FAMILY LAW 2.8 CHILD ABUSE, LABOUR AND NEGLECT
Parents have a right to the service of a child… however, where can the dividing line be drawn?
Who is a child?
Blackslaw Dictionary defines a child as a progeny offspring of parentage whether born or unborn. According to the Child Rights Act 2003 a child is a person who is less than 18 years. The Children and Young Person’s Act refers to a child as a person under 14 years and a young person is one that has attained 14 but is less than 17. The Matrimonial Causes Act sets 21 as the age of majority.
From the discrepancies noted above, we should just say a child is a person who has not attained the prescribed age of majority.
What is Child Abuse?
According to Kempe and Green, Child abuse is the non-accidental injury inflicted on a child by a parent or guardian. Child abuse has been defined as the maltreatment of a child… An unacceptable act/omission which endanger the physical health, emotional, moral and educational welfare of the child. Although there are some acts which are accepted by the community but may still amount to child abuse.
Child neglect on the other hand is the denial of the basic right of the child by parents, school, peers, government and cultural community. Occurring as acts of omission and/or commission. Child Abuse = Positive Act/Commission. Child Neglect = Omission.
Dimensions and forms of child abuse;
- Physical: For example child labour and trafficking, child battery
- Psychological: for example therapeutic abuse, child marriage.
- Sexual: abuse including child marriage, prostitution.
- Physical, and psychological omission for example malnutrition, abandonment, neglect of handicapped children, and so on.
THINGS WHICH INFLUENCE CHILD ABUSE.
- The precepts and perception of the society.
- Intention and motive of the actor.
- Low self-esteem, depression, stress, aggression, emotional arousal, distress and withdrawal.
- Inter-generational transmission of child abuse problems.
- Low social- economic status, unemployment and low education.
- Psychopathy sociopath, immaturity, self-centeredness, defective character structure.
- Lack of mother-child bonding.
- Social isolation. (when there is insufficient family network)
- Where one’s culture approves abuse of the child.
Who is the perpetuator?
The parents, guardians, elder ones, or a person in loco parentis can be a perpetuator of child abuse.
There are various Statutory Protection for the child. We have the Child Rights Act, Article 3 of CEDAW Agreement, Article 19 UN Declaration, Article 16 African Charter on the Right of Child, the Criminal Code (Section 13, 218, 221 and 222, 295). The Penal Code (Section 39, 55 and 282, 285).
- A child above a prescribed age can consent to child abuse. The age of consent to indecent acts for a minor is 16 years in Lagos.
- Prosecution must be commenced within 2 months from the time the act was committed.
- A married child generally constitutes an exception to child abuse.
Scholars and writers have argued that these limitations should be removed. In my opinion, these limitations can be circumvented by suing through domestic violence or assault.
EFFECT OF CHILD ABUSE ON THE CHILDREN.
The consequences of child abuse are far reaching both psychological, physical and emotionally. It rouses behavioural problems, incites violence in the child and where a child is sexually abused, it may aggravate the child’s interest in sexual activities and sexual organs.
CHILD NEGLECT AND LABOUR
Section 301 and 302 of the Criminal Code imposes a duty on parents to provide necessaries for the child… care, education, protection, training, etc. a similar provision can be found in-Section 238 of the Penal Code.
The child has a right to:
- A name-Section 5 of the Child’s Rights Act.
- Registration at birth.
- Dignity, Privacy, association, assembly, conscience and religion with necessary guidance of the parents.
- Family life, Parental care, Protection and maintenance-Section 8 of the Child’s Right Act.
- Primary education should be free and compulsory.
- Right to health, cultural and social activities.
- Freedom to enter into a contract for necessities.
The Child should be protected from:
- Child marriage/betrothal.
- Tattoo, skin marks and tribal marks.
- Harm (whether the child is born or unborn).
- Hire, use, exploitative labour, hawking, begging for alms and so on.
- Prostitution, sexual abuse and exploitation.
- Being sold out to slavery.
- Use and peddling of narcotic and psychotropic substances and drugs.
- Being used in Criminal Activities. Like procuring theft.
- Abduction, kidnapping or removal from lawful custody.
- Recruitment into the armed forces.
- Harmful publications.
And so on.
Opinions on child labour differs based on the perspective of the observer. What may amount to child labour in some western countries may be okay in Nigeria.
In determining what amounts to child labour, we look at the facts of each case considering the following:
- The age of the child vis-à-vis the work he is asked to do.
- The nature of the work (the time and energy input required to do the work).
- The environment, safety, location, and other circumstances.
- The duration of the engagement.
- Impact on the education, health, development and life chances of the child.
- Motive of the parent and feeling of the child in relation to the work he is asked to do.
Was formerly referred to as parental Rights but it has been kicked against by scholars who argued that a child is neither a chattel nor a property. Parental right suggests the interest of parent while parental obligation is for the interest of the child.
Who is a child? The Child Rights Act provides that he is a person below the age of 18. The Children and Young Person’s Act provides that a child is a person below 14 while a young person is a below 17 years. All these have been discussed above.
Who is a parent? A parent is the person who gave birth to a child or a person who has legal custody of the child.
What is parental responsibility? By Section 277 Child Rights Act, all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which a parent has by law in relation to the child or his property.
JUSTIFICATION FOR PARENTAL OBLIGATIONS.
Biological Justification: The parents must take care of the being they brought into existence.
Social enjoyment: As a member of the society the child is entitled to care, love and comfort. The family being the basic unit is in the best position to provide such.
Even under custom, a child is regarded as an individual entity and a gift to the parent. Naming ceremony, and other acculturation practices are then carried out on the child. It is also recognised that a child needs training. Thus parental obligation is not alien to Nigeria.
Although the Child Rights Act and other international instruments do not provide stricto sensu for parental obligations, most of their provisions imply parental obligation.
What is best interest of the Child?
The international instruments and acts fail to define. In determining what amounts to best interest of the child, we must look at the provisions of the law. The custom or subjective approval of the parent is irrelevant. For example although some customs require tribal marks and female genital mutilation, such acts are contrary to the provisions of the law. Also, the fact that some customs allow child marriage and betrothal does not make right under the law even if the parent thinks it is in the best interest of the child.
The primary right of a parent is custody of the child because this is where other obligations flow from-Section 14 of the Childs Rights Act.
The primary obligation of a parent is care and control because other obligations flow from it. The various entitlements of a child has been discussed above.
In conclusion, the provision of the law on children’s right can be summarised thus: The child is entitled to grow up in an atmosphere of love and care and protection.