UNICEF has warned that access to justice is still not a reality for many children who faces justice in Nigeria and West Africa as a whole.
UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Peter Hawkins made this known in a statement made available to newsmen in Lagos.
According to Mr. Hawkins vulnerable children rarely have access to child-friendly justice and are often subjected to pre-trial detention which contravenes Child Rights standards.
He noted that to combat the problem, 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, including survivors of violence, abuse and exploitation as well as children in street situations who are often in conflict with the law.
“In many cases, they are incarcerated with adults and therefore exposed to a high risk of violence and abuse, including psychological and sexual abuse”,
“This is also in line with the EU’s Strategy on the Rights of the Child, protecting children’s Rights, which is critical to ensuring children grow with the best possible opportunities and can be the owners of their future”.
On his part, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen explained that, the EU is taking concrete action with the contribution of about $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.
He said the three-year programme covers six countries in West Africa: Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.
UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, said UNICEF was working with government authorities and other partners to re-imagine 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”.
“In Nigeria, the focus will be on providing justice services, 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 perpetrators”.
Ambassador of the European Union to Nigeria and to the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Samuela Isopi said, the European Union have a strong commitment to children’s Rights and has a proven track record in that area.
“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 ensure that Children’s Rights are respected through the judicial process and for children in street situations”.