By Rosemary Ogbonnaya
United Nations Children’s Fund,UNICEF, and European Union have reiterated commitment to improve child access to justice and support the provision of child protection services for 41,389 children, including those survivors of violence, abuse and exploitation and children in street situations who are often in conflict with the law.
The duo said while warning that access to justice is still not a reality for many children in contact with the justice system in Nigeria and West Africa as a whole, whether as victims, witnesses or alleged offenders.
UNICEF said the vulnerable children rarely have access to child-friendly justice and are often subject to pre-trial detention, in contravention of child rights standards.
In many cases, according to the UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, the children are incarcerated with adults and therefore exposed to a high risk of violence and abuse, including psychological or sexual abuse.
To combat this problem, said European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, the European Union and UNICEF have joined efforts to improve child access to justice and support the provision of child protection services for 41,389 children.
“In line with the EU’s Strategy on the Rights of the Child, protecting children’s rights is critical to ensure children grow with the best possible opportunities and can be the owners of their future. The EU is taking concrete action today with the contribution of nearly $9.5 million to improve access to an adapted justice system, which can make a real difference in the lives of many vulnerable children in West Africa.” said Urpilainen.
The three-year programme covers six countries in West Africa: Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.
“UNICEF is working with government authorities and other partners to reimagine a justice system for children in West Africa. This will involve boosting the capacities of national and civil society authorities to strengthen justice systems towards a child rights approach, which includes alternatives to detention for all children,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
Poirier further said, “Thanks to the $9.5 million European Union grant, UNICEF will promote crucial services for children in the six West African countries, including access to child-friendly justice with a rights-based approach.
In Nigeria, the focus will be on providing justice services and community rehabilitation and reintegration for children in conflict with the law, on the move and in street situations, such as Almajiri children and children forcibly returned to Nigeria from abroad. The programme will also ensure that child survivors of violence, especially sexual violence, access justice services – including legal aid – for an efficient processing of their case and prosecution of perpetuators.
“The European Union has a strong commitment to children’s rights – and has a proven track record in this area,” said Samuela Isopi, Ambassador of the European Union to Nigeria and to the Economic Community of West African States,ECOWAS.
“Children are a key priority for the EU´s humanitarian and development programming and are at the heart of the EU response in Nigeria.
We are excited to be working with UNICEF to help bring about a rights-based approach to child justice issues and ensuring that children’s rights are respected through the judicial process and for children in street situations. We know that working together, and with our partners in the Nigerian Government, we will make a strong difference in children’s lives – especially the most vulnerable children.”