Child Abuse In Nigeria: Dimension, Reasons For Its

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Child and Family Law Journal
Volume 4 | Issue 1

Article 2

Child Abuse In Nigeria: Dimension, Reasons For Its Persistence And Probable
Olaitan O. Olusegun Amos A. Idowu

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Olusegun, Olaitan O. and Idowu, Amos A. (2016) "Child Abuse In Nigeria: Dimension, Reasons For Its Persistence And Probable," Child and Family Law Journal: Vol. 4 : Iss. 1 , Article 2. Available at:
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Child Abuse in Nigeria: Dimension, Reasons for its Persistence and Probable
Olaitan O. Olusegun* and Amos A. Idowu**
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”1
ABSTRACT Child abuse in Nigeria negatively affects the future of children and destroys the image of the country. Children suffer from various forms of abuse such as child marriages, molestation, child labour, kidnapping, and neglect, among other forms. Many laws and policies were put into place with the purpose of protecting children from abuse. However, they have not been effective for many reasons including poor enforcement mechanisms, poverty, corruption, lack of rehabilitation of sexual offenders, negative attitude of parents, and inefficient judicial processes. This paper examines the concepts and various forms of child abuse which exist in Nigeria. It appraises the different factors responsible for child abuse in Nigeria, identifies the laws and institutions that protect children from abuse, evaluates the effectiveness of these various laws and institutions, and facilitates further information on workable steps to curb all forms of child abuse in Nigeria. This paper concludes with the realization that the menace of child abuse and its resultant effects on children in Nigeria can only be resolved through a combination of efforts by the government and other relevant stakeholders in order to revamp
* Lecturer, Department of Public and International Law, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria. ** Reader, Department of Public Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ie-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria. 1 Nelson Mandela, Famous Quotes about Children,, http://www. (last visited August 24, 2014).



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Nigeria’s educational system, national economy, law enforcement agencies, and judicial institutions.

Section 277 of the Child Rights Act of 2003 defines “a child as a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years.”2 From conception, children bring joy and delight to their family and those around them. When they grow up, they serve an essential role within their community as they become the future leaders of the nation. However, despite the joy associated with the birth of children many remain victims of abuse, violence, and exploitation. They are easy victims of violence because they are weaker in size, stature, and mental capabilities.3
Child abuse is any act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, and sexual abuse or exploitation.4 In Nigeria, abuse against children is rampant although it is largely under-reported. Under-reporting stems from cultural justification of certain forms of abuse associated with cultural practices and the reluctance of children to speak about prior abusive experiences. Fear of their assailants’ threats or their parent’s reaction may be the cause of this reluctance. Also, some children may be either too young to understand their experience or unable to speak for themselves.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child of 1999, provides that children must be protected from all forms of torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment, physical, mental or sexual abuse, and neglect or maltreatment.5 The Child Rights Act of 2003 also provides that children must be protected from: child marriage; child betrothal; tattoos and skin marks; exposure and use of narcotic drugs; abduction, removal or transfer of the child from lawful custody, and; child labour, and unlawful sexual intercourse.6 Despite the various provisions that have been put into place to protect the rights of children, they are continuously subject to various forms of abuse, degrading treatment,

2 See Child Rights Act § 277 (2003). 3 F.A. Akwara et al., Law and Children’s Rights Protection: the Nexus for a Sustainable Development in Nigeria, Canadian Social Science Journal, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 26-33, (2010). 4 See Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 2003, The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse, at xii (3d ed. 2007). 5 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child Art. 16, 1990 (entered into force Nov. 29, 1999), (last visited Jun. 25, 2014). 6 See Child Rights Act §§ 21-34 (2003).


Child Abuse in Nigeria


cruelty, and violence. Some of which are reported in Nigerian National daily newspapers.7 When children are exploited or abused, they do not enjoy their childhood, which leads to several consequences in future. On the other hand, when children are protected from abuse, children will grow up in a healthy and confident manner, achieve their potential, and contribute to the development of the nation.8
Several legal provisions, which seek to protect children, have been enacted internationally and within Nigeria. However, these laws have not served as an effective tool in curbing the menace of child abuse, as originally intended. The purpose of enacting laws is to prevent a certain problem and decrease the frequency of its occurrence. When these laws are not effective, the purpose is defeated.
This article examines the forms of child abuse and exploitation that exist in Nigeria, as well as the various laws that have been enacted to curb that abusive behaviour. This paper suggests the reasons for the ineffectiveness of those laws and solutions for how they can be effective in curbing all forms of abuse.

Child abuse can either be sexual or non-sexual. Sexual abuse consists of abuse that can either be child marriage, molestation, or female genital mutilation. While, non-sexual abuse includes child labour, kidnapping, and neglect.

