What Is a Child's Right to Freedom?
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In one of my child rights advocacy visits to secondary schools, I met the principal of a school who clearly prohibited me from talking to his students about the rights they have as children. We had an interesting discussion in which he gave some unsubstantial grounds against the enactment of the Child’s Rights Act. One of the grounds he stated was that the Child’s Rights Act incites rebellion amongst children against their parents and limits the amount of control parents have over their children with particular reference to Sections 6, 7, 8, 9 of the Act. Keeping in mind that there are other people with similar thoughts I would love to comment on this view.
The Child’s Rights Act, 2003 of Nigeria (CRA) represents the nationalization of the Child Rights Convention (CRC) and according to sections 6, 7, 8, 9; a child has the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly; right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; right to private and family life; right to freedom of movement respectively. At first glance, these rights will be widely accepted and appreciated by children especially those who have strict parents while on the other hand it will be widely frowned upon by parents who consider these rights as limiting the amount of control they have over their children. The law respects the family unit and in the quest to protect the rights and welfare of children it has no intention to incite rebellion in a family or limit the amount of control parents have over their children. In this light it is important to emphasize the fact that if you read these sections carefully you would realize that the law does not just state the above rights for children. It further states that such rights are subject to the law and should be exercised in accordance with the necessary guidance and direction of parents and guardians and in the interest of the welfare and safety of a child. For example Section 9 of the CRA 2003 deals with a child’s right to freedom of movement states:
“(1) Every child is entitled to freedom of movement subject to parental control which is not harmful to the child.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall affect the right of a parent, and where applicable, a legal guardian or other appropriate authority to exercise control over the movement of the child in the interest of the education, safety and welfare of the child.”
What does this mean? This means that parents still have the necessary control they need over their children, and children cannot use the above rights as an excuse or reason for disobeying their parents. For example a child cannot leave the house and come back late at night without regard to a curfew fixed by his/her parents for his/her own safety and welfare just because he/she has a right to freedom of movement. The CRA will never uphold this argument.
Since rights hardly ever come without responsibilities, Section 19 of the CRA gives children responsibilities such as respecting their parents, superiors, elders at all times, and contribute to the moral well being of the society, just to mention a few. With such responsibilities it is very clear that the Child’s Rights Act never intended to make children rebellious.
Those who think that there are no justifications for these rights really need to think otherwise. For example, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion means that it is not in the interest of the child for parents to foist their ideas and religious idiosyncrasies on the child taking into cognizance the ever-evolving choices which the child may make in the future. For example, in Nigeria, there was a time when parents wanted their children to be doctors, engineers or lawyers in order to fulfill their pride and probably be called “Mama Doctor”. Thus, they never listened to their children or paid attention to any other profession they had a passion for. They would force the idea of becoming a doctor into a child’s mind and some will never made it through medical school because they had no passion for it. Others will go through medical school and still switch to another profession afterwards, just because they didn't want to become a doctor. Some even grow up hating their parents for that and this is not good. Though the Act recognizes that children need to be guided in making certain choices, it encourages parents to have regards to the best interest of such children in giving such directions.
A child’s right to freedom of movement means that children should not be restricted unnecessarily from going to school, participating in meaningful outdoor activities, interacting with people within their environment because this indirectly hinders a child’s development as education also involves moving around and not just learning in classrooms.
I explained some of the above to the principal that day but he remained adamant and since it was his school, I had to leave peacefully. All legislation have one form of criticism or the other but I believe that the Child’s Rights Act 2003, Nigeria just like the Child Rights Convention plays a great role in promoting the welfare, safety, best interest and protection of children.