CHILDREN’S RIGHTS AND THE ELECTORAL PROCESS IN NIGERIA
A Paper By Aduche Wokocha Esq.
Head, Department of Business Law
Rivers State University of Science and Technology
Schalesworths Centre for Democracy and Development, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
presented at the stakeholders seminar organised by Child Protection Network in conjunction with UNICEF and the People of Japan, held at the auditorium of the Rivers state Ministry of Justice on Wednesday the 16th day of March, 2011.
CHILDREN’S RIGHTS AND THE ELECTORAL PROCESS IN NIGERIA
- Aduche Wokocha Esq.
Head, Department of Business Law
Rivers State University of Science and Technology
Defined by the United Nations as ‘Persons below the age of 18 years’, Children are a precious, but most vulnerable species of the human society and in every nation, efforts are made to protect and preserve them from exploitation and abuse from other more equipped species in the society. The reason for this interest is not far fetched, they are vulnerably incapable of protecting themselves and they are the future of every human society, as the absence of children will automatically herald the extinction of such human society.
Elections in most nations, but especially within the less developed countries (LDC) of the world are critical social events which in most cases, are enmeshed in violence and other illegalities. They throw up serious security issues and are patently unsafe and unsuitable for children participation. Among nations, the law usually restricts participation to the age of universal adult suffrage and protectively therefore rules out the use or inclusion of children in electoral processes and Nigeria like all other nations, has taken the same steps. This paper examines the rights of children and the character of its violation during elections in Nigeria.
UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
According to the United Nations,1
For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
This definition is identical to that adopted by the OAU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1991 and the Nigerian Child Rights Act 2003.
Right has been defined in the Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary as "a just or legal claim; what one has a just claim to, a due" meaning, a legally justified claim. A right we may say is a capacity or interest recognised and protected by the law or some other norm. A right may therefore be religious, moral, social or cultural, but is legal, only when the law, beyond recognition procures its protection and enforcement. Such protected rights, according to Hohfeld, includes liberty, power, immunity and claim.2
Each of these categories or varieties of right, signify a character of the aggregate of the legal positions we refer to as right and each of them represents a position which the law will respect and protect as legal right. While liberty and immunity are defensive claims, power and claim are offensive or positive claims which the bearer can enforce against others. So long as we have not been disqualified by any impediments of legal nature, these rights can be exercised and enforced at the law courts of the land.
Children’s rights are therefore those rights recognised by law, which children possess by virtue of the fact that they are children. These rights are not very dissimilar from the fundamental rights which they share with adults, popularly called Human rights. What is perhaps particular about them is that beside the fundamental human rights which they so share with adults, with relevant limitations imposed for their own good, there are a number of other rights which are particularly and specially designed to protect the child from exploitations and other abuses which may arise from their innocence and vulnerability and facilitate their meaningful participation in their society.3
In articulating children’s rights therefore, we will necessary enlist the usual human rights as well as the following special rights:
Freedom from economic exploitation; Freedom from sexual and other social exploitations; Freedom from labour related exploitation; Freedom from political exploitation etc etc.
These rights clearly articulated in the United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child are similarly well entrenched in the OAU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1991 all of which Nigeria is a signatory, as well as the Nigerian Child Rights Act of 2003 and other ancillary legislative provisions. 4
It must be noted that in legislating these rights, limitations are excepted where necessary and duties imposed also for the better protection of both the child and society,
In summary, the Nigerian Childs Right Act makes several provisions for the protection of the Nigerian child, notable among them include;
- Section 5 of the Act which guarantees the right to personal identity and record to every child when it provides that a child has the right to a name and registration at birth. Accordingly it is imperative that every parent registers the birth of every child with the National Population Commission and obtain a birth certificate for the registration.
- Section 10 which states that a child should not be subjected to any form of discrimination merely by reasons of belonging to a particular community or ethnic group or his place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion. Therefore, they should be treated equally irrespective of where they come from, or on account of their gender. It is illegal for instance to deny a girl education on account of her sex.
- Section 11 which emancipates a child from all forms of abuse when it guarantees to every child respect for the dignity of his or her person and accordingly, no child shall be subjected to physical, mental, emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment. Also;
- It is illegal to give out a child in marriage or to deceive or force a child into marriage. According to Section 21 of the Act, no person under the age of 18 is capable of contracting a valid marriage and any person who violates this prohibition is guilty of an offence. Section 22 of the Act also provides that no person, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person. • Under section 24, it is illegal to give children tattoo, facial or skin marks.
- The use of a child in the sale and trafficking of hard and dangerous drugs is prohibited by section 25 of the Act. The section provides that no person shall expose or involve a child in the use of narcotic drug.
