Human Rights

Legal Rights of a Child in Nigeria

Children are deemed to be a blessing from God. They are in fact the fulfillment of God’s command “…Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…” as commanded by God in the book of Genesis 1 vs 28.

Having children is one of the reasons people get married. And when the children are not forth coming in such marriage, it poses a great threat to the existence of the marriage and in most traditional cultures in Nigeria, it can lead to the end of the marriage or bring about a second wife or husband as the case maybe. More so, persons in search of a child have reportedly visited the hospital, prayer houses, miracle centers, native doctors and the likes.

It is pertinent to note that, once a child is born, all general legal rights accrue to him or her except those rights that are limited to the attainment of certain age and status. To ensure that a child enjoys these rights, certain laws have been enacted and institutions put in place for the sole aim of protecting a child in the Nigerian society.


A child is a person who has not yet reached the age of adulthood, whether natural, cultural or legal. Under the Child’s Right Act, a child is a person who has not attained the age of 18 (eighteen) years.

Legal Rights of a Child

The major legislation that protects a child in Nigeria is the Child Right Act of 2003. This act was enacted by the National Assembly in 2003 to provide and protect the right of every Nigerian child. It provides that the best interest of a child should be paramount in all actions that concerns a child.

This Act was enacted to give full effect to the provisions of the United Nation’s Convention of the Rights of the Child and the African Chater on the Right and Welfare of a Child. Part II of this Act, provides for the right that accords to a Child and part III provides for the protection of the rights of a child. These rights will be discussed briefly below:

An unborn child may bring an action for damages against a person for harm or injury caused whether willfully or not to him or her either during or after birth. An unborn child can also inherit from the intestate estate of either of his or her parent after birth.

Every child has the right to be given a name either at the point of birth or any subsequent date as dictated by the culture of his parents or guardian. The birth of every child shall be registered in accordance with the provisions of the Birth, Death, etc. (Compulsory Registration) Act 1992.

Every child has the freedom of association, peaceful assembly, thought, conscience and religion in conformity to the law and in accordance with the necessary guidance and directions of his parents or guardians. Parents and guardians, shall have regards to the evolving capacities and the best interest of the child.

Every child has the right to freedom of movement however, this is subject to parental control which is not to be harmful to the child.

Every child is entitled to rest and leisure and to engage in play, sports and recreational activities appropriate to his age and health status. To participate in fully in cultural and artistic activities of the Nigerian, African and World Communities.

Every child is entitled to the best attainable state of physical, mental and spiritual health and immunization for children under the age of 2. Also, every child is entitled to basic education explained in this Act to mean primary and junior secondary school.

Right to dignity and freedom from discrimination. This implies that, every child is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and not subject to any physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment including sexual harassment. No child shall be subject to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Also, no child shall be subject to any deprivation merely by reasons of the circumstance of his birth, place or origin, sex, or political opinion.

A child does not have the capacity to enter into a contract. Therefore, a child is not contractually liable for repayment of money borrowed or payment for goods bought except the goods are necessaries. Necessaries in this instance can include food, clothing, etc. depending on the circumstances of the case. An action for the payment of such money cannot be brought against such child even after attainment of the age of majority even if such child had signed a contract for repayment.

No person shall have sexual intercourse with a child or any other sexual related offence. Any person who contravenes this provision has committed the offence of rape and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life or 14years imprisonment.

No child under the age of 18 years can contract a valid marriage under the Marriage Act. However, such child can be validly married under the relevant Customary Law and Islamic Law.

Every child has the responsibility to respect his or parents, elders, and superiors at all times and assist them when in need. Work towards the cohesion of the family and community. This responsibility also extends to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its components.

Also, no person shall employ, use, or involve any child in any activity involving or leading to the commission of an offence. Any body who breaches this provision commits a criminal offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 14years imprisonment.   

Other Legislation that Protects a Child includes;

  1. THE CONSTITUTION OF FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (as altered)– The Constitution is the principal legislation in Nigeria. Every other law derives its powers from it. Any provision of any other law that is contrary to the provision of The Constitution shall be null and void to the extent of its inconsistency.

The Constitution in Chapter IV made provisions for Fundamental Rights for its citizens. By the provision of section 3 of the Child Rights Act, the application and enforcement of these rights can be enjoyed by every Nigerian child.

  • CRIMINAL CODE– Section 30 of the Criminal code provides that, a child under the age of seven is not criminally responsible for any act or omission. This means such child is deemed to be incapable of committing crime in the eyes of the law. Also, a child below the age of 12 is is not criminally responsible for an act or omission except it can be proved that such child as at the time doing the act or making the omission, he had the capacity to know that he ought not to do that act or make such omission.

The last part of this section provides that a male child below the age of 12 is presumed to be incapable of having carnal knowledge. Carnal knowledge here means, engaging in sexual activities. However, this is a presumption of law therefore, it can be rebutted by tendering relevant evidence to prove otherwise.   

  • LABOUR ACT– Section 59 – 61, provides for the categories of work a child may be employed for. In summary of the sections, a child cannot be employed to work in any capacity except where he is employed by a family member on light work for agricultural, horticultural, or domestic work as maybe approved by the Minister of Labour. Or be required in any case to carry, move or lift any objects so heavy as to be likely to injure his physical development.  

No young person under the age of 16 shall be employed against the wish of his parents or guardian. Also such person shall not be employed in a work that will require him or her not to return to his dwelling place by night.  

Can a Child Sue to Enforce his or her Rights?

Yes, a child can sue. However, since he or she has not attained the legal age of majority which is 18 years in Nigeria, he or she can sue through his legal guardian which in most cases is the parents. 


There are several laws the protect a child. This work has focused on selected sections of the Child Rights Act. It quite unfortunate that this Act has not been domesticated (adopted) by some states in Nigeria. 11 states all Northern States in Nigeria have not domesticated the provision of the Child Rights Act. This can be due to ethnic and cultural values obtainable in such states for example, child marriage particular to females, begging, genital mutilation, etc.

This has substantially exposed children in such state to untold hardship, physical and mental injury. More so, these rights have not been fully enforced in some of the States that have domesticated it. This also has put the life of children in danger.

Another Children’s Day is here again. As we celebrate children today, lets us, join hands, to make this year’s celebration different by ensuring in our own way that the Legal Rights of every child is protected.


Admin Simply Law