Implementation of Child Protection Law to End Abuse

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The Kaduna State government appears poised to end child abuse in the state. Following the rejection of the Child’s Right Act 2003, the state came up with its version by enacting the Kaduna State Child’s Welfare and Protection in 2018. John Shiklam writes on the recent collaboration with UNICEF to train stakeholders on the implementation of the law

In a move to curb the increasing cases of child abuse, the Kaduna State government in collaboration with the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has taken steps to implement the Child’s Welfare and Protection Law which was passed by the State House of Assembly in 2018.

This law is the state’s version of the Child Right Act (CRA), which was passed by the National Assembly in 2003. Despite constitutional provision requiring that all federating states must pass the Child Rights Act in their states, 10 states, mainly from the North, are yet to as a result of perceived non compliance with religious and cultural norms.

In Kaduna, it took 15 years of serious debates and resolution of the grey areas in the Child Right Act, before the law was remodeled and passed as “Child Welfare and Protection Law”.

In order to ensure its implementation, UNICEF, in collaboration with Kaduna State Ministry of Human Services and Social Development has trained members of the state and local government implementation committees on the underlying principles of law and how to effectively carry out their functions as set out in Section 199 and 203 of the law, all in a bid to stem the tide of rising cases of child abuse and neglect.

In September 2020, Governor Nasir el-Rufai, signed the State Penal Code (Amendment) Law 2020, prescribing stringent penalties for child rape as part of measures to tackle cases of rampant sexual abuse against children in the state. The controversial penal code amendment law prescribed castration/removal of the fallopian tubes in the case of female, as well as death for anyone that rapes a child under 14 years or castration/removal of fallopian tube and life jail for anyone that rapes a person over 14years of age.

Training

The state and local government Implementation Committees would hopefully serve as instutional vehicle for addressing root causes of rape and other forms of violence against children. Training them would be critical to success.

To this end, the six-day training was divided in three batches and had in attendance key stakeholders in child welfare and protection – ministries, police, Correctional Centre; market women, civil society organisations /media, community leaders, among others.

Two judges – Justice Darius Khobo of the State High Court and Khadi Mohammed Aminu Danjuma of the Sharia Appeal court, were among the top judicial officers in attendance at the training which held between November 25 and December 1, 2020 in Kaduna.

The training was aimed at ensuring that stakeholders in the implementation of Kaduna State Child Protection Law were adequately equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge required to carry out their legally assigned roles to effectively implement the law.

Child Protection

Speaking at the event, the Commissioner for Human Services and Social Development, Hajiya Hafsat Mohammed Baba, stated that the welfare and the protection of children is one of the priorities of the Kaduna State government. She said the training was “timely”, stressing that “Child protection, that is, prevention and response to violence and abuse, is one the key areas that we are concentrating on as a ministry”.

She also commended Governor Nasir El-Rufai, for ensuring that the law saw the light of the day after so many years, adding that the implementation of the law was very important.

The commissioner expressed gratitude to UNICEF for all the support it has been giving to the state government, most especially, training and capacity building programmes as well as data management, leading to the setting up of the pilot Child Protection Information Management System in the state.

“We are looking at how to protect our women, children, people with disabilities and also our youths. I will appeal to all of us to do our work diligently and to be committed. We have developed some documents, starting with setting procedures and so on.

“We have Sexual Abuse Referral Centres (SARC), we have a working relationship with other sister ministries like; ministries of health, justice, education and the judiciary. I want to appeal to all of us to please continue to work hard for the protection of children in Kaduna State”, the commissioner said.

The commissioner disclosed that Family Courts, which are part of the requirement for implementing the law, would soon be established, saying that her ministry, UNICEF and the Chief Judge of Kaduna State had met over the issue.

Mandate to Protect Children

Also in his remarks, Dr. Willy Mamah, UNICEF’s Child Protection Specialist and the lead facilitator of the training, said UNICEF, as an international organisation has a mandate for children – “to protect their best interest at all times and to work with all stakeholders to preserve children’s right to life, survival and development.

