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Child Discipline Or Child Abuse: A Need To Revisit The Child Rights Act

By Oluwaseun Ajaja
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When the news of Ogechi Anyalewechi, the 14 year old Senior Secondary School 2 girl attending Eva Adelaja Girls Secondary School broke, it reminded us of the sad reality of child abuse permeating our environment, and has recently crept into our schools. The rationale for inflicting such physical pain on the young girl is as disheartening as the status of those responsible. This episode should fan the embers of the discussion with regards to who should be in charge of the `correction` of a child and to what extent.

Sadly, her story is one of many that has coloured our headlines in recent times, necessitating a stroll to Damascus for baptism. With over 2 million Nigerian children out of the school system due to the activities of Boko Haram as well as poverty in the north, paucity along with disinterest in the south cum a dearth of basic utilities and teaching expertise coupled with widespread corruption in Nigeria, it should be of grave concern to any serious government when any form of abuse rears its ugly head within the walls of our citadels of learning. Unfortunately, the school which is the second home of a child, where he spends an average of 40% of his growing up and formative years has also become notorious for being the second most profound breeding ground for the abuse of the child after the child`s home.

The United Nations General Assembly on the 20th of November, 1989 burdened with the continuous exploitation and subjugation of the child adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Nigerian Child. Similarly, the then OAU Assembly of Heads of States and Government adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRCW) in July, 1990.

Although Nigeria ratified both conventions in 1991 and 2000 respectively, it took another 13 years for the country to deem it of importance to have it domesticated. The Child Rights Act which was assented to in 2003 is a legal document that sets out the rights and responsibilities of a child in Nigeria and provides for a system of child justice administration. More than 15 years after, only 24 states have adopted and re-enacted their respective Childs Rights Law.

One of such states is Lagos which adopted and assented to it on the 28th of May, 2007. The believe at the time of its adoption, re-enactment and passage was that it would provide respite for the Nigerian child from guardians, neighbors, teachers, mentors, senior colleagues and others who in their privileged position to have interactions with the child might subjugate and degrade them for their personal aggrandizement. This also extends to those charged with the responsibility of impacting knowledge, discipline and molding the child, who also in their zeal to attain a level of accomplishment in them embrace excesses and either deliberately or intermittently stroll the corridors of child abuses.

Sadly, its adoption has done little to provide reprieve for the Nigerian child in particular and children the world over in general. Even in countries where the protection of children is of imperative importance to their government, instances of abuse continue to abound and grow. Rather than curb the dragon, the enacted legislation opened a floodgate for the sporadic abuse of the child.

The worse culprits are the core cultural cum religious people and institutions that hide under diverse religious and cultural justifications to inflict untold hardship on children with a view to acculturating them. While I acknowledge that children can be mischievous and handful, child psychologist have postulated that the mischief is an integral and monumental part of the developmental process of the child. This believes has necessitated the diverse legislations enacted to justify this mischief while establishing a framework for the protection of the child.

A balance however must be struck; for excessive indulgence of mischief in a child would be counter-productive. Nonetheless, this` balance` should not and must not be attained via physical torture or inhumane treatment of the child. Nevertheless, most parents and guardians believe that the discipline of his or her child/ward is a divine right that cannot be legislated away or curtailed by any legislative body; afterall the Holy Book admonishes us not to ` “… not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” (Prov. 23:13).

Sadly, the above bible verse has been taken literarily to justify a blatant employment of the `rod of correction` to drive `foolishness` from the heart of a child. While most of the children do not die, the experience leaves an indelible physical mark and a scorched emotional strain that warrants regurgitation in their own kids. This regurgitation has crept into the subconscious of teachers and tutors who now employ the whip at will to instill in their students a form of discipline they feel, albeit wrong, is necessary for the proper development of the child.

What is more worrisome as in the case of Ogechi Anyalewechi, is that an abuse of her specie took place in a state that has passed the Child Rights Law which expressly provides again the torture and inhumane treatment of a child. This flagrant disregard for the child right must not be taken slightly, otherwise reoccurrence is imminent. If a forward thinking, trail brazing, law abiding, law enforcing, enlightened state like Lagos State allows such violation to go unpunished, the hope of the Nigerian child in full glaze of the Child Rights Law/Act would become a laughing stock. Who then would protect the Nigerian Child?

Oluwaseun O Ajaja, a Legal Practitioner writes from Lagos.

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