilities under the Convention and leaving too much to civil society and he asked how much money non-governmental organizations got from the Government?

Nigeria’s human rights body was downgraded to Status B from Status A, as there seemed to be a lack of independence. What access was the Special Rapporteur on child rights given and what means did he have at his disposal to ensure that the rights of children were being implemented?

Efforts to combat corruption had been made, but they did not appear to have the desired results. What means were allocated to combat corruption such as training for police and the judicial system?

Mr. Filali then noted that there were groups who acted as morality militias in the country and he wanted more information from the delegation on these hezbas.

Other Experts then raised a series of questions pertaining to the coordination between federal, state and local governments on the rights of the child. How could the State party protect the rights of the child if the state and local governments had the option of not implementing the laws?

The Committee raised the question of how child rights goals were linked to actual budget lines and how resources were allocated to help the State meet these goals.

The issue of discrimination and gender inequality was also raised. An Expert wanted to know what was being done to address this issue and what was being done to end harmful practices against women and girls, including female genital mutilation, child marriages and ethnic and religious violence.

One Committee Expert noted with concern that there seemed to be no systematic dissemination of the Convention or training of judges and other human rights practitioners, or human rights education in schools to make people aware of the rights of the child. What measures had been taken, if any, to address human rights education and training?

The delegation was asked what efforts were being made to address the dearth of birth registrations in the country.

A Committee member asked whether having a department for children in the women’s ministry was enough and who monitored the budget of this ministry as well as the coordination between ministries.

In terms of the definition of a child, what system was in place to ensure that local governments were following these definitions so that it filtered down to the lowest levels of government?

The delegation was asked what was being done to ensure the rights of children in rural areas, not only cities or towns. Also, were the views of the child respected throughout areas of society, including in judicial matters?

The Committee noted that Nigeria had been urged to abolish the death penalty for young people, but there were a number of prisoners on death row who had been sentenced to death before they were 18. This was also linked to birth registration because if people were not registered properly their ages could be incorrect. There was also the issue of Sharia law, which prescribed the death penalty for a number of crimes and also defined a child using a different standard so this needed to be addressed as well.

Under the topic of the right to life, the Committee expressed concern about the large number of children killed or orphaned by interethnic violence.

The Committee said that freedom of belief and religion needed to be protected by the State so that everyone, including children, could practice their religious beliefs in safety and security. The Committee asked the delegation for more information on the Interfaith Council as well as what was being done to reduce interfaith and interethnic violence.

The delegation was asked to explain how the superior right of the child was actually applied in practice. Was there any case law or court rulings the delegation could point out to illustrate how this law was put into practice?

The Committee also asked for more information on the respect to private life of the child, what access children had to information, and what rights children had to assembly.

Mr. Filali asked a follow up question about reports of ill treatment of children while in police custody. He also wanted to know what changes had been made in corporal punishment laws at the federal and state levels based on the Committee’s previous recommendation.

Response by the Delegation

Responding to those questions and others, the delegation said that in terms of coordination between state bodies and ministries there was currently a bill before the national assembly to establish a child protection agency and this would be the main body to coordinate all the efforts to protect children. Nigeria was also in the process of amending the Constitution so this bill would be applicable all over the country.

On the topic of data collection, the delegation said that this had been stepped up in 2004 and some of this data had been used in their current report. It was an ongoing process and once a baseline was established, they could build on that by providing updates and identifying where there were gaps and start collecting data in those areas as well. Some of this data was already available to the public in hard copy, but it would also be published online.

The delegation then turned to the definition of the child. There were some states that had not adopted the age of 18 as the age of adulthood. The State felt that it was best not to discourage state level governments from passing the Child’s Right Act in whole because they did not agree to the clause that defined 18 as the age of adulthood. If they wanted to define the age of adulthood as age 16, let them do it and the federal government would use advocacy to get them to change their minds. They were dealing with age old, entrenched cultural beliefs, so the Government would accept this age limit for now, but they continued to talk with these states with the hope of changing the law in the future.

