Human rights issues today have not only become a global concern but remarkable interests aimed at protecting and promoting respect for and observance of these rights have continually been shown at international, regional and national levels.
The promulgation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of human rights by the United Nations organization has not only provided a firm foundation for the historical development and globalization of human rights, it has also served as a template for subsequent human rights instruments and presents a positive impact for legal, political and cultural evolutions of nations and remains the mirror by which “every individual and every organ of society reflects on human rights”.1
Indeed, “issues of human rights in the recent past has penetrated the international dialogue become an active ingredient in interstate relations and has burst the sacred bounds of national sovereignty.’2
Consequently to concretize human rights protection at national level, most national constitutions embody human rights either at their preamble or substantive provisions.
Nigerian constitutions beginning from the introduction of the bill of rights in the independence constitution of 1960 have always given due attention to human rights. Although certain governmental policies and regimes have threatened the very existence of these rights and even attempted to gag their observance, none have been able to extinguish them from constitutional provisions.
The protection of human rights in any national constitution is a recognition and part fulfillment of the international obligation of the state to take joint and separate action in cooperation with the united nations for the achievement of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The 1999 constitution in its preamble lays a foundation for human rights observance by dedicating itself to promote good government and welfare of all persons on the principle of freedom, equality and justice”.3
Subsequently, chapter II and IV of the constitution contain provisions on human rights. However in line with the Universal Declaration on human rights, the constitution also makes a distinction between the civil and political rights on the one hand and social, economic and cultural rights on the other.
The civil and political rights also known as the first generation rights enjoy a position of primacy among the hierarchy of right and are made justiciable by the constitution.
Social economic and cultural rights on the hand are known as second generation rights but have not been made justiciable by the constitution.
These rights therefore require affirmative government action for their enjoyment. Indeed section 13 of the constitution provides that it shall be the duty and responsibility of all organs of government and of all authorities and persons exercising legislative or judicial powers to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of (the fundamental objectives and derivative principles of state policy).
The none justiciable status of chapter 11 of the constitution has greatly impeded the realization and enjoyment of socio economic rights in our nation.
And while “it is appreciated that the obligation of state parties in the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights is to take steps to the maximum of their available resources with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of these rights”, it is also the fact that no meaningful enjoyment of these rights can be attained in the presence of this dichotomy especially as human rights have been declared to be interdependent and interrelated.
Women and children represent a vulnerable group most adversely affected by abuse, violence and discriminatory practices. Regrettably, while the government has been quick to ratify the various treaties and protocols which protect the socio-economic rights of women and children, save for the Child Rights Act, no positive action has been taken towards the domestication of other instruments. Consequently, the lives of women and children are yet to attain a commensurate level of improvement and they still rank very low in all indices of development.
2.0 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
2.1 THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD.
Nigeria as a member nation of the United Nations in 2003 adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Even though this law has been passed at the federal level, it is also pertinent for it to be enacted by the states so as to make it effective. To date, only 16 out of the 36 states have passed the act. This explains why this landmark legislative achievement has not yet translated into improved legal protection throughout the federation.
Nigeria has been unable to deal with severe issues hindering the protection rights of children affected by communal conflict, drug abuse, human trafficking and the weaknesses of the juvenile justice system among others.
Children are in conflict with the law for a variety of reasons. Poverty, social inequality, failed educational system, family problem, peer pressure, social and religious conflicts in which children are used as the foot soldiers are some of the factors that accounts for the number of children in conflict with the law. Unfortunately these children offenders are usually treated like adults and mixed up with adults in prison without coming in to contact with a social workers.
A most recent report on the right and welfare of the Nigerian child by the African Union showed that about 6,000 Nigerian children are in prison and detention centres across the nation. Girls make up about 10% and they mainly come into contact with the law as a result of criminal acts committed against them such as rape, sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Children constitute a vulnerable group and are at more risk to violence, abuse and discriminatory practices.
The boko haram menace which has claimed an estimated 6,000 lives have left thousands of Nigerian children homeless, without schools and on the streets. On April 15th 2014, 230 girls were kidnapped from the Chibok Government Secondary School by the boko haram terrorists. These girls are yet to be recovered.
The UNICECF fact sheet on child labour in 2006 reported that a staggering 15 million children under the age of 14 gears are exposed to long hours of work in dangerous and unhealthy environment with little food, small pay and no education and medical care.
Nigeria is a major supplier, consumer and transit route for human trafficking. Thousands of Nigeria children driven into different types of exploitative labour often become the most vulnerable groups.
Trafficking in children is a major violation of children’s rights and a contributory factor to exploitative child labour.
The end of the oil boom in the late 1970’s coupled with mounting poverty has drive millions of children into working in the field, quarries, private households and on the streets, and posing a serious threat to their health and development.
