Early on a Monday morning, around 4 AM, I was awake and preparing to travel for a conference in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. I was very excited as this was my first time going to the capital city so I left home a bit too early. I got to the motor park at Ogbete market, Enugu state by 5 AM only to find out that they had not opened for the day, so I had to wait. While waiting in front of the motor park, I observed some children who were sleeping outside, on top of tables in market stalls. There were two boys and three girls there. It occurred to me that they were homeless and the only place they could lay their head to sleep was in the market, exposed to whatever dangers that may come with the night. So I asked myself- are these children less human than I am? Do they not have rights protected by the law? What could be done to mitigate such situations in our society?

Well, the sight of children hawking on the streets have become a normal thing in Nigeria, I guess I must have taken special notice of these ones because the market was not busy with its endless buzz at this time of the morning. Recently in the news on the radio, I heard of a child in Onitsha who had been beaten to a coma by her mistress. Who knows what this child must have been going through and for how long, before this particular incident? Yet we claim to have laws in Nigeria that protect the rights of children? Maybe these laws are meant for only the privileged children after all-or maybe not. Let us examine the legal framework of child rights in Nigeria.


Human rights are simply inherent entitlements and freedoms which every human being is- or should be duly accorded, merely by virtue of being human and nothing more. Rights are naturally inherent, but they would mean nothing if not recognized and protected by the law. In Nigeria, it is evident that even though rights are recognized and protected by the law, they still mean nothing until adequate measures are established and maintained for the proper enforcement of these rights.

The principal law that provides for human rights in Nigeria which applies to all citizens is the 1999 Constitution which makes provisions for Fundamental Human Rights under Chapter 4. However, the Childs Rights Act was enacted by the National Assembly in 2003. It is not only the first comprehensive legislation on the rights of children but also very ambitious legislation as far as the rights of Nigerian children is concerned.

This Childs Rights Act makes extensive provisions concerning freedoms and entitlements which accrue to every Nigerian below 18 years. Some of the provisions of this Act are as follows:

  • The interests of a child shall be of paramount consideration if every action was taken by any natural or juristic person which affects the welfare or well being of the child, and every person or entity which is charged with the care and custody of children shall give due protection and care necessary for the wellbeing of the child and in conformity with accepted and established standards and authorities.

  • The Act also incorporates the provisions of chapter 4 of the Constitution to apply in relation to children and interpreted in line with the language and purpose of the Act and also provided for certain specific rights such as the Right to be respected, accorded dignity and stay free from torture, abuse, slavery or servitude in the custody of a parent, guardian or other authority. Other rights include the Right to be free from torture, slavery or all forms of abuse, Right to live a healthy life and duties of government and parents to make provisions in that regard, Right to parental care and protection, Rights to education, to free primary education, and the duties of government and parents to provide such education, and other rights and responsibilities too.

  • The Act goes further to prohibit certain practices which are harmful and infringe the rights of the child. Thus, a person below 18 years shall not be capable of entering into a valid marriage or of being betrothed and any person who is involved in such marriage is committing an offence which is punishable with a fine or imprisonment, or both. Also, a child shall not be given skin marks or tattoos and shall not be exposed to the use or trafficking of narcotic or psychotropic hard drugs, no person shall involve a child or use a child in the performance of criminal activities and no person shall abduct or remove a child from the lawful custody of his parents or guardians. Anybody who indulges in these acts shall be liable to various punishments as stipulated under the act.

  • The subjection of children to exploitative labour is prohibited and every act which amounts to forced or unlawful labor or which amounts to child trafficking such as selling, hiring, or otherwise dealing with children for the purpose of begging, hawking, prostitution, slavery, pornography, drug trafficking or any other illegal activity which prevents the child from enjoy his dignity, being cared for and getting a good education. All these are punishable under the Act.

  • No person shall have sexual intercourse with a child and it is immaterial whether the child gave consent or whether the offender believed the child to be above 18 years. A child shall not be subjected to any form of sexual exploitation or any other form of exploitation.

  • A child shall not be recruited into any branch of the armed forces or be directly involved in any military activities and it is an offence to make a harmful publication which is against the interest of the child.

  • The Act makes various other relevant provisions which relate to the interests of a child in various circumstances and grants government the necessary powers to enable them to enforce and protect the Rights written therein. It is advised that you should acquiesce yourself with a copy of this Act and read through.

Having examined these laws, the question arises as to its relevance in society because they are not being properly enforced. Res ipsa loquitur, the average Nigerian on the streets will tell you how much child abuse is witnessed every day as a normal activity, or you can take a stroll into a Nigerian market and see for yourself. The reasons for this inefficiency in the enforcement of child rights are due to the many limitations which abound and militate against adequate compliance with the Childs Rights Act. Some of these limitations are:

  • Ignorance and illiteracy is a major hindrance to the enforceability of the provisions of the Act. Many Nigerian parents have not the minutest knowledge of the existence of such law, not to talk of knowing the proper measures to take in order to prevent abuse of their children by guardians. Ignorant or illiterate parents also contribute to the abuse of their children due to lack of adequate discipline on their own part to enable them to know the effects of such abuse on the children.

