Child Rights and the Protection of Children in Nigeria

A child is defined as a person under the age of 18 years.  In addition to the general provisions for the protection of the citizens contained in the constitution, the National Assembly has enacted the Child Rights Act 2003 for the protection of children and infants. 

Specific provisions of the Child Rights Act 2003 are:

S17(2) and (3) provide that if either parent of the child dies intestate, an unborn child is entitled, if conceived during the lifetime of the father, to be considered in the distribution of the estate of the deceased father. 

Right to Protection
S.1 of the Act provides that a child should be given protection and care necessary for his well-being. Protection includes shelter, appropriate clothing, food and medication, e.g. vaccination against childhood deceases, such as polio mellitus, diphtheria, tuber-culosis, etc.

Right to protection also means a right to protection against child trafficking, forced labour, servitude or child abuse of any kind, e.g. corporal punishment, beating and any form of physical or psychological violence. 

Additionally, a child found hawking wares will be arrested, and a parent or guardian who attempts to follow up will be arrested and prosecuted for child labour.

Right to Education
S.15 of the Act provides that every child in Nigeria has a right to free, compulsory and universal primary education. A parent or guardian who neglects to send his child or ward to a primary school (at least a public school) has committed an offence and will be prosecuted.

Right Against Child Marriage
S.22 (1) of the Act provides that no parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person.  This means practically that nobody shall give a child in marriage to another person.  We must remember that a child is a person below the age of 18 years.
S.23 of the Act provides that any person who marries a child or to whom a child is betrothed or who promotes the marriage of a child or who betroths a child commits an offence and is liable on conviction to pay a fine of N500,000 or face imprisonment.

Right to Protection against Immorality
S.31 provides that it is a criminal offence to have sexual intercourse with a child.  S.31(3)  states that it is immaterial (not a defence) that the offender believes that the child is of or above the age of 18 years or that the sexual intercourse was with the consent of the child. The offender is considered in law, to have committed statutory rape, and is liable to life imprisonment. It should be noted that S.282 (1)(e) of the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria similarly provides that it is rape if the woman is under 14 years of age even if she gave consent. 

Right Not to be Tattooed or Circumcised 
S.24 provides that no person shall tattoo or make a skin mark or cause any tattoo or skin mark to be made on a child. The Act has not specifically mentioned female genital mutilation (fgn) but this too can be actionable under S.24 as an undesirable skin mark on a child. 


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The Constitution also provides that in exceptional circumstances, the people must surrender some of the above rights justifiably. S.45 provides that in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality and public health and for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons, these rights may be violated.