One Committee Expert expressed concern that this approach was a chink in the armour of the law because it could lead to things like child marriage, which was harmful to the child so perhaps the State should be more forceful in setting the age limit. The delegation said it was a challenge, but one they could conquer. They had found that what worked best was engagement, advocacy and persuasion of religious leaders, sultans, emirs, etc. They could not approach these people with a confrontational stance, they had to approach them with deference and respect and they would reciprocate and do what they knew was right.

In terms of whether the State was abdicating its responsibility to civil society, the delegation assured the Committee this was not the case. The State did work with civil society organizations and it encouraged them to maintain their position as a government watchdog. Nigeria was a large country and there were many non-governmental organizations that the Government supported, so it might seem that the Government was not involved, but this was not the case. They wanted a cooperative stance with civil society to further synergy in the interest of children.

With regards to the rights of children in rural areas and the participation of children in society, the delegation informed the Committee that the Children’s Parliament was not composed only of privileged children. The Children’s Parliament was active at the federal, state and local levels so all children were represented.

Further Questions by Experts

The Committee asked the delegation for further information about the Children’s Parliament. How was it organized and how was coordination carried out over the various levels and did the parliament serve as the watchdog of children’s rights?

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that the Children’s Parliament was carried out under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and the Parliament acted in consultation with government bodies to add input on issues that affected children. The Children’s Parliament was the voice of the voiceless Nigerian children. The Parliament was not there to make sure the rights were implemented; it was there to speak out on the issues the members felt affected them as children so that they would have input.

On the issue of birth registration, the delegation said up to 60 per cent of Nigerian women preferred to deliver their children at home so new initiatives had to be put in place to get these women to register their children. They were doing outreach to get women to come to facilities with their children using a health week every six months in every state to get them to come into these centres and register and immunize their children. The delegation said that at this point Nigeria did not have the capacity to offer mobile registration facilities. They were focused on building capacity in health centres with well-trained, qualified staff and working with the National Population Commission. They did not have the financial or personnel resources to send people out into the field. The delegation said there was no payment required to register a child.

The Committee asked if Nigeria had considered banning home births in an effort to increase registrations and cut down on untrained midwives. The delegation said the State could not ban home births. Nigeria was a big country and it was one thing to pass a law, it was another to implement it. These were age old practices and they could discourage it, but they were not as dangerous as people thought they were. In every locality there were midwives who were being taught modern skills, especially in the area of hygiene.

Further Questions by Experts

The Committee pointed out that the Government could require midwives to report any live births they attended, so why not obligate them to do so? The Committee also asked for clarification on fees required to pay for registration if it was done more than 60 days after the birth of a child.

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that midwives played an important role in pre-natal and post-natal care, particularly in rural areas, they were the health system’s foot soldiers. They were part of a holistic approach to ensuring the rights of the mother and her child. There was a school of midwifery in every state, and they had doubled their enrolment so there would be more trained professionals to attend to women and children.

The delegation stressed there was no fee for birth registrations.

The delegation then turned to the Committee’s concerns about the right to life. In terms of juveniles on death row, the delegation said there were no young persons currently on death row who were under the age of 18.

A Committee Expert clarified the question by asking whether there were any adults on death row who were convicted and sentenced as minors.

The delegation said that there were no cases of minors on death row currently in the Nigerian prison system and even before the Child’s Right Act people under the age of 17 were not subject to capital punishment. There had been Supreme Court cases on this topic and the court had ruled that the law that was in effect at the time of the commission of the crime was applicable, which meant that no one could be sentenced to death if they were under the age of 17, or 18 in certain states, at the time of the crime. Even under the Sharia penal code there was the rule that children under the age of responsibility could not be sentenced to death.

The Committee pointed out that Sharia law did not always define a child as someone under the age of 18 so that did open the door to having a minor sentenced to death.

