Why are there underage children in Lagos State prisons?

For a state that was among the first to pass the Child’s Rights Act into law, Lagos appears to be have failed in upholding some of the basic tenets of this law. Given that children’s rights fall outside the areas for which the National Assembly can make laws binding all states; each state was implored to pass their respective Child’s Rights Laws.

Subsequently, the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the Child’s Rights Law which was assented to by the governor on the 28th of May 2007; thus providing a law to enforce the rights of the child, and to amend and consolidate all legislation relating to the protection and welfare of every child in Lagos.

One could argue that since the passage of the Child’s Rights Law of Lagos State 2007, Lagos has consistently and progressively taken steps to actualize the objectives of the law.

However, in recent times, these steps seem to have given rise to questions as the justice department has been arresting and charging children who come in conflict with the law to a normal court rather than the family court which the law proffers. This act has given rise to cases of amnesty and pardon by the same system that locks them up in the first place.

With this in mind, the recent amnesty granted to the 80 underage inmates by the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade, is questionable. The inmates whose ages range from 12 to 17 were allegedly arrested and charged – by a normal adult court – with offences of breaching public peace and “having no means of livelihood.” And apparently, the government wants a pat on the back for taking these actions. This is a path the government has been taking in recent times because in 2013, Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI), a non-governmental organization, petitioned the Lagos State Attorney General over the “shocking incidence” of under-aged persons serving prison terms in Kirikiri and Badagry Prisons.

As though the torture of incarceration won’t be enough, the Chief Judge further urged these children to be of good behaviour and to “go and sin no more. I pronounce, pursuant to the provisions of Section 1(1) of the Criminal Justice (Release from Custody) Act, 2007 as well as Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution, you are all hereby released from custody.”

This indicates that in the event of another conflict with the law, there is every tendency that these children would be incarcerated rather than tried by the Family Court.

The law requires that machinery and structures be put in place for the implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the Child’s Rights Law. For instance, Sections 138 and 139 of the Child’s Rights Law of Lagos State 2007 provide for the establishment of courts to be known and referred to as the Family Court. The Family Court is to be at two levels: the Magistrate and High Court levels. The Family Court is purely for the hearing and adjudicating of all matters concerning and relating to children. With this law in place, why then are under age children in adult prisons in the first place? Whether this is as a result of lack of adequate rehabilitation and correctional facilities, the government hasn’t stated clearly.

Given this precedence and the deplorable state of prisons in Lagos state, the fate of children who come in conflict with the law is at stake.


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