Child Justice Reform in Nigeria
Nigeria is presently undertaking a
reform of its child laws to bring the country in line with the
principles and rights contained in the United Nations Convention on the
Rights of the Child. This process has resulted in a draft Child Rights
Bill, which is awaiting the signature of the President in order for it
to be enacted. It is a comprehensive piece of legislation encompassing
all aspects relating to the welfare and care of the child, as well as
child justice. Nigeria is therefore one of the countries that has opted
to include both protection and child justice measures in a single Act,
as opposed to the approach taken in South Africa, where there have been
two separate law reform processes relating to these issues.
Part of the law reform process is the
Juvenile Justice Project, which is looking at Juvenile Justice
Administration (JJA) with a view to implementation issues and the
development of a juvenile justice policy for the country. This project
was born out of a collaborative effort between the National Human Rights
Commission (NHRC), Constitutional Rights Project (CRP), the United
Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Penal Reform International (PRI).
One of the components of this project was a study undertaken by the
CRP in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, which examined young
inmates in remand homes, approved schools and borstals, and those
detained in police cells and prisons. A number of findings resulted, but
of significance to the juvenile justice administration process were the
Some children had been detained for
periods of between four and eight years.
Approximately 60% of children in
police cells were there for truancy and being beyond parental control.
Only a small percentage of child
offenders had committed serious offences.
A large proportion of children were
not legally represented during their trials.
As a result of this a National
Conference on Juvenile Justice Administration was held in July 2002.
This resulted in the establishment of a National Working Group on
Juvenile Justice Administration and a draft concept paper on juvenile
justice administration. This was then followed by two zonal conferences
on juvenile justice administration, where inputs on the draft concept
paper were elicited.
It then became clear that the work on a
national juvenile justice policy would be incomplete without an
understanding of the situation in juvenile justice institutions in
Nigeria, as well as a comparative study of other countries in Africa and
abroad. Therefore visits to prisons, police detention centres and other
institutions all over Nigeria were undertaken in order to compile
recommendations for the policy document. Study tours to South Africa,
Malawi, Namibia and the United Kingdom were also undertaken for this
Further field studies
The field visits to 68 prisons, police cells and other institutions
produced certain findings, including the following:
Most children are found in juvenile
detention centres, but a large number are found in prisons where they
are detained and tried with adults.
The juvenile detention centres have
educational and vocational facilities but lack adequately trained
personnel and learning materials.
Prisons are seriously overcrowded.
Police cells are generally in very
bad condition and at the point of arrest several cases of abuse by the
police officials have been reported.
As a result of these findings certain
recommendations were made by the National Working Group. These included:
funding allocation receiving
the provision and maintenance of
adequate facilities for children deprived of their liberty;
appropriate training for officials
and the appointment of specialists such as psychologists and social
speedier trials for children awaiting
the establishment of at least one
juvenile detention centre per state; and
the development of crime prevention
The next step in the project was to
convene a National Experts Meeting in Abuja in August 2003 where these
findings, as well as the experiences of the countries visited in the
study tours, were discussed. More importantly, the draft National Policy
on Child Justice Administration in Nigeria was introduced for
discussion, as well as a Course Manual for Law Enforcement Officials
working with Juvenile Offenders and a
Guide for Trainers.
National Policy on Child Justice
The policy paper is meant to contribute to the overall objective of
the Government of Nigeria in establishing an effective system of justice
for children in conflict with the law within the context of
international and regional documents.
The policy deals with issues such as:
the age of criminal responsibility;
pre-trial juvenile justice;
the constitution, functions and
procedure of the juvenile court;
disposition measures available to the
juvenile court; and
non-judicial child justice prevention
policies and programmes.
The policy also includes recommended
strategies for improving and reforming child justice administration in
Nigeria, such as the following:
Prevention — implementation of the
Universal Basic Education Programme, establishment of a good parenting
assistance! counselling programme, establishment of Community Service
Schemes for children.
Arrest and pre-trial detention
—establishment of child-friendly initial contact machinery,
establishment of a specialised Child Police Unit at every police
station, strengthening the bail processes, specialized training,
prompt notification of detention to parents, legal representation for
Diversion — adoption of diversion
programmes, development of training manuals and guidelines for
Family Court — having both civil and
criminal jurisdiction, specialised court personnel, less formal court
Alternative sentencing — development
of alternatives to custodial orders, monitoring of institutions,
enhancing rehabilitative role of custodial institutions.
Reintegration — provision of
vocational training and after-care services for children on release
Establishment of a National Child
Justice Committee to review, monitor and evaluate policies and
programmes in child justice administration in Nigeria.
It is very encouraging that Nigeria is continuing the trend in
African countries that are looking to reform their child justice laws.
The country has, in a very short period of time, developed a sound basis
for child justice administration in the face of very difficult
circumstances that exist presently on the ground in Nigeria. The
participants in the law reform movement are extremely open about the
adversities presently facing children in Nigeria and are committed to
ensuring that the law reform process focuses on a child rights approach
while establishing procedures that are capable of being properly