Further Questions by Experts

KAMEL FILALI, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the Report of Nigeria, asked the delegation if they could provide information on adoptions in the country. He expressed concern that there was an illegal adoption practice in the country that warranted examination and close government scrutiny. The Rapporteur also raised the issue of “baby farms” and trafficking in children.

Mr. Filali asked the delegation about the oil industry and its effect on children’s health. There had been reports of increases in asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments among children because of gases emitted from oil extraction.

In terms of harmful cultural practices, Mr. Filali asked about female genital mutilation, tattooing, witchcraft and stigmatization carried out by churches. What was being done to address these issues?

Mr. Filali then turned to the economic exploitation of children. He wanted to know more about the child labour unit including: what did it do, what was its mandate, what were its resources, and what results had been produced? He also wanted information on forced labour and child trafficking.

Turning to juvenile justice, what was the situation of family courts? Had they been set up and what was the State’s assessment of them thus far? Were children still tried in adult courts and was there mistreatment while in police custody?

Mr. Filali asked about the status of children in armed conflict and whether there were mechanisms in place to keep children from being recruited into armed groups.

The Committee wanted to know what protections there were for children who were the victims of human trafficking and how they were reintegrated into society. Was there a national plan of action that focused on prevention and prosecution of child trafficking? Were there any awareness campaigns in place?

The Committee recognized all the efforts the State party had made in recent years to get more children in school, to better the quality of education, and to enhance the literacy of women and girls. Yet, there were still concerns about the fact that education was not free and compulsory, the enrolment rates were still low as were the completion rates of both primary and secondary school. Vocational training was also underdeveloped and made the transition from school to qualified labour very difficult, which could explain why so many children left school before completing their education. What was being done to address all these issues?

The delegation was asked what was being done to get children off the street and rehabilitate them.

The Committee wanted to know how the country managed to integrate sexual and reproductive health education in the school curriculum, whether it had been difficult and what the community reaction had been.

The delegation was asked if comprehensive data could be provided on children with disabilities and an Expert noted that it was counterproductive to use derogatory language when referring to children with disabilities such as lame, deaf, and dumb.

A Committee member commented that the allocation of resources for adolescent health was quite low, particularly reproductive health. A health survey showed that girls between 15 and 19 were the least likely to use contraception, there was a serious problem with lack of condom use, and unsafe abortions were a huge problem with no protections for women in cases of rape or incest. The Expert wanted to know what was being done to educate boys and girls in the area of reproductive health, what was being done to implement HIV/AIDS education in the school curriculum and to improve access to emergency contraception and post exposure prophylaxis. The delegation was also asked about the mental health services available to adolescents and eliminating user fees for female reproductive health. The Committee was also interested in hearing the views of the President of Nigeria’s Children’s Parliament, who was a member of the delegation, on the reproductive health of girls.

The Committee asked if there was data available on the programme for the prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child? Also, since the Constitution was under review, could it incorporate the right to free and compulsory education?

In terms of interethnic conflict, what was being done to address this issue in the Niger delta and its impact on children? Also, many children had been orphaned due to the violence, how were these children taken care of? What were the alternatives to orphanages, adoption or foster care?

The Committee also wanted to know what was being done to prevent violence against women and girls, as well as the fate of refugee children, children who were victims of trafficking and children who had participated in armed conflict. What was being done to rehabilitate and reintegrate these children?

Response by Delegation

With regards to adolescent health, both mental and reproductive, the delegation said that there was an adolescent health plan that would be implemented and funded at the rate of 15 per cent of the healthcare budget. Concerning unsafe abortions, in Nigeria they did not believe in abortions and that making them safer and improving access to abortions would make things better. They were focused on improving healthcare quality and delivery as that would improve the lives of adolescents.

With regards to access to contraception, the State needed $ 9 million to increase contraception security in the country. So far they had been able to come up with $ 6.5 million of that amount in the current budget. In terms of reducing fees for reproductive health services, the delegation said that they currently could not afford to do that and their studies showed that women did not mind paying for contraception.

