by Bunmi Ibigbami.

  1. INTRODUCTION

‘An act to enact a parental responsibility act to make it mandatory for parents to enroll their children or wards for at least basic conventional education, from primary to secondary school level and to provide for punishment against any person who abandons his wife, girl friend or baby antenatal or postnatal in Nigeria and for related matters’.[ii]

The Parental Responsibility Bill was presented at the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2018 and sponsored by Hon. Bode Ayorinde (the lawmaker who represented Owo/Ose Federal Constituency in Ondo State). The Bill seeks to make it mandatory for parents to enroll their children or dependants for at least basic conventional education, from primary to secondary school level. It also provides for punishment against any person who abandons his wife, girlfriend or baby in Nigeria. The bill contains 8 clauses and a number of sub-clauses, all in 4 pages.

Clause 1 adopting the provisions of the Childs Right Act, 2004 and Universal Compulsory Basic Education Act, 2004, states that parents shall enroll children under the age of 18 in compulsory primary and secondary education. Clauses 2 & 3 provide that it is unlawful for parents to abandon their child, except in case of a lawful court order. Clause 4 empowers an interested person to report any form of irresponsibility to the police or the ministry responsible for women and children. There is also provision for a monthly or weekly maintenance allowance for the child and mother by the father in Clause 5. In cases of contravention of the provisions of the bill, affected party or person can bring a civil action for remedy.[iii] Lastly, Clause 7 being the interpretation section of the bill defines some basic terms used in the bill.

  1. PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION

According to the United Nations, out-of-school children refers to children within the ages of 6-11 years, who are yet to be enrolled in any formal education excluding pre-primary education.[iv] According to a National Personnel Audit (a part of the 2018/2019 annual school census) of both public and private schools in Nigeria conducted by the Universal Basic Education Commission, National Population Commission and National Bureau of Statistics, revealed that Nigeria has approximately 10.5 million out-of-school children. The most affected states in the country are Bauchi, Kano, Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Kaduna, Taraba, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara, Oyo, Benue Jigawa and Ebonyi. Bauchi State has the highest number with 1.1 million children that are out of school followed by Katsina with 781,500.[v] UNICEF has also reiterated that in recent years, primary school enrolment had increased with net attendance of about 70% in 2018, despite this, Nigeria still has 10.5 million out-of-school children which is the world’s highest number (see in fig. 1[vi] below).

The above data poses some fundamental questions like: what is the cause of increase in the number of out of school children in Nigeria? Lack of parental responsibility or failed government intervention or even hidden causes? It is generally believed that parenting is the hard work of guiding your children aright i.e. developing your children to their highest potential which includes education. According to section 14 of the Childs Right Act, 2003, every child has a right to parental care, maintenance and protection. However, there are more obvious factors contributing to the increase in number of out of school children in Nigeria. Recently, UNICEF blamed the drift on the Boko Haram insurgency in the North.[vii] The insurgency has damaged the education system in the area. Low investment in standard public education in the country is another huge factor. Pupils study under trees or in dilapidated buildings. Libraries have no books or furnishings; and there are shortages of toilets and electricity. From reports, the 2019 annual budget allocated 7.5% of expenditure to education, less than one-third of the United Nations-recommended minimum of 25% for countries seeking rapid development.[viii]

Furthermore, religious and cultural practices come also into play.[ix] According to the Webster Dictionary, ‘culture is the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought typical of a population or community at a given time’. According to Edward B. Tylor[x], culture is includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. Cultural tendencies impact the way parents and children participate in education.

  1. APPRAISAL OF THE BILL
    • Definition of Terms

Clause 7 of the bill is the interpretation section that defines terms used in the bill. Terms such as: Abandon or abandonment, father, impregnate, interested person, legitimate authority, parent, responsible parent, woman, children, women and related organizations; were defined. The purpose of an interpretation section in a bill is to resolve ambiguities. Despite the list of terms defined in this clause, some major terms used in the bill were not still appropriately defined.