- Similarly there is prohibition on the use of children for criminal activities. Section 26 provides that no person shall employ, use or involve a child in any capacity involving or leading to the commission of any other offence not already specified.
- The Act shields a child from forced or exploitative labour in its Section 28. Therefore children should not be allowed or be forced to do dangerous work or serve as domestic helps outside their homes.
- Section 30 prohibits the use of a child for buying, selling, hiring or otherwise dealing in children for the purpose of exploitation. It provides.‘ No person shall buy, sell, hire let on hire, dispose of or obtain possession of or otherwise deal in a child.’ For this reason a child should not be made to hawk, beg for harms, guide beggars or engage in prostitution and sexual behaviour.
- Sexual relations of any kind with a child is prohibited, Section 31 criminalises having sexual intercourse with a child.
- Furthermore, section 34 prohibits the recruitment of children into the armed forces. It states ‘No child shall be recruited into any of the branches of the armed forces. The government or any other relevant agency or body shall ensure that no child is directly involved in any military operations or hostilities’.
- Under Section 35, a child is prohibited from buying, reading or circulating harmful materials like pornographic and war films as well as indecent books and magazine.
- A child is also empowered under the Act to participate in his environment and enjoy development rights, to this end a child is guaranteed right to physical, mental and social development like the right to freedom of association, and peaceful assembly, (Section6) freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Section 7), right to privacy, family life, home and correspondence subject to supervision.
Furthermore, a child has the right to freedom of movement subject to parental control (Section 9) and right to recreation which included entitlement to rest and leisure and to engage in plays, sports and recreational activities appropriate to his age.5
THE ELECTORAL PROCESS IN NIGERIA
The electoral process, in a nutshell, describes the entire process of conducting elections. It begins from the registration of voters, through the conduct of election to the conclusion of contestations and appeals arising from such elections.
In Nigeria, this process is regrettably usually fraught with irregularities and malpractices at all stages. The most common of these include:
- Multiple registration of voters
- Registration of fictitious voters
- Registration of dead persons
- Multiple voting
- Ballot box snatching
- Falsification of results
- Withholding of voters card at registrations
- Deliberate late or short supplying of voting materials on election days
- Deliberate misplacement of registered voters centres and names
- Deployment of touts and thugs to disrupt elections
- Harassment of voters at polling centres
- Collusion of electoral officers with rigging parties to scuttle the will of the electorate etc.6
The above flaws render elections in Nigerian “unfree and unfair” as they substantially affect the conduct and outcome of elections and rob the electorate of the crucial fundamental political right of choosing their leaders.
In this thesis, we shall examine which and how these flaws impact on the rights of children in Nigeria. Bearing in mind that participation in elections is limited to persons of 18 years and above, we should ordinarilly not be discussing the child in relation to politics, but the reality shows the contrary.
CHILDREN RIGHTS AND THE POLITICAL PROCESS IN NIGERIA
Children have been known to be deployed in the procurement of subversion of the electoral process. At various stages, experience has shown that children have been used as agents and cannon fodder, by unscrupulous politicians throughout the lenght and breadth of Nigeria.
Prominent areas of child rights abuse in the Nigerian political process include the processes of
* Registration of voters where underaged persons are registered to bolster up the voting strength of political constituencies, contrary to law.7
* Children are again used to procure thumbprints during the process of multiple voting. This is done to generate different fingerprints in the event of contestation,since the tests adopted will not identify the age of the finger printers.
* Children are also recruited as thugs and armed to procure the harassment of voters, at elections, snatching of ballot boxes and other offences including the elimination of political opponents.
The impact of the exploitation of children to prosecute electoral malpractices and offences has profound effects on the victims development and rights. These altered states,some of which are not immediately visible, affect the victim for the rest of their life.
A child who partakes in the commission of crimes, developes a radically altered psyche and world view. The likelihood of recovery is remote and the chances in a weak economy like ours, slim.
Similarly a child below the age of 18, who pulls the trigger to extinguish life, is himself seriously demoralized and his humanity altered. For this category of victims, it may take a miracle for them to truly return from the state of war into which their impressionable young minds have been launched.
Again, the entire environment of violence and the carnage that generally accompanies the electoral process in Nigeria, certainly affects the child in the environment and the sometimes stupendous affluence that follows successful thuggery operations in an election season, cannot fail to question the neighbouring child’s conviction that the regular and long way to affluence through hard work is a reasonable way.
These generally erode the childs right to normal development and conducive environment for growing up.
THE CASE OF RIVERS STATE
Rivers state like 25 other states in Nigeria has enacted the Child’s Right Act into law, this means its provisions are operative in the state.