A. Sexual Abuse and Child Marriages
Child marriage is the practice in which children are married to adults.9 A variety of rights are violated by child marriage including the right to equality on grounds of sex and age, the right to marry and start a

7 See Beaten by Hajia, Raped by Two Men, THE PUNCH, Vol 7088, No. 1578. p.16 (September 10, 2011); If I Don’t Allow Daddy To Do It, He Sleeps with my Younger Sister, The Punch, Vol. 7184, No. 1684, pp 18 -19. (July 13, 2013). 8 United Nations Children Fund, State of the World’s Children 2005: Childhood under Threat, (last visited Aug. 22, 2014). 9 I. Ogunniran, Child Bride and Child Sex: Combating Child Marriages in Nigeria (2011); Nnamdi Azikiwe, University Journal of International Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 2 No. 1. pp. 95-106; See also Ahmed Yerima, Divorces his 17-year-old Egyptian Wife to Marry a Fifteen Year Old (2003), lH43UFD.dpuf. (last visited July 2, 2014).



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family, the right to life, the right to the highest attainable standard of health. and the right to education.10
Child marriage is more common in rural communities because such communities tend to have traditional attitudes deeply entrenched in customs, which are not easily altered by external influences.11 Nigeria is no exception to the prevalence of child marriage in rural communities, especially in the country’s Northern states.12 Female children are given away in marriage at a young age to increase the wealth of family members through the payment of bride prices. Another factor is the high value placed on a girl’s virginity.13 Child marriage exposes children to adverse health effects and deprives them of the childhood-time that is necessary for them to develop physically, emotionally, and psychologically.14 The Nigerian Child Rights Act of 2003, provides that a marriage entered into with a girl younger than eighteen-years-old is null and void.15 However, Section eighteen of the Marriage Act16 provides that a child below the age of twenty-one can get married if consent is obtained from the parents. The implication of this provision is that children as young as fifteen can get married once their parents’ consent, which conflicts with the clear provisions of Section 21of the Child Rights Act of 2003.

B. Female Genital Mutilation
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as “procedures that involve partial or total removal of the female external genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital

10 United Nations Children’s Fund, Child Marriage and the Law: Legislative Reform Initiative Paper Series (2008) and_the_law(1).pdf (last visited Jun. 12, 2014). 11 International Planned Parenthood Federation, (IPPF): Ending Child Marriage: A Guide for Global Policy Action (2006), _marriage.pdf (last visited Jul. 2, 2014). 12 According to the State of the World’s Children 2006, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) publication, nearly twice as many women living in rural areas were married before the age of 18, compared with those living in urban areas. See United Nations Children’s Fund, The State of the World’s Children (2006), (last visited Jun. 11, 2014). 13 Ajuluchi Chika, Factors Influencing Child Bride Practices in Anambra State, 1 NIGERIA J. OF EDUC., HEALTH AND TECH. RES. 241, 242 (2011). 14 Gabriel Igberase, Harmful Cultural Practices and Reproductive Health in Nigeria, 6 CONTINENTAL J. TROPICAL MED. 27, 30 (2012). 15 See Child Rights Act (2003) § 21 (Nigeria). 16 Marriage Act (1990) Chapter 218, § 18 (Nigeria).


Child Abuse in Nigeria


organs for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons.”17 The United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) provides that
state parties to the convention should take measures to abolish traditional practices that are prejudicial to the health of children.18 FGM is rooted in
cultural beliefs and traditions that have been in existence for several decades and are difficult to change.19 For example, it is believed that
FGM fosters cleanliness and enhances male pleasure. Some communities
also believe that if a woman’s clitoris is not removed, it will result in the death of a baby during childbirth, if it touches the baby’s head.20 All
types of FGM have immediate health complications including infection,
pain due to the cutting of nerves and sensitive genital tissues, shock,
excessive bleeding, and death. Potential long-term complications include
chronic pain, infertility, sexual dysfunction, and other obstetric complications.21

C. Molestation
Molestation involves the forcing or enticing of a child to take part in sexual activities, but does not necessarily involve a high level of violence. The child may or may not be aware of what is happening. The activities may involve either physical contact22 or non-contact activities.23 Molestation can have lifelong effects on children that result in which a variety resulting in the possible exhibition of many symptoms