Child

The bill contains no specific definition of who a child is, however, Clause 1 implies that a child is a person below the age of 18. The bill further describes a person under the age of 17 as a child in Clause 7. These two provisions are contradictory, as the ages vary.  Due to the socio-cultural, religious and ethnic diversity, there are conflicting definitions of a child from different perspectives in Nigeria. There is no universally accepted legal definition of a child in Nigeria yet. There are many statutes concerning children which contain relevant definitions of the word ‘child’ but in the absence of a general definition provided by a statute of interpretation, it might be reckless to choose one as the acceptable definition of a child.[xi] There is a need for a review of our laws in Nigeria to adopt a uniform and universal age range of a child.

For example, a child is a person who has not attained the age of 18 years as stipulated by the Childs Right Act[xii]. The Children and Young Persons Act[xiii] defines a child as a person less than 14 years of age while a young person means a person who has attained the age of 14 but is below the age of 17 years. Section 282 (1) (e) of Penal Code defines a child as 14 years old while the Immigration Act stipulates that any person below 16 years is a minor. The Matrimonial causes Act[xiv] puts the age of maturity at 21. Black’s Law Dictionary defined a child as a person under the age of majority. The Labour Act defines a child as a young person under the age of 12 years and a young person as one under the age of 14 years. The definition of a child under customary and Islamic law practices is determined by physical maturity. Domesticated international treaties such the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 and the O.A.U. Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 199l define a child as every human being below the age of 18 years unless the age of majority is attained earlier under a state’s own domestic legislation. However, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria contains no definition of “a child”. It only stated voting age as 18 years.[xv]

The above definitions are some of examples of numerous perceptions of who a child is in Nigeria. This raises distrust as to whether the protection and promotion of the rights of Nigerian children can ever be effectively achieved in the best interest of child amidst these multi-dimensional approaches to the age range of a child. Based on these varying definitions, the application of this bill might be restrictive. Who then is a child that deserves parental responsibility? A child under the year of 12, 14, 16, 17, 18 or a physically under developed child?

Partner

Clause 2 of the bill states that- ‘it shall be unlawful for a woman to, other than in accordance with a lawful court order, abandon her child or children with her spouse, boyfriend, and father of the child or partner’. Who is a partner? The word ‘partner’ has several meanings, such as civil partner (same-sex partner), business partner, etc. Considering the fact Nigeria already enacted the same-sex (prohibition) act, the word partner should be expressly defined to avoid a misconception of the intention and purpose of the bill. For example, in countries that have legalized same sex relationships, partners who were civil partners at the time of the birth of a child will both have Parental Responsibility.

Sufficient Ability

While defining the word ‘abandon’ in Clause 7, it states that a person of sufficient ability shall not desert his or her children under 17 years of age, but same provision did not define the extent of a sufficient ability. Can a dependent minor or a parent with no source of income be deemed to have sufficient ability? Can a parent who lacks financial capability but cares for his/her child be deemed responsible under the bill?

  • Structure and application

According to Clauses 2 & 3[xvi], the bill appears to place a ‘life time’ (an unlimited) responsibility on the mother of a child while the man is only responsible for the welfare of the child before 18 years of age. This reveals the cultural setting of a typical Nigerian society. The society appears to expect so much from a woman when it comes to raising the child while the man is expected to only provide maintenance if he can or deem fit.

Clause 3 (1) of the bill states that any person who is responsible for impregnating a woman shall bear the cost of both ante-natal and post-natal care of the woman and child. The bill however fails to provide exceptions in cases where the father of a child is a minor or lacks adequate/sufficient ability to provide for the child. What is the extent or definition of sufficient ability? Sufficient ability goes beyond financial responsibility: it includes physical, psychological, and mental ability of a parent to cater for his/her child. The bill should define the extent of sufficient ability of any parent. Also, in cases where a parent lacks ability to cater for his or her child, the bill should make provision for a form of delegation of responsibility to a government agency (e.g. social welfare), interested persons, capable family member or guardian.