“We believe that every child, irrespective of age, nationality, creed must be entitled to certain defined rights and dignity. Therefore, we are working with governments across the world to ensure that children are adequately protected. As you know, children are the backbone of any community. Without children, sustainable survival of humanity cannot be achieved”.

He said in Kaduna State, UNICEF maintains an excellent working relationship with the governor who, “has shown remarkably strong political will in protecting children”.

Mamah further added that UNICEF would continue to cooperate with the Ministry of Human Services and Social Development and other critical stakeholders in the judiciary, ministries of justice, budget, health, local government, NGOs to name but a few.

He stated that although Kaduna State, was like a shinning star in the North with the passage of Child Welfare Protection Law in 2018, implementation could be improved upon by creation of essential structures, like family court, specialised children’s police units, children correctional centres and other approved institutions, relevant for implementation.

“Our work is to ensure that we collaborate with all the key stakeholders- the judiciary, key ministries, the security agencies, Civil Society Organisations and the media to build and strengthen the child protection system to deliver result for children.

“In UNICEF, we have identified five important systems that must work together and work well to represent children. The systems, are legal and policy framework, social welfare system, the justice sector, social norms change and information gathering which are very key in protecting children against abuses.

“So we are here to continue to work with you to fill the structural gaps. That is why we are supporting the setting up of these committees”, Mamah said. He maintained that the committees are important to the implementation of the law in Kaduna state as they have been mandated to popularise the law, “to take the law to the hinterlands and make it work”.

“I assure you, that we will continue to work with you, as a realiable partner to preserve the lives and interest of children in Kaduna State”, he added.

Initial Hurdles

Giving an insight to the law, Justice Darius Khobo of the Kaduna State High Court, narrated the hurdles that led to the long delay in passing the law in Kaduna, saying that nobody thought the law would ever see the light of the day.

According to the judge, who headed the Justice Sector Reform Group in the state, the law was initiated many years ago, but it was kept aside by the State House of Assembly because of religious, cultural norms and other intrigues.

The judge recalled that in 2011, USAID and the British Council came to Nigeria to see how they could contribute to reduce the issues of corruption in the country and they created an aspect of the justice sector, called ‘Justice for All’.

According to him, they insisted on the need for every state judiciary to have a justice sector, and “by the grace of God the then Chief Judge of Kaduna state, Hon. Justice R. O. Kudjo, now retired constituted the Kaduna State Justice Sector Reform Group, headed by me”.

He said other members of the Justice Reform Group cut across the academia, the ministry of finance budget and planning, ministry of justice, police, prison, NGOs and Human rights, to mention but a few.

Justice Khobo explained that the objective was to bring all the stakeholders in the justice sector together as a group, adding that, in the course of time, the issue of domesticating the Child’s Rights Act (CRA) in Kaduna “came to the front burner and we now picked it from there and we asked why was the law dumped by the state House of Assembly.

“We picked it up, dusted it and we saw all the reasons that stopped the passage of the CRA. All the arguments that were advanced were taken together. We constituted a subcommittee to confront these issues. The team identified key stakeholders as it relates to that law, particularly, those that raised concerns that led to the dumping of this law.

“We invited all the groups – Ja’amatu Nasril Islam (JNI), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). We went through the law together with them and questions were raised. We asked them if this law is changed and the wordings are changed, will it be accepted, CAN and JNI said yes.

“In Kaduna, we have four tiers of oath, we have to take care of that. There were so many other innovations, the group trashed out all the grey areas that led to this law not seeing the light of the day.”

Re-drafted Law

Having resolved them all, he said thea law was now re-drafted and by 2015, the administration of Mallam Nasir el-Rufai came. “We paid a courtesy to him. The law had to be re-drafted, capturing all the innovations, the grey areas, resolve of the subcommittee and the position presented by the justice sector of Kaduna State and it went back to the governor and it was presented to the State Assembly as an executive bill. Thank God, with all the fears properly addressed, the state House of Assembly did not find difficulties in passing it into law in 2018”, the judge explained.