The delegation said that the new Health Minister was focused on reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child. The Ministry had focused on breastfeeding and ensuring that the virus was not transmitted via breast milk from mother to child.

According to the delegation, there were a number of allocations that went to children’s issues via various ministries, but there were not disaggregated numbers in terms of budget expenditures solely for children.

The President of the Children’s Parliament said that education on reproductive health had been incorporated into the school curriculum of secondary schools and provided children with practical information that was applicable to their lives. She said that the Government intensifying its efforts could lead to even greater change.

The delegation said that a plan for addressing the mental health of adolescents, in the framework of community mental health, was being developed.

In terms of baby farms, the delegation said that ignorance and poverty could wreak havoc on communities and there were unscrupulous people who took advantage of vulnerable women and girls. Children being sold for money did take place in scattered areas, but the State was working to combat it.

With regards to international adoptions, the State decided not to allow them because once the children were outside the jurisdiction of Nigeria they had no way of monitoring and protecting that child. If they had a bilateral agreement with a country, then they could allow international adoptions because one of the provisions would be that the courts would have to monitor those children. If a Nigerian national with an adopted child went abroad that was acceptable and so was a diplomatic official leaving the country for work with their adopted child. The 12 states that were not signatories to the Child’s Rights Act had their own adoption laws.

The Committee asked about the practice of kaffalah in Nigeria. How widely was it practiced and what was its impact on adopted children? The delegation said that normally an inheritance would pass to blood relatives, but a Muslim parent could leave their property or other things to an adopted child if they did so while they were alive so that once they died no one could contest that inheritance.

In terms of the child justice system, there was discussion of establishing a special police unit to deal with child offenders and of the eight states that had established family courts, five had gone through training exercises and the other three were scheduled to do so as well. The State believed the legal status of a child must be respected including the right to representation, free legal aid, and right of parents to attend hearings. As far as the law was concerned, the main focus was not on punishment but on the socialization of the child. The parents were often held responsible for what the children did in terms of paying a fine or compensation. Incarceration was used only as a last resort, for the shortest period of time and if there was no other way of dealing with a child. The delegation explained that when they spoke of incarceration they were speaking about group homes or special juvenile detention centres, not adult prison facilities.

The Committee asked who investigated juvenile crime. The delegation said that if a child was involved in a crime, the special police would handle it and child services and child welfare would also be involved. About two thirds of the states had juvenile justice centres, but child offenders in Nigeria were rare according to the delegation. Children had a right to judicial review and could appeal any decisions or sentences handed down by the family courts.

The delegation noted that there was a lot of concern expressed about harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, child marriages, tattooing and child witchcraft. As noted, there had to be a lot of advocacy work done to change traditional attitudes. Tattooing for example, had been a matter of pride for many communities, to show bravery or as a sign of beauty. But now tastes had changed and girls did not see scarification of their faces as attractive and the incidents had decreased with time. Many states had passed laws against female genital mutilation and parents had been better educated so that too would soon be a thing of the past. Concerning child witchcraft, the delegation said you would never hear of a child witch from a rich home. This indicated to the State that it was poverty that led parents to these churches where their ignorance and poverty were exploited. Many of these church leaders had been taken into custody and were being prosecuted.

The delegation did point out that the practice of dubbing children witches was not widespread, and had only happened in one part of one state. Such practices were highly condemned by the Federal Government and much had already been done to combat this problem, including addressing the root causes of poverty. There was also the issue of polygamous families, where the stepmother would accuse her stepchildren from her husband’s previous marriage or previous wife of being witches. This was why the Government passed a law in 2008 that anyone who accused a child of being a witch could be fined or sentenced to 10 years in jail. Anyone who tortured a child could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. Serious educational efforts and counselling were also required to help parents understand that they could not project their problems onto innocent children.

Regarding the right of the child to be heard, the delegation said this right was enshrined in the Constitution and the Children’s Parliament helped to ensure that this right was implemented.

In terms of other harmful traditional practices, the delegation said they were not widespread throughout the country and many things were being done to curb these practices so that in future years they would not be widespread.