It is however regrettable that positive action on the part of the government and relevant stakeholders to implement the provisions of the Act has been wanting. In a recent case between the Socio–Economic and Accountability Project (SERAP) Vs and the Federal Government and UBEC on allegations of violations of the right to equality, education and dignity and rights of people’s to their wealth and natural resources and to economic and social development guaranteed by articles, 12, 17, 21, 22 of the of the African Charter, the federal government still contended that education was not a right in Nigeria but is a fundamental derivative policy pursuant to chapter 11 of the constitution and as such, the government does not owe the Nigerian child a responsibility in this regard.
The Common Wealth Court however upheld the contention of SERAP and maintained that based on the clear provisions of the African charter which has been properly positioned as a legal instrument in Nigeria education has been accorded the status of a right and the federal government owes this as a responsibility to the Nigerian child.
The Child Right’s Act recognizes the rights of the Nigerian child particularly socio – economic rights e.g. the right to education, restores their confidence and self esteem, and improves the status of the child. It also recognizes the status of children with disabilities to enable them fully enjoy their rights and provides special measures for their care and protection.
It is therefore obvious that child rights protection in Nigeria can only begin with and progress with social awareness for all stakeholders and appropriate response and responsibility to issues that relate to child rights.
2.2 WOMEN’S RIGHTS.
The end of World War II marked the beginning of the era of human rights with particular focus on gender equality, and the rights of women.
The United Nations charter in its permeable identified a key principle of the United Nations as being “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of the human person in the equal rights of men and of nations large and small”.
Furthermore, article 2 of the universal declaration states: “everyone is entitled to all rights and freedom set forth in this declaration without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language religion, political or other opinion national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.
The norms set out by the UDHR have been defined and redefined in the two binding documents to wit the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic social and cultural rights (ICESCR) and Nigeria is a signatory to both instruments.
The provisions of these instruments, though laudable did not address the issues that relate to women. They were “ based on male experience and therefore a male model contrary to the real idea behind human rights which is the attainment of an egalitarian society where all human beings by reason of their being human share common universal properties and characteristics which are not derived socially or culturally”.
Another challenge with the provisions was the issue of public/private, dichotomy of human rights. By tradition, women were banished to the private sphere where they are neither heard nor seen while men belonged to the public sphere.
United Nations tried to address these short falls by the establishment of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The essence was to give a new approach to human rights laws that will address the inequality and discrimination suffered by women.
The Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa which was adopted on 11th July 2003 to strengthen the promotion and protection of women’s rights could have been the key to a new dawn for women’s rights in Nigeria. Article 18 calls on state parties to eliminate discrimination against women and contains provisions which recognize women’s essential role in development with full participation as equal partners, the principle of promoting gender equality as enshrined in the consultative Act of the African union as well as the new partnership for Africa’s development. By virtue of the protocol, Nigerian women are guaranteed the rights to integrity, security of persons, equal rights in case of separation, divorce, and freedom from harmful practices, and equal opportunity in work, career and advancement etc. The government is however yet to domesticate this Act. And as it would appear in the words of Richard Falk, “for various reasons associated with public opinion and pride, governments are quite ready to endorse (even formally) standards of human rights despite their unwillingness to uphold these standards in practice”.
Women still suffer domestic violence, abuse and various discriminatory practices.
In a report by amnesty international on rape in 2006, it was stated that women and girls are subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence by non state actors and also face state indifference. Rape is a form of gender based violence against women. International courts and tribunals have affirmed that rape carried out by state agents can be a form of torture by failing to exercise due diligence in bringing perpetrators to justice and by failing to offer these women and girls any form of redress or reparation.
Also widowhood rites and inheritance have remained a means of oppression against women. Women are still made to drink the water used in bathing the corpse of their late husband, sleep in the same room with the corpse, shave their hair etc, and because most of these men die intestate and the tradition abhors inheritance of property by women, these women and their children are often left without a means of survival.
In the landmark case of Mojekwu Vs Mojekwu, the Supreme Court per NIKI TOBI JSC resiliently condemned the Oli – Ekpe custom of as Nnewi which allowed only males to inherit their father’s property. Therefore to achieve socio – economic justice for women, a new approach which is pragmatic, and in line with international standards must be adopted.
Therefore this project seeks to work with stakeholders to enhance awareness with the aim of improving the status of women and children and working towards legislations that advance their rights.
2.3 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY.
The aims and objectives of this study are:
1. To examine the status of human rights instruments that affect women and children in Nigeria.
2. To determine the effectiveness of these legal instruments in the advancement of socio – economic justice for women and children.
1.1 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
HUMAN RIGHTS: The first definition of human rights was given by the Scottish philosopher, John Locke (1632 – 1704) “as absolute moral claims or entitlement to life, liberty and property”.
The Virginia declaration of rights of 1776 contain the best known expression of human rights viz; “all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights of which when they enter a state of society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest posterity.
Human rights also called fundamental rights are those rights which humans have by reason of their being human and that are neither created nor can be abrogated by any government.
Several international conventions and treaties e.g. United Nations Declaration and the treaties support the existence of these rights. While promulgation is not binding on any country, they serve as a standard of concern for people and form the basis of many national constitutions. These rights encompass political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights.
Attainment of personal and social development is however impossible without organized institutions which provide us with access to what is good for the person both individually and in association with others.