As we have seen, Clause 4 of the bill states that an interested person can report any case of abandonment by a father to the nearest police station, to the Ministry responsible for women and children or to the social welfare desk. The provision fails to expressly name agencies, government departments, organizations and ministries that will entertain such reports. For example, FIDA – the International Federation of Women Lawyers (Nigeria) should be named in the bill, since it is an association handles cases that deal with the protection of women and children in the country. The association is also made up of female lawyers that have been trained to understand and interpret acts of the legislature in Nigeria. Also, in reporting to the nearest police station; what will be the nature or class of such complaint? Which police department will handle it? Who will be responsible for police station expenses and ‘tips’? Is the police aware of the existence of the provisions and duties in the bill? There might be need to include these duties and expectations in the Police Act and regulations. Clause 4 (2) states that in cases of denial of paternity, an interested person or ministry shall fund the conducting of compulsory test to decide. However, in order to ease the conduct of the test, the ministry or organization in charge needs to establish a clinical department to handle such at reduced cost.

Moreover, Clause 5 provides that ‘the responsible parent shall, on proof of paternity be responsible for paying a monthly or weekly maintenance allowance for the child and mother until the child is 18 years of age or the order is varied by court, whichever is earlier’. The word ‘parent’ could mean either the mother or the father of a child, in this clause, the word man should be used instead. Also, the bill fails to list instances where the court could vary parental responsibility.

Clause 5(i) states that contravention of any provision of the bill shall constitute a criminal offence. This provision poses some questions: is lack of parental responsibility actually a criminal offence? Is it an offence against the state?  For proper implementation of the bill there is need for an incorporation of lack of parental responsibility in the Criminal Code Act as a criminal offence. According to Clause 5 (ii), a convicted person under the provisions of the bill shall be liable to a fine of N500, 000 or imprisonment for 12 months or to both fine and imprisonment. Who benefits from the fine? Court, the child or the mother?

Finally, the bill appears not to make any provision for the welfare and education of orphan children. Who then takes up the parental responsibility in the lives of orphan children?

  1. CONCLUSION

The intention of the legislator is to reduce the number of out of school children in Nigeria by ensuring all children below the age of 18 years acquire at least basic conventional education, from primary to secondary school level. This will have immense effect on the country’s economy if achieved because education raises people’s productivity and creativity. Education promotes entrepreneurship and technological advancement. The educational sector is one that ensures an increase in output per worker and this can transcend into economic growth.[xvii] The bill placed a compulsory responsibility on the parents of the children while placing little or no duty on the government. It is the role of the government to provide an enabling environment for teachers and pupils by providing rural infrastructure and amenities that can facilitate learning. Government, through the Ministry of education should also provide teaching and learning materials.[xviii]

  1. RECOMMENDATIONS

There is need to actually identify the problem associated with increase in number of out of school children in Nigeria. In identifying the problem, there is also need to identify the individuals, groups and agencies that have failed in their responsibilities thereby contributing immensely to the problem. For example, the Ministry of Education. The government through its agencies has a role to play in basic education. Section 15 of the Childs Right Act, 2003 states that every child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education and it shall be the duty of the Government in Nigeria to provide such education. Section 14 then states that every child has a right to parental care protection and maintenance. The education of any Nigerian child is not solely the duty of the parents but also that of the government. Government can invest in education through its funds, policies and creation of enabling environment.

Also, Nigeria might be in need of a Birth Control Act first before a Parental Responsibility Act. When birth rate is controlled first, parents will then be obligated to cater for the number of children they have. The Birth Control Act has the potential of reducing the number of unwanted children thereby reducing the stress of conducting tests, confirming paternity and enforcing maintenance (especially on parents who lack sufficient ability).

In addition, in ensuring utmost compliance with the bill, there should be an incorporation of existing ministries and NGOs charged with the responsibility of ensuring parents cater for their children. Also, in implementing the provisions of the bill, there is need for advocacy programmes responsible for educating parents on the need to contribute to the education and welfare of their children (in effect-intimating them on the importance of child education). This has the potential of yielding faster result rather than criminalising their ignorance.

