Summary: Report detailing the legality of inhuman sentencing against children in Nigeria. The laws differ in relation to the definition of a child, the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and the eligibility of child offenders for capital punishment, corporal punishment and life imprisonment.
The legal system in Nigeria is a mix of Islamic law, English common law and customary/native law. In the southern states, criminal laws dating from before Independence in 1960 remain in force; in the northern states, criminal laws enacted during the settlement of 1960 are still in force, together with Sharia laws enacted following the adoption of the 1999 Constitution. The Sharia laws in the north were passed by individual states, mostly based on the first ones enacted in Zamfara. A Harmonised Sharia Penal Code and a Harmonised Sharia Criminal Procedure Code have been drafted but to date have not been widely adopted.
In 2003, the National Assembly passed the federal Child Act 2003, but this is in force only in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja and in states which have explicitly enacted it, a process in which it may also be modified. Child legislation in states which have not yet adopted the 2003 Act is based on the Children and Young Persons Law, enacted originally in 1943 and extended to the Northern Region in 1958.
In the Sharia northern states, the Sharia laws apply only to Muslims who are tried in Sharia courts (lower courts, upper courts, and Sharia courts of appeal). Non-Muslims are generally tried in Magistrates and High Courts under the common law system, though they may also voluntarily be tried under Sharia law. In Kaduna and in the south, non-Muslims may also be tried in customary courts.
The laws differ in relation to the definition of a child, the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and the eligibility of child offenders for capital punishment, corporal punishment and life imprisonment.
The federal Children’s Rights Act 2003 defines a child as under 18 and explicitly prohibits capital punishment and corporal punishment, but only where these provisions are confirmed in the state legislation derived from the Act can it be said that juvenile offenders may not be sentenced to capital or corporal punishment. We have been unable to examine state laws derived from the Act, but are aware that at least two have lowered the age definition of a child.
The minimum age of criminal responsibility varies. The federal Children’s Rights Act 2003 does not specify a minimum age of criminal responsibility, but it defines a child as under 18 and states that a child in conflict with the law must be dealt with under the Act.The Children and Young Persons Law defines a child as under 14 and a young person as aged 14-16. It sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at seven but states that children below that age who have allegedly committed a crime must be brought before the Juvenile Court. It provides for special measures for persons under 16 in conflict with the law, but persons older than 16 are tried as adults.
In the southern states, the Criminal Code Act 1916 sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 7. The Criminal Procedure Act 1945 defines an infant as under 7, a child as under 14, a young person as aged 14-16, a juvenile offender as under 17 and an adult as aged 17 and over. In the northern states, the Penal Code 1960 specifies that 7 is the minimum age of criminal responsibility and categorises juvenile offenders as those under 17. According to the Sharia laws, children are eligible for hadd (for which the prescribed punishment is mandatory) and qisas (punished by retaliation) punishments from the age of puberty.
For sources, please refer to the attachment.