Child protection is the safeguarding of children from violence, exploitation, abuse, and neglect. Article 19 §1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states: ‘Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.’
Section 277 of the Child Rights Act 2003, describes a child as a person under 18 years of age, while sections 1 & 2 of the Act state that: ‘Best interest of a Child to be of paramount consideration in all actions’ and ‘A child to be given protection and care necessary for his well‐being.’
The Child Rights Act 2003, provides appropriate steps to prevent, and punish all forms of violence, abuses and exploitation of children. The Act is a major part of Nigeria’s social protection policy in favour of children thus, guaranteeing the rights of all children in Nigeria. The Act recognises that violence in any form against children is not justifiable under any circumstances because all violence against children is preventable.
Aside from the provisions of the Child Rights Act 2003, child protection policy is also contained in various national and international laws and treaties such as the: Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, African Charter on the Right and Welfare of the Child 1990, The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography 2000, The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts, The National Priority Agenda for Protection of Vulnerable Children in Nigeria 2013-2020. As signatories to these conventions, the Nigerian government is obligated to guarantee that all children within its geographical boundary must be safe and protected from abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation. The Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act also provides for sanctions against violence toward children in all its ramifications.
Despite the steps taken by the government and non-governmental organisations to protect the child, the incidence of child abuse continues to rise. Violence against children is a violation of the Child Rights Act, and other conventions governing the rights of a child. The consequences of prolonged physical and emotional abuse on a child’s cognitive development threaten the proper mental and physical development and in some cases, the survival of the child.
Children are frequently exposed to various forms of violence, exploitation and abuse. Most of these abuses and exploitations come mostly from people trusted either by the child or parents or guardians. People children trust are not expected to be harmed under their care. Thus, the majority of children who live in very difficult conditions run the risk of constant domestic abuse, with such abuses coming from biological parents and guardians. Other forms of child abuse are child labour, child marriages, child trafficking and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Abuses can be emotional, sexual or physical. Physical abuse involves punching or hitting the child, medical neglect, burns, and strangulation. Emotional or psychological abuse involves controlling another person by using emotions to criticise, embarrass, shame, blame, or otherwise manipulate them. Sexual abuse is sexual behaviour or a sexual act forced upon a woman, man or child without their consent. Of all forms of abuse against the child, the most difficult to detect and tackle is emotional abuse.
The Centre for Health Ethics Law and Development (CHELD), is passionate about issues of child welfare and protection as such issues are prioritized and given prompt attention. Currently, a recent child protection case involved parental abuse, a case involving a father physically abusing his son and causing the child to suffer both physical and emotional trauma. The callousness of the abuse led to his admission to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), where the child was treated for the bruises and trauma suffered at the hands of his father, who otherwise, should have been a trusted source of protection. We are working hard to get justice for the child and his mother. We hope to restore the custody of the child to the mother utilizing every legal and appropriate means since the father and mother of this child are separated and live quite distant apart from each other.
While there is no quick fix to these issues, securing a safe and healthy environment for children would involve the participation of government, civil society organisations, corporations, international development partners, educational, religious and cultural institutions and individuals. Thus, prevention efforts aimed at curbing child abuse should be employed to safeguard the lives of children, and their fundamental human rights by combatting the root cause of child rights violations.