  • Poverty is another problem that leads to child abuse. Many parents end up involving child trafficking when they are too poor to take care of their children. They send off the children as maids or servants to people in the city, sometimes in exchange for a regular payment or some ‘gratification’. These children often end up being abused, maltreated, subjected to hard labour, denied quality education or even tortured badly. Poverty can also make parents to subject their children to labour such as hawking when they are supposed to be in school.

  • Absence of government agencies charged with the specific responsibility of enforcing the rights of children. Although there are agencies that function to enforce and promote human rights such as the National Human Rights Commission and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, these agencies are not equipped and properly funded to handle matters involving the rights of children.

  • The practice of establishing orphanages and shelters for homeless children has not developed in Nigeria. Although we have motherless babies’ homes, they are mostly not equipped with child care facilities and infrastructure; therefore they are only capable of taking care of babies, not growing children.

The limitations mentioned above are only but a few hindrances to the protection and proper enforcement of the rights of children in Nigeria. The purpose of this work would not be complete if suggestions are not provided on how we can protect the rights of children in our society.


  • Public enlightenment and educational campaigns is a major positive step towards this objective. Government agencies and NGOs could sponsor and engage in campaigns around rural areas, schools and media house, providing relevant information as to the negative effects of child abuse and various options and methods available to avoid such.

  • Parents who are poor and unable to take adequate care of their children should be aided with child support funds. The government could make provisions for these funds in form of loans or grants and when these are made available, effort must be made to ensure that news of such reaches to the most rural areas and less developed parts of the cities. Such will help to mitigate cases of child labour and child trafficking.

  • A government agency should be established with one sole responsibility of preventing child abuse, detecting and tackling any infringement to the rights of the child. Such an agency should be adequately supported with facilities and finance that will enable them to handle the numerous cases of child abuse in the country.

  • The provision of free and quality education, at least up to the secondary school level should be made by the government. This will be a great panacea to mitigate child labour and abuse.

  • Vocational training and skill acquisition facilities should also be established by the government for children. So that people who are unable to afford a university education can learn some useful skills that will help them develop themselves and contribute positively to the development of society.

  • Family planning should be encouraged among parents and newlywed couples. Religious organizations and health practitioners have an important role to play in this regard. These organizations should educate couples on the need to give birth to children whom they can take care of according to their financial buoyancy and capability. The use of contraceptives should be encouraged in this regard so that couples will not give birth to children they did not plan for.

  • The government through established agencies should get actively involved in prosecuting and punishing people who engage in various kinds of child abuse. Thus parents and guardians who infringe the rights of their children should be prosecuted according to the law and punishments such as the imposition of fine and payment of compensation to the child should be meted out to offenders.

  • Children who are the wards of abusive or incompetent parents or guardians should be separated from them and put in the custody of established state facilities that are adequately equipped for taking care of children.

  • Correctional and rehabilitation facilities for juvenile offenders should be established and maintained by the state. Also, children’s homes and orphanages should be established, maintained and properly equipped by the state.

  • Lawyers, activists and concerned citizens also have very important roles to play. They should sponsor and institute legal actions to compel the government to enforce the provisions of the Childs Rights Act, such as free and quality education and the construction of orphanages, correctional facilities and skill acquisition centres.

  • The police and other law enforcement agencies should not be allowed to detain persons below 18 years in prisons or police cells.


It is pertinent at this stage, to highlight the importance of enforcing the rights of children. This cannot be overemphasized because the fate of today’s children determines the state of tomorrow’s society.

Children who are neglected or abused today would have the wrong image of life and are most likely to grow up and become criminals who would torment society without mercies. However, when children are given the proper attention at the tender age when they are still malleable, they would likely grow up to become assets and resource persons in the society.

It is, therefore, very important that the rights of children are upheld and protected in order to secure the future of our society with peace.

Oscar Ogbodo

Oscar Ogbodo

Oscar is a budding young Lawyer, resident in Enugu, Nigeria. He believes that the power to transform Nigeria lies in its people. His interest lies in areas such as Human Rights, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property, and Business Law. He believes that the people of a Nation are it's most valuable resources, but can also be it's downfall, if not empowered and enlightened. He is currently a member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators. He also gained valuable experience in Human Rights by volunteering at the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria and has conducted many Human Rights projects as a leader in the ESUT Law Clinic. His passion and fulfillment lies in sharing knowledge and connecting with people, learning to give more Love to humanity and improving his personal and professional skills. His hobbies include traveling, music, painting and playing chess.

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