Rivers state like every other state in Nigeria has in the last one decade, also shared the above enumerated electoral decadence with others, but being the centre of the Niger Delta and the hub of the Oil Industry in Nigeria, activities here had polled in much more children than in other states.
Two events made this possible, these are;
The 2003 general elections in which the government of that day was seeking re-election, witnessed a scenario where the incumbent in preparing for perceived strong opposition, democratized small arms among pockets of private armies and cults across the state, which turned out to be an overkill as there was really no strong opposition facing it. The end point was the prevalence of child soldiers recruited by various cult kingpins and other common criminal groups. The bulk of these soldiers were child soldiers of our described definition.
The overwhelming number of youthful faces among the men now undergoing reformatory training and re-orientation as ex-militants under the Federal Government Amnesty Programme lends credence to this point.8
The second factor was the emergent business of kidnapping for ransom that erupted within the said period. Young persons and children easily latched on to the trade, and richly gained and enjoyed with scrupulous recklessness, the reward of their loot. It is apt to say that the official patronage of these gangs, within the period, criminalized politics and politicized crime in the state.
It is a great relief that the present government emerged with a clear signal that it operates with zero tolerance for criminality.
This stance has since led to the close of the business and released the state from the clutch of extreme criminality and the attendant hardship it brought on the people.
Once again, the children who were victims of this criminal recruitment have once again, the chance to start the difficult route to recovery. Fortunately, keying into the Federal Government’s amnesty programme has provided a necessary tool for their re-orientation.9
General elections are here again, one is in no doubt that the government of Rivers State will remain consistent and committed to its zero tolerance to criminality and abuse of children’s rights, it remains to be seen if other parties can also abstain from such acts.
It Appears clear and indubitable that acute surveillance will be required to create an environment that will make such abuse difficult, as criminals will not by themselves, stop their inclination.
Sadly, this nation has been slow to prosecute electoral offenders, and with them those who exploit children and incite their naive minds into partaking in electoral crimes.10
Strong will, which this Government has demonstrated it does not lack, will be required, to succeed, but widespread campaign and sensitization of Rivers children and parents will also be required to change and ward children off the often mouth watering entreaty of would-be recruiters.
Children are the future of every nation and their protection and guidance towards a meaningful future, the cardinal responsibility of every government.
Nigeria must begin to invest in its future, by taking more proactive steps towards preserving the serenity of growing-up and the sanctity of child-raising, especially in today’s toxic environment, if we must enhance the capacity of our children to compete in the increasingly more competitive emergent environment that the future promises to be.
Beyond legislation, we must demonstrate strong political will to make statutes work by breathing the life of effective implementation into them. The conducts about which we complain are already clearly criminalized by S.22 (F) of the INEC Act 2006 (as amended), which prohibits and punishes the procurement or inducement of any unqualified person to vote. Similarly S.26 of the child Rights Act prohibits the inducement of children to crime as it provides that:
No person shall employ, use or involve a child in any capacity involving or leading to the commission of any other offence not already specified (in the Act).
These provisions echo the spirit of the United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the O.A.U Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1991). It is the responsibility of the Nigerian government including the government of Rivers State, to make these lofty legislative provisions work, and I hope we are able to live that tall global dream for the sake of our children and our own future.
- Article 1 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.
- Hohfeld, W. N: FUNDAMENTAL LEGAL CONCEPTIONS (ed. W.W. Cook) 1923, p.38. For detailed discussion, see WOKOCHA, R. A.: “Development Rights Concerns in the Niger Delta” in DEVELOPMENT RIGHT ISSUES IN THE NIGER DELTA. [R. A. WOKOCHA (Ed)] Jite Books, Press, 2002. Pp. 12-29. at P.15.
- See also Akoma, Soyibo, etal available online at cscanada.net/index.php/css/article/viewfile/1250/1324.
- See s. 26 of the Nigerian Child Rights Act in particular, and the entire Part III of the Act in general.
- See Ketefe, K:Child’s rights and responsibilities in Nigeria accessed online on 15/03/2011 at http://nationalmirroronline.net/features/3933.html
- This is just some, as there are many other forms of malpractices in the system.
- SeeS. 24, INEC Act. 2006 as ammended.
- Similarly, Soboma George one of the leading Ex militant leaders was killed lin 2010 at the age of 31, to have been a king pin 10 years ago, he would have to have been in the business from childhood.
- The process which began as a federal initiative has already inspired core affected states like Rivers state, to identical initiatives which are helping to retrieve broken chilhoods and arrested development among victims.
- As a nation with a long history of criminality at elections, Nigeria is yet to record it’s first conviction of electoral criminals. This certainly questions the nation’s commitment to engendering transparency in electoral matters.