He commended the UNICEF team in Kaduna for playing “a very great role in seeing to the passage of the child welfare bill into law.”

Speaking further Khobo said “UNICEF came and we partnered and the law is here today. I need to give credit to the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, for taking this law after all the groundwork was done by the reform team and presenting it as executive bill. We had to change the name from ‘Child Rights Law’ to ‘Child Welfare and Protection Law’, as a negotiation strategy/ game of honour”.

He said the law is the in-depth work of the justice reform team, with all stakeholders partnering the Ministry of Women Affairs.

Key Areas in Child Rights Welfare and Protection Law

In his presentation, Dr. Mamah, the lead facilitator, assisted by Mr. Gilbert Tor of the National Judicial Institute(NJI), led participants step by step through the key areas of Child Rights Welfare and Protection Law namely, Legal Framework, highlighting how the CRL interact with other relevant laws, like the Constitution and Criminal Law, Overriding Principles of the Child’s Rights Law, Child Protection and Systems Approach and Child Justice in both Criminal and Civil Matters.

Emphasising the role of collaboration to success in implementing the law, participants were also exposed to the roles of key institutions, like the Specialised Children’s Police Unit, Family Court at four levels- High Court, Magistrate Court, Customary Court and Shariah Court.

The training also covered Diversion, Correctional, Rehabilitation Centres and other approved institutions, Social Welfare Officers and Assessors, State and Local Government Child Welfare and Protection Implementation Committees, Child Protection Networks and the role of the Sexual Assault Centres.

Mamah and Tor, in a simple and engaging way drew copious examples from the reality of day-to-day living, equipped participants with all the 21 Parts and 11 Schedules of the Child Welfare and Protection Law in the context of Child Protection polices and practice in Kaduna State.

The climax of the training was a very robust opportunity for the Implementation committees to draw from lessons learnt and develop a workable/fundable work plan for their respective local governments.

The work planning, according to Mamah, who facilitated the process, is a critical strategy for success in ending violence against children.
According to him, Work Plan, is a tool for engaging multiple sources of support -both local and international, to achieve the State and Local Committees’ overriding objective of ending all forms of violence against children in their respective LGAs.

Hope for Harmonised Approach

Speaking in an interview with THISDAY in his office in Kaduna after the training, UNICEF’s Chief Field Officer, Dr. Zakari Adam expressed hope for a harmonised approach to child protection in Kaduna State.

“Our expectations after this training is to see 100 per cent of protection of children in the communities”, the UNICEF Chief said.

He added that those who will ensure this protection are those trained, stressing that they are the “tools of tools” who will be in the fore front in child protection. After this training, we are expecting to have a harmonised approach to deal with issues affecting child protection.

“We are all aware of those Almajiri children who are on the streets in the cities. They are children with parents roaming the streets. They are left on their own, sometimes in the hands of Mallams who sometimes exploit them”, he said. The UNICEF Chief who lamented that parents are not playing their role in bringing up their children, said there is need to have people who will monitor the protection of children.

“We need to have people who can follow up on the protection of children. Our expectation after this training is to see 100 per cent of protection of children in the communities. Those who will ensure this protection are those we are training. That is why I call them tools of tools. The measures put in place are all tools; we need people who are enlightened and well trained, who will ensure the protection of children in their communities.

“After this training and mobilisation, we don’t want to see children on the streets. We want them back to school. We want violence against children to end. We want all harmful traditional practices against children, like early child marriage, female genital mutilation and all these damaging practices on children to end”, the UNICEF Chief said.

Speaking further, he stated that “UNICEF’s cooperation with the Kaduna state government is holistic one, stressing that any issue concerning children (child protection, education, health, nutrition, safety and well-being) is a concern to UNICEF.”

He assured that UNICEF is going to be part of measures to ensure that structures are responsive and accountable with regard to holistically protecting all children.

“We will continue to work with government and other stakeholders to ensure that no child is left behind and that they all grow in an environment of safety and well being conducive to the full realisation of their potentials.”