Finally, while reviewing the laws of the country to adopt a uniform age range of a child, there might also be need to set an age range for parenting (e.g. age of paternity). This is to ensure parents have sufficient ability and resources to father a child and not just reproduce children out of pleasure, joblessness, ignorance and irresponsibility.

 

[i]Parental Responsibility Bill, 2018 [HB. 18.12.1584] C 4207. Available at: http://www.nassnig.org/document/bills. Date accessed: 24/06/2019.

[ii]Explanatory Memorandum in Parental Responsibility Bill, 2018 [HB. 18.12.1584] C 4207Available at: http://www.nassnig.org/document/bills. Date accessed: 24/06/2019

[iii]Clause 6 Parental Responsibility Bill, 2018 [HB. 18.12.1584] C 4207.  Available at: http://www.nassnig.org/document/bills. Date accessed: 24/06/2019.

[iv]Does Nigeria Have the Highest Number of Out-Of-School Children in the World? By Ibraheem Alawode in 2019 on the Dubawa blog. Available: https://dubawa.org/does-nigeria-have-the-highest-number-of-out-of-school-children-in-the-world/. Date accessed: 25/06/2019.

[v]Nigeria has 10.2million out-of-school children, FG says by Olaleye Aluko on 13th of April, 2019 in the Punch Newspaper (Online version). Available at: https://punchng.com/nigeria-has-10-2million-out-of-school-children-fg-says/. Date accessed: 25/06/2019.

[vi]Almost half of the world’s out-of-school children live in just 12 countries by Child Empowerment International. Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/124623114660083384/. Date accessed: 27/06/2019.

[vii]Alarming rise in number of out-of-school children in the Punch Newspaper (Online Version). Available at: https://punchng.com/alarming-rise-in-number-of-out-of-school-children/. Date accessed: 02/07/2019

[viii]See Tope Alake (2019) No Books, No Desks, No Pay: Nigeria’s Education System Is Failing. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-12/no-books-no-desks-no-pay-nigeria-s-education-is-failing. Date accessed: 4/07/2019.

[ix]Ibid. Alarming rise in number of out-of-school children in the Punch Newspaper (Online Version). Available at: https://punchng.com/alarming-rise-in-number-of-out-of-school-children/. Date accessed: 02/07/2019.

[x]Edward B. Tylor (1871). Primitive Culture. Available at: https://www2.palomar.edu/anthro/culture/culture_1.htm. Date accessed: 09/07/2019.

[xi]See P.Ehi Oshio (2007) The Legal Rights of the Child in Nigeria. Associate Professor and former Dean of Law,

Faculty of Law, University of Benin. Available at: http://www.nigerianlawguru.com/articles/human%20rights%20law/THE%20LEGAL%20RIGHTS%20OF%20THE%20CHILD%20IN%20NIGERIA.doc. Date accessed: 05/07/2019.

[xii]Section 277, Childs Right Act 2003

[xiii]Section 2, the Children and Young Persons Act 1958

[xiv]Section 3, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1970

[xv]Section 77 (2), the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

[xvi]It shall be unlawful for a woman to, other than in accordance with a lawful court order, abandon her child or children with her spouse, boyfriend, and father of the child or partner. A person who is responsible for impregnating a woman shall: Bear the cost of both ante-natal and post-natal care of the woman and child; not under any circumstance abandon the child or mother while the Child is under the age of 18.

[xvii]The role of education in the economic development in Nigeria by Oko Ebuka on the 11th of January, 2019 in the Info Guide Nigeria Magazine. Available at: https://infoguidenigeria.com/role-education-economic-development-nigeria/. Date accessed: 05/07/2019.

[xviii]What should government do to improve basic education? On 17th November, 2017. Available at: https://punchng.com/what-should-govt-do-to-improve-basic-education/. Date accessed: 05/07/2019.