Further Questions by Experts

The Committee wanted to know in cases of divorce, whether a child could express their preference for which parent they wanted to live with and the Committee also asked for additional details on child marriage.

Response by Delegation

The delegation said marriage was a complicated matter in Nigeria, as it was in most African countries. There were various types of marriage including statutory marriage.

In divorce cases the law allowed children to express their views on who they wanted to live with. If the child was six years old or younger, the court generally would give custody to the mother, but if the child was older, and unless there was evidence to the contrary, they were generally allowed to live with who they wanted to.

Students also functioned as prefects in schools so they helped in school administration and were consulted by the principals. Having said that, the delegation conceded that the issue of children being seen and not heard was still a challenge in Nigeria due to the autocratic nature of parenting, but they were trying to explain to parents and educators that it was a positive step to give children responsibility and uphold their rights.

In terms of children with disabilities, a survey was underway and the delegation hoped that the results would provide the needed data for the State to formulate a comprehensive policy for disabled children. With regards to the use of terms such as lame, deaf, and dumb, the delegation said that they used the terms that were employed by the data at the time and they did not use those terms anymore. Now they referred to special needs children, people who were visually impaired, etc.

On the numerous questions surrounding education, the delegation said they were aware of the low enrolment rates for primary and secondary schools and they were attempting to tackle this issue by doing things like offering free school lunches, which encouraged parents to enrol their children and keep them in school. They were also addressing employment opportunities and teaching entrepreneurship so that children were encouraged to stay in school, knowing there would be jobs for them when the finished or they would have the tools to start a business.

Additional Questions by Experts

The Committee asked the delegation follow up questions about child labour, vocational training, and the children of nomads.

Response by Delegation

The delegation agreed that there were children working in various fields, including the agricultural sector, and the Government was working to monitor and enforce employment laws. There were also laws on apprenticeships which barred children working outside their families and set an age limit of 15 years of age for apprentices. If a child were found on the street during school hours truant officers would penalize the parents and require them to enrol the child in the nearest school. In terms of nomad children, these parents generally sent their children to Koranic schools. The Government was currently working on a plan to integrate these schools with regular government schools because there had been administrative problems with administrators sending children out to beg on the streets. By integrating the schools they could receive regular government grants, proper training in school administration, and they could be monitored. It was also an attempt to standardize the curriculum so that these children would do more than memorize the Koran. It was a big challenge, but the delegation assured the Committee that the Government was tackling it.

Nigeria had both technical and trade vocational schools all over the country that trained children for skilled work after graduation. It was not the Government’s plan that everyone would go to college, but many citizens would learn a skill such as hairdressing or plumbing and could live a comfortable life.

The delegation said that the Government had set up programmes to help street children acquire skills, get jobs, or start their own businesses.

Preliminary Concluding Remarks

KAMEL FILALI, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the Report of Nigeria, in preliminary concluding remarks, said that the Committee was pleased with the candid and direct discussion that enabled them to exchange information and enabled the Committee to gain a picture of the situation of the rights of the child and how they were applied in Nigeria. The Committee was pleased with the passage of the Child’s Rights Act and felt that efforts were being made to promote this instrument despite difficulties encountered due to the diverse nature and size of Nigeria. In their concluding observations, the Committee would note the positive trends in Nigeria, but also areas of concern such as coordination among government bodies, birth registration, adolescent health, children with disabilities, juvenile justice and child trafficking with the hope that the recommendations would serve as guidelines for future improvements in Nigeria.

In closing remarks, ADEDOKUN ADEYEMI, Resource Person of the National Child Rights Implementation Committee of Nigeria, expressed appreciation for the friendly interactive exchange they had. Mr. Adeyemi said they felt Nigeria had come a long way since the first periodic report in 1995 when the Child’s Rights Act was just a draft law. The delegation looked forward to the Committee’s concluding observations because they would be the guidelines for the preparation of the fifth periodic report and would assist the State tremendously in making progress.

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