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A Child Friendly Justice System For African Children

On June 16, 2020, the African continent and indeed the world focused on the African child as the day was observed as Day of the African Child.  The Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union), established the Day to honour the courage of children and in memory of those killed during the 1976 students uprising in Soweto, South Africa. The Day is observed as an advocacy tool for enhancing the visibility of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child as well as promoting children's rights and welfare issues.  Apart from using the DAC to remember those children and to celebrate children in Africa, the Day is also marked to inspire a sober reflection and action towards addressing the plethora of challenges children in the continent face on a daily basis.  The African child's future is affected by inadequate learning, inadequate teaching materials and unqualified teachers. Many children live on the streets without protection; some are still dying at birth and from preventable diseases and; young girls are still forced into early marriages. There is increasing violence against children including rape and sexual violence; while insecurity and terrorism have displaced many from their homes exposing them to worse conditions.  This year's theme: "Access to a ChildFriendly justice System," is apt as children in Nigeria are facing child rights issues. This emphasises the pressing need for access to a child-friendly justice system in Nigeria, such that is accessible, diligent and focused on the rights and needs of children and where the best interest of the child is highly observed. It is a reminder for all states of the Federation to fully implement the Child's Rights Law and the obligation to uphold child friendly justice principles in any action concerning the child.  According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) statistics, over 36,000 child victims of violence, including 5,693 survivors of sexual violence (16 percent), were identified and documented in seven states of Nigeria since 2017. Sadly, only very few of those cases made it to the courtrooms, while very few of the child victims also got justice. UNICEF also reports that at the same time, the number of children awaiting trial for petty crimes were estimated at over 1,000 - with children often held in detention with adults and in conditions that no child should live in.  UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, said "Access to a child-friendly justice system is essential for protecting children's rights and addressing violence against children. Without access to a child-friendly justice system, children's rights will remain elusive - and as a society, we cannot serve the best interests of children, especially in the face of violations of their rights."    This year's event could not be elaborately celebrated due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.    Since access to a child-friendly justice system is essential for protecting children's rights and addressing violence against children, it becomes expedient for stakeholders to develop strategies towards ensuring that children can access a justice system that considers their special needs and rights.  Nigerian governments at all levels should provide and strengthen access to child-friendly justice systems by establishing specialised courts and dedicated law enforcement units within the Nigeria police, security, defence forces, and agencies in the six geo-political zones to fast-track full implementation of the Child Rights Act 2003.  Akwa Ibom government deserves commendation for the massive sensitization on Child's Right Law, establishment and training of Children's Parliament at the state and local government levels, provision of accommodation and care for over 800 orphans and less privileged children in five homes, and the provision of qualitative and compulsory education for all children in public primary and secondary schools, as well as in ensuring constant arrest and prosecution of offenders of Child's Rights Law in collaboration with relevant security agencies and the judiciary.  Parents, caregivers and other stakeholders must intensify efforts in ensuring that the rights of children are protected, while perpetrators who trampled on child rights are treated according to the provisions of the law.  Children are our future. Therefore, all hands must be on deck to secure the future of the African child.

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