17 Female Genital Mutilation, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (last visited Feb. 13, 2014), re/factsheets/fs241/en. 18 Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24(3), UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER (last visited July 13, 2014), en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx. 19 Augustine Nalah, Female Genital Mutilation in Nassarawa Eggon Community, Nassarawa State – Nigeria, 13 RESEARCH ON HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES 7, 8 (2013). 20 Amos Idowu, Effects of Female Genital Mutilation on Human Rights of Women and Female Children: the Nigerian Situation, 12 LAW, DEMOCRACY AND DEVELOPMENT 111, 115 (2008). 21 Liette Perron et al, Female Genital Cutting, 35 JOURNAL OF OBSTETRICS AND GYNECOLOGY 1028, 1033 (2013). 22 This includes intercourse by penetration or non-penetrative acts such as kissing, rubbing and fondling of a child’s genitals, rape, and sodomy. See KIMBERLY MCCABE, CHILD ABUSE AND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM 33 (Peter Lang Publishing 2003). 23 This includes encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, production and distribution of child pornography, inappropriate sexual conversations with a child, voyeurism. See id. at 16.



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such as, anxiety, bed-wetting, insomnia, nightmares, depression, suicidal behaviours, and eating disorders.24


A. Emotional and Psychological Abuse
“Emotional or psychological abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child that causes severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development.”25 Children that are constantly humiliated, shamed, or rejected, often see themselves as worthless and incapable of being successful. This can lead to depression, lack of concentration in school, lowered self-esteem, dysfunctional relationships, and ineffective coping skills.26
B. Kidnapping
Kidnapping is the “unlawful detainment of persons, either by force or fraud, and the undisclosed relocation against their will, usually to extract ransom.”27 Kidnapping has caused a great deal of mental and emotional trauma for victims and their relatives. It violates their rights to life, freedom of movement, and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatments.28 Also, children are not exempt from the spate of kidnapping in recent times.29 The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime

24 G. K. Moffatt, Wounded Innocents and Fallen Angels: Child Abuse and Child Aggression, 73, 74 (2003). 25 Overseas Dev. Inst., N. Jones et al, Promoting Synergies between Child Protection and Social Protection in Nigeria, (2012) 26 G. K. Moffatt, Wounded Innocents and Fallen Angels: Child Abuse and Child Aggression, 47 (2003). 27 R.O. Owenvbiugie: Kidnapping: A Threat to Entrepreneurship in Nigeria, 1 Journal of Education, Health and Technology Research, 67, 67 (2011). 28 National Human Rights Commission: The State of Human Rights in Nigeria 20092010; Homec Global LTD. Abuja. p. 152, (2013). 29 See Boko Haram Abducts 100 schoolgirls in Bornu, THE PUNCH. (April 16, 2014), Vol. 38 No 20 p. 2 (Some Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in April 2014, from their boarding school in Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Bornu State, Nigeria, by the militant group, Boko Haram.); E. Conant, Nigeria’s Schoolgirl Kidnappings Cast Light on Child Trafficking, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC DAILY NEWS, May 15, 2014, See Women Abduct Nine-Year-Old Girl, sell her for 650,000, THE PUNCH,Vol. 38 No 20. pp.. 4 - 5, Thursday July 3, 2014, (Also, in Lagos, the Lagos state police command arrested four women for allegedly abducting and selling a nine-year-old girl, identified as Blessing for 650,000).


Child Abuse in Nigeria


(UNODC)30 has categorized kidnapping as follows: kidnapping for extortion;31 kidnapping between or within criminal groups; kidnapping
for sexual exploitation; kidnapping linked to domestic or family disputes; revenge kidnapping and kidnapping for political or ideological purposes.
The menace of kidnapping is attributed to unemployment, poverty,
greed, high level of crime, corruption, a history of conflict, and instability.32

C. Child Labour
Child labour is defined as “any form of work likely to have adverse effects on the child’s safety, health, and moral development.33 It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful to children, deprives them of the opportunity to attend school.34 Nigerian children work in a wide range of sectors and industries. In rural areas, children mostly work in agriculture. They are responsible for planting, weeding, harvesting crops, and tending to livestock. In urban areas they work as vendors, shoe shiners, car washers, drug peddlers, and construction workers, etc.35 In most cases, child labour is determined by

