Issue 59  •  December 2003

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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).

CRP study
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 following:

  • 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 purpose.

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 priority;

  • 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 workers;

  • speedier trials for children awaiting trial;

  • the establishment of at least one juvenile detention centre per state; and

  • the development of crime prevention strategies.

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 Administration
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 children.

  • Diversion — adoption of diversion programmes, development of training manuals and guidelines for diversion schemes.

  • Family Court — having both civil and criminal jurisdiction, specialised court personnel, less formal court procedures.

  • 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 from institutions.

  • 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 implemented.

This feature: (October 2003) Child Justice reform in Nigeria. Article 40: The Dynamics of Youth Justice and the Convention on the rights of the child in South Africa. Vol.5 No.3