Socio – economic justice is concerned with these institutions. Social justice encompasses economic justice. It imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development. Economic justice touches the individual person as well as the social order and encompasses the moral principles which guide us in designing our economic institutions.
3.0 METHODOLOGY: The essence of this study will involve the use of stakeholders from different agencies, institutions and organizations involved with human rights advocacy and enforcement to explore the status and effectiveness of existing human rights instruments in the advancement of socio-economic rights for women and children in Nigeria. These stakeholders will include; members of the Nigerian Police Force, The Ministry of Women Affairs, the Nigerian Bar Association and the Bench, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Traditional Rulers and NAPTIP. This dialogue process will involve each of these stakeholders on a quarterly basis over a period of eighteen months. Stakeholders will be invited in groups of 50 for dialogues in each quarter. These dialogues will have as their deliverables a work plan in which participants commit to implement the recommendations in their communities.
3.1 STAKEHOLDERS AND GOALS
The stakeholders identified in the sphere of human rights participation and enforcement for women and children will include:
a. The police: these are law enforcement agents that constitute a part of the executive arm of government and are actively involved in implementing the laws that affect women and children.
b. The Bench and the Nigerian Bar association: the Bench is made up of judges and magistrates who together with the members of the Nigeria Bar association retain the task of interpreting various laws that pertain to human rights particularly as it concerns women and children.
c. The Traditional Rulers: these rulers protect and enforce and are therefore custodians of the sacred customs and traditions which remain the way of life every society within our polity.
d. The Ministry of Women Affairs: each state within the nation created this ministry with the purpose of maintaining women participation and involvement in public affairs in each state.
e. The Ministry of Social Welfare: the ministry of social welfare is saddled with the responsibility of attending to issues that involve the welfare of children in our society.
f. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP): came into being on 14th July 2003 with the appointment of its pioneer executive secretary/ chief executive. It is the creation of Trafficking in Persons (prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act (2003) now amended. It is the federal government response to addressing the scorge of trafficking in persons in Nigeria and its attendant human rights abuses in its entire ramification.
3.4 INTERVENTION STRATEGIES:
a. Identification of Critical Success Factors:
I. Social awareness
ii. Family life education.
iv. Traditional practices.
v. Law enforcement.
vi.Adequate interpretation of the Laws on women and children
Vii. The effect of the modern industrial economy.
viii. The best interest of the child.
3.5 BEHAVIOUR MAPPING.
This involves examining the causal relationships between the different variables among the critical success factors.
Achieving Socio – economic justice for women and children involves concerted effort and responsive action for all stakeholders. Ignorance of the existence of these rights constitutes a major impediment to their actualization. Social awareness through effective education and administration of the polity, the family including children will result to enhanced promotion and protection and prohibition of human rights abuses.
While culture and traditions are relevant to societal wellbeing and development, they are however not sacrosanct. Traditional practices such as widowhood rites and inheritance, female genital mutilation and circumcision that violate the rights of women and children still pervade our societies. These practices hinder rather than advance development. Rigorous public education, information and communication should be employed at all levels to modify social and cultural patterns of conduct within the society.
The attitude of law enforcement personnel over the years indicate either a complete ignorance of the existence of the laws on human rights particularly for women and children or a vagrant disregard for them. Issues about family life, the home, and issues affecting women are usually considered to be private issues not worthy of the states interference even when it involves violence against women. To secure enjoyment of human rights for women and children, Law enforcement agencies must be trained, equipped and proactive in enforcing these laws.
The legal profession holds a vital key to human rights enforcement for women and children. Judicial precedents that lay the foundation for the law are only possible with a vibrant and activist Bar and Bench. In the absence of adequate judicial interpretation of the Law, human rights enjoyment for women and children will only remain a mirage.
Finally, every case involving a child must be handled with the best interest of the child in view.
3.6 PUBLISHING AND DISEMINATION:
At the conclusion of these dialogues our findings will be published and disseminated to all stakeholders and government agencies and other bodies who have the power to enforce human right as it affects women and children in Nigeria.
3.7 MONITORING AND EVALUATION: we shall conduct follow up for the purpose of monitoring and measuring the implementation of our recommendations and the work plans in the light of improved social awareness, legislative action and the general status of women and children. This follow up will cover a period of two years and in critical situations we can provide the required expertise and advice for implementation.
1A.D Jacob, Human Right under the Nigerian Constitution: Issues and Problems, International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol. 2 No 12 (Special Issue June 2012)
2. 1999 Constitution
3. B.O Nwabueze, Constitutional History of Nigeria, London, Longman Publishing, 1962, 120.
4. Human Rights Watch “Criminal Politics” October 2007
5. Human Rights in Nigeria, Wekipedia
6. Mojekwu Vs Mojekwu, 9 NWLR, (Pt 51) 301 at 304.
7. Ollor W. G, Mojekwu .R, Otu. S, Women in National Development (Proceedings of a Retreat Organized by Akpajo Women Association), Hello Consult Publishing, 2013.
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