30 Sec’y-General, Int’l cooperation in the prevention, combating and elimination of kidnapping and in providing assistance to victims, 7, Econ. & Soc. Council, Comm. on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, 12th sess., E/CN.15/2003/7 (March 5, 2003); Mohd Kassim Noor Mohamed, Kidnap for Ransom in South East Asia The Case for a Regional Recording Standard, 3 Asian J. Criminology 61,68 (2008). 31 That is, for ransom, to influence business decisions, or to obtain commercial advantage. Kidnapping for ransom is more common in countries with high levels of crime and corruption. See R. Pharaoh: An Unknown Quantity: Kidnapping for Ransom in South Africa (2005) South African Crime Quarterly, No 14 p. 23. Inst. for Security Studies, An Unknown Quantity: Kidnapping for Ransom in South Africa, 14, S. Afr. Crime Quarterly, 23 (2005) CQ14FULL.PDF. (That is, for ransom, to influence business decisions, or to obtain commercial advantage - this was located under footnote number 32) (Kidnapping for ransom is more common in countries with high levels of crime and corruption). 32 National Human Rights Commission: The State of Human Rights in Nigeria 20092010. (2013) Homec Global ltd, Abuja. pp. 152. 33 G. Betcherman, et al, Soc. Prot. Discussion Paper Series, Child Labor, Education, and Children’s Rights, at 1, No. 0412, (July 2004) -americas/-ro-lima/sroport_of_spain/documents/projectdocumentation/wcms_ 308202.pdf. 34 ILO and Inter-Parliamentary Union, Handbook for Parliamentarians, Eliminating the worst forms of child labour A practical guide to ILO Convention No. 182, at 14, No 3 (2002), en.pdf. 35 E.E Okafor, Child Labour Dynamics and Implications for Sustainable Development in Nigeria, 12 Journal of Sustainable Development in Nigeria 8, 9(2010).



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the family’s economic status, the size of the household, and the parent’s education level.36 It affects development and stands as an impediment to
achieving sustainable development goals such as poverty reduction, and universal primary education.37

D. Child Neglect
Child neglect has been defined as, “a failure to provide basic needed care for the child such as shelter, food, clothing, education, supervision, medical care, and other basic necessities needed for the child’s physical, intellectual, and emotional development.”38 There are various categories of neglect such as: physical, medical, environmental neglect, emotional neglect, and educational.39 Neglected children usually have intellectual, physical, social, psychological and developmental problems. They are often socially withdrawn, suffer from malnutrition, and are susceptible to several fatalities due to the absence of caregivers at critical moments.40

E. Physical Abuse
Child physical abuse refers to “the non-accidental use of physical force against a child that results in harm to the child.”41 It includes abuse subjecting the child to degrading and inhuman conditions, severe beatings in the name of chastisement, correction, or anger. Physical abuse may result in either temporary or permanent damage to organs, bones, and brain tissues, which can be fatal.42

BOR_DYNAMICS_AND_IMPLICATIONS_FOR_SUSTAINABLE_DEVELOPMENT _IN_NIGERIA/links/570c14db08ae2eb94223b9f0.pdf. 36 Benjamin Chiedozie Okpukpara & Ngozi Odurukwe, Incidence and Determinants of Child Labour in Nigeria: Implications for Poverty Alleviation, AFRICAN ECONOMIC RESEARCH CONSORTIUM, June 2006, at 5. 123456789/32210/1/RP156.pdf?1. 37 Gordon Betcherman et al., Child Labor, Education, and Children’s Rights, SOCIAL PROTECTION DISCUSSION PAPER SERIES, July 2004, at 2, 28 http://documents.worldbank. org/curated/en/721061468762634105/pdf/301610PAPER0SP00412.pdf. 38 Mfonobong E. Umobong, Child Abuse and Its Implications for the Educational Sector in Nigeria, 39 McCabe, supra note 22, at 63. 40 James M. Gaudin, Child Neglect: A Guide for Intervention (1993). (last visited Nov. 10, 2016). 41 Australian Gov’t, What is Child Abuse and Neglect?, publications/what-child-abuse-and-neglect (last visited Aug. 13, 2014). 42 GREGORY K. MOFFATT. WOUNDED INNOCENTS AND FALLEN ANGELS: CHILD ABUSE AND CHILD AGGRESSION 46 (2003).


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A. International Conventions

International Conventions were put into place to protect children from abuse and exploitation and to develop standards and principles for the betterment of child survival and protection. Some of these conventions include: the International Labour Conventions on Child Labour, which includes the Night Work of Young Persons (Industry) Convention of 1919 (No 6); the Minimum Age Convention of 1973 (No 138); the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention of 1999 (No. 182); the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child of1924; and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, 1979.
Others are: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) of), 1989; the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts; and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography; and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child of1999, among others.
B. National Laws

1. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution
The Nigerian Constitution43 guarantees certain fundamental rights to children. Even though the Constitution does not make any distinction between the rights of adults and children, as Nigerian citizens they are expected to be able to enjoy these rights. These rights include the right to life, dignity of the human person, personal liberty; a fair hearing, the right to a private life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion; peaceful assembly, as well as the right of association and freedom of movement.44 More specifically, under Section 17(3)(f), children should be protected against exploitation, as well as moral and material neglect. Additionally, Section 18(1) provides that the government should ensure


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Child Abuse In Nigeria: Dimension, Reasons For Its