Juvenile Law - Securing Justice for the Nigerian Child


'State parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical and mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation including sexual abuse while with parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child: (Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child).
THIS write up 'Juvenile Law; Securing Justice for the Nigerian Child' aims at projecting a clear understanding of the juvenile justice system and increasing the awareness of the civil society about the experience and treatment of juvenile offenders in Nigeria. This piece of work was borne out of the pains of seeing the Nigeria child and the young offenders most times being tried and punished alongside with the adult offenders. The juvenile courts are not utilized anymore and there seems to be no justice for the Nigerian Child.

Each day that passes sees an increase in juvenile delinquency in Nigeria, most of the juveniles and young offenders are harshly punished for even petty offences they commit. The situation of these children and young offenders is appalling; as they become the victim of circumstance which they have no control over. It is even more disheartening that the law of the country operates not to restrain them but to punish them. It is worthy of note that the juvenile law in its original form was intended to care, reform and rehabilitate any minor found involved in a crime in the society. However this good plans and intentions are gradually being washed away.
In attempt to give crystal meaning to this write up, it will be of utmost importance to begin by giving a working definition of the subject matter.
The Black's Law Dictionary, 9th edition defines a juvenile to be 'A person who has not reached the age (usually 18) at which one can be treated as an adult by the criminal justice system' a juvenile is seen as a minor or a child.
The Children and Young Persons Law (CYPL) sees a child as a person under the age of 14 years. The OAU charter on the Rights & Welfare of a Child views a child as a person under the age of 18 years, also the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a child sees a child to be any person or human below the age of 18 years.
The involvement of these children, minors or young persons into various anti-social behaviors, especially behaviors that would be criminally punished if the act was committed by an adult is the reason behind this work.
Juvenile law, also known as justice for minors, is an area of law which deals with the actions and well being of persons who are not yet adults. Juvenile law tends to protect a minor who is not yet old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. In most circumstances the age definitions are significant because they determine whether a young person accused of criminal conduct will be charged with a crime in adult court or will be required to appear in juvenile court.
In order for the child's rights to be respected and protected, such laws must be specially adapted to their specific needs. Justice for the minors, as the name implies, is reserved for those who have not yet attained legal maturity.
Juvenile delinquency can be referred to as anti-social behaviors by minors or the habitual committing of criminal acts or offences by a young person(s) especially one below the age at which ordinary criminal prosecution is possible. Juvenile delinquency can also be said to be any act which is in violation with the criminal law, committed by a person who can be referred under the law as a juvenile, such an act if committed by an adult will be treated as crime or criminal conduct.
Juvenile delinquency in our society today is spreading like wild fire. The alarming rate of juvenile delinquency within the Nigerian society calls for great concern. It has been referred to by many as a 
moral decadence, unruly behaviors and total departure from the norm. Its definitions, manifestations and controls are influenced by families, political, social and economic conditions. Every member of the society, from our leaders to the followers share in the blame of the high increase in juvenile delinquency. It may not be far from the truth that crime, corruption and moral degeneration today is the resultant effect of the high increase of juvenile delinquency in our society.
Furthermore, It may interest you to know that these children were not criminals while in their mothers' womb neither were they born criminals. The truth remains that some of the families where these children come from have morals burning at its lowest ebb. The environment and society does not even help matters as it is been infiltrated with moral debauchery, also the fighting and killings in politics is seen as a fuel that amplifies delinquency. What more can we say? Of a truth, juvenile delinquency in every society can be traced to certain foundational factors,
Late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa JSC once said 'Nothing will happen in our nation and country which did not first happen in our minds, if wrong is rampant, if indiscipline is rife, if corruption is the order of the day, then let's search our individual minds for that is where it all begins'
In the view of my Lord Justice as stated above, our various minds are the origin of these problems. We therefore humbly submit to the fact that our minds, our homes and families are the starting point of juvenile delinquency in our nation and country. It is of utmost importance to state that the menace of juvenile delinquency can only be curbed if we can start addressing it from the our minds.
Juvenile justice system is seen as a track within the criminal justice system. The juvenile justice system is guided by a philosophy of concern, care, reformation and rehabilitation. The young offenders are often deemed to be immature and should not be treated as adult offenders. Otherwise juvenile delinquents should be considered "misguided" and therefore rescued or subjected to 
treatment, or reformation and rehabilitation program within correctional institution. (Juvenile Justice & Administration in Nigeria by E.E.O Alemika & I.C. Chukuma)
These juveniles and young offenders like we earlier stated were not 'born criminals' but are victims of circumstances beyond their control. Some were influenced by social or economic conditions which could have been addressed by the government of the day. In event where these young offenders are found guilty of crimes, they should be given opportunity for correction, reformation, rehabilitation and be restored back to the society as useful and law abiding citizens instead of being convicted, sentenced or punished like the adult.
Justice for minor as the name implies, is reserved for those persons who have not attained the age of maturity or who are below 18 years as the case may be. Most times it may be very difficult to ascertain the actual age of an adolescent to be tried or if he or she has attained the age of criminal responsibility.
The age of criminal responsibility occurs at a certain age when national law considers a young offender to have attained adequate emotional, psychological and intellectual maturity to take responsibility for committing a crime. It is important to state here that the justice system must be tailored to the age of the offender; this will ensure the confirmation whether such a person is an adult, a criminally responsible adolescent or a child
Juvenile crime often represent a significant proportion of the total criminal activity in a community. It is usually assumed that adolescents deserve and require special handling because they are in a formative period and criminal behavior at this stage of life may not necessarily be continued into adulthood. Therefore, rehabilitation has particular appeal for use with juveniles.
The child is seen as a vulnerable member of the society deserving special protection. The child by his physical and mental immaturity needs special safeguard and care, including appropriate legal protection from the government. The protection of the rights of a child and treatment of juvenile offenders is protected and regulated by several International Legal Instrument i.e. Conventions and Charters.
Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child provides thus:
'State parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical and mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation including sexual abuse while with parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child'.
Article 37 & 40 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child further provides thus:
.No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age.
.No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
.Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of the persons of their age. In particular every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances;
.Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance as well as the right to challenge legality of deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority and to a prompt decision on any such action.
A child who is involved in the justice system has many rights.
A child has the right to ask questions about anything they do not understand. They must know what they are accused of and have the right to know their rights. In line with their fundamental human right and right to defense, these children have the right to disagree with those who have accused them. These Children must have access to an informed lawyer because they are not often knowledgeable about the law or how justice systems function. Any conversations they have with the lawyer must be private and held in the native language or any other language comprehensible to the child.
These children must be allowed to function in the justice system without feeling pressure or intimidation, or fear for their own life or the lives of their families, especially as witnesses.
The right to compensation can correct wrongs and help a child to heal whatsoever wrong done to him, this compensation can come from the one who committed the crime or even from the government. These children also have the right to have their parents or guardian present, these and many more are the rights of a child in the criminal justice system.
Juvenile law in its original form was built around the beliefs of care, reform and rehabilitation of any minor involved in a crime but reverse seems to be the case today. The enormous task and responsibility behooves on the government to return to this good and savoring intentions for juvenile law. At this juncture, our message is that the securing of justice for the Nigerian Child should be made a top priority in our criminal justice system. This suffice to say that the treatment of the Nigerian Child or young offenders should be done in conformity with the law, as a child should not be punished like an adult.
-Anyalechi is of JURISLAW Associates, Port Harcourt
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