JUVENILE JUSTICE ADMINISTRATION SYSTEM AND FACTORS MILITATING AGAINST EFFECTIVE JUVENILE JUSTICE ADMINISTRATION SYSTEM IN NIGERIA.
Nigeria’s system of juvenile justice which is modeled after the British system was established in 1914, although it has been modified in various locations to accommodate local customs.
Juvenile justice administration has been embodied under the country’s federal ministry of justice. For experts and lay people alike, this act underlined the level to which the administration of juvenile justice had sunk below in Nigeria.
The term juvenile can be describe as a legal term for those under the age of majority, which varies from country to country but it is usually between 18 and 21. Most civic and legal rights and duties accrue only at the age of majority: for example, the rights to vote, to make a will, and (usually) to make fully binding contract, and the duty to act as a juror. In Nigeria the age of majority for voting has been 18 years since 1979.
Juvenile justice administration system in Nigeria can be describe as a system of justice set up by the federal government of Nigeria to take care and charge of person (s) and people below 18 years. A separate court and system of administration can and is always established for them. This trend stem from the fact that numerous cases of juvenile delinquency exist and the present government is increasingly finding it hard to deal with their case or situation often referred to as ‘special cases.’
The justice administrations, especially the juvenile departments are concerned about protecting the rights of the underage children. Few of us want to dwell on the subject of sexual abuse of children. Parents and government shudder at the very thought of it. Such abuse, however, is a frightening and unpleasant reality in today’s world, and its effects on children can be devastating. These ideas could be traced to the very essence that the primary responsibility for protecting children against abuse belongs to parents, not to children.
The children and young persons Act is the major piece of legislation dealing with matters affecting children and young persons in Nigeria. Its stated purpose is “to make provision for the welfare of the young and the treatment of young offenders and for establishment of juvenile courts”.
This Act was first enacted in 1943 by the British colonial government for application in any part of the protectorate of Nigeria on the order of the Governor-in-Council. It was then specifically enacted for Lagos in 1946 and was later on extended to the Eastern and Western Regions of Nigeria in that same year. A similar law was enacted for the Northern Region of the Country in 1958. Subsequently, on the introduction of a state structure in the country, Lagos state (in common with many others) enacted its own children and young persons Law (hereinafter referred to as the CYPL).
Thereafter, Nigeria became a signatory to the convention on Rights of the Child, the Criminal Procedure Act and the children and young persons laws (CYPL) of the various states define juveniles as a special category of offenders; all persons under the age of 17 or 18, as the case may be, are juveniles in terms of these Act and Laws.
Under this law (CYPL) Three categories of children may be brought before the juvenile court and they are;
(i) Children alleged to have committed offences;
(ii) Children in need of care and protection; and
(iii) Children beyond parental control.
The word “juvenile” can also be seen in the Webster English Dictionary as “relating to youth or young people, meant for young people. A child or young person.”
The black’s law dictionary defines the juvenile justice system as the collective institutions through which a youthful offender passes until any charges have been disposed of or the assessed punishment has been concluded.
The CYPL defines a “child” to mean a person under the age of 14, while a “young person” is defined as a person who has attained the age of 14 and is under the age of 18. Except in respect of some punishments, there is little practical significance to these distinctions and for ease of reference it is proposed that whenever the word “child” or “juvenile” is used in this presentation, it refers to a person under the age of 18 who may be dealt with under the special provisions of the CYPL.
Most juvenile offenders are children, who have committed offences under laws which are also applicable to adults, children who play truant may be brought before the juvenile court in the exercise of it’s criminal jurisdiction under the CYPL, example: any child of primary or secondary School age who habitually fails to attend class or is found loitering on the streets or is found in any eating or drinking place, shop or public place of entertainment during school hours may be apprehended by the police or any other authorized person, be arraigned before a juvenile court and “if found guilty” be sent to a remand home for a period of not more than three (3) months.
Juvenile court proceedings take place in two courts a high court consisting of a single judge and a magistrate court composed of a magistrate and two lay persons, including one woman. Proceedings are formal and are intended to protect. In other words, the trial of juvenile must be held in-camera. This is because juvenile offenders are classified different category of offenders who ought to be treated differently from the adult accused persons.
The child’s Rights Act and Childs Rights laws of the various states also have provisions for establishment of the family court for the purposes of hearing and determining matters relating to children.
Section 149 of the child’s Rights Act, 2003 establishes the family court for each state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Section 150 provides that the family court (in the Act referred to as “the court”) shall be at two levels-
“(a) the court as a division of the high court at the high court level; and
(b) the court as a magistrate court at the magistrate level”.
So much premium is placed on the protection of the rights of the child that the Act specifically stipulates that the personnel of the court shall be afforded professional education, in service training, refresher courses, among other things, to promote and embrace the necessary professional competence they require.
These days, it seems that the juvenile courts are not allowed anymore by the ordinary courts to exercise jurisdiction over all children who are accused of criminal offences except those children who are charged jointly with adults and children who are charged with homicide who may be tried as adults in the ordinary courts.
From the various report we got recently, and complaints from parents whose children are young persons from the Act’s definition of a young person, the position of the juvenile justice administration in Nigeria now is so poor that I think it needs a reform.
In a recent prison visits by the National Coordinator of HURIWA, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, he pointed out that there is a great number of juveniles in prison some of them even awaiting trial.
According to him, “those young persons supposed to be in remand homes and not adult prison because the adult prison would definitely harden them and make them worse criminals”.
A child offender should only be remanded as last resort when that is the only way to protect both the child and the society. The trial of such a child should not take place in a regular court setting which is likely to intimidate the child but it should be in a very informal and child friendly setting.
However, certain criteria can be identified as numerous factors militating against the effective administration of juvenile system in Nigeria. They include:
1. Improper justice system: Lack of proper justice system in Nigeria’s administrative system can be viewed as one of the key factors affecting juvenile system of administration in the country.
2. Constitutional defects: the non inclusion of certain child’s right act into the constitution of the federal republic has impedes on the growth of an effective juvenile administration in the country.
3. Lack of juvenile court judges: the absences or lack of juvenile court judges and lawyers has greatly affected the administration of juvenile. The case of were children are abuse or molested but don’t have judges or lawyers to defend is increasingly becoming an embarrassment for the nation.
4. Funding: lack of funds especially from the government and partners have hinder juvenile system of administration in the country. Funds are needed in prosecuting and making the cases of abuse children heard in the outside world. If these trends continue, I fear we will still continue to live in limbo!
5. Attitudinal and cultural changes: the kind of parental and societal attitudes attach to children behaviours in our present world today can be seen as our ‘normal way of life’. We tend to put cultural ties to the defends of child’s character if infringe upon.