Considering the alarming increase in the desertion of children in Nigeria, a special rule must be identified under all jurisdictions for child support concerns specifically for minors and vulnerable persons.
Minors are persons under the age of full legal responsibility and a vulnerable person is one who is insufficient in their personal faculties mental and otherwise.
Some cultures within Nigeria, typically do not leave room for women to keep custody of children born within marital contracts. The giant of Africa is multi-tribal and so are the customs of her people. These customs vary per ethnicity. I personally am of the opinion that while Nigeria is largely polygamous in terms of marriage, Men reserve the right also to raising their children just as much as women do. This opens a much broader conversation that will be addressed in another article.
Combing through a large majority of most regular people in Nigeria, there is a notion that Men are known to be privileged in custody cases. Whether Men are privileged or not, statistics show that about 50% of Nigerian children aged between 5 and 17 are involved in child labour.
Most of which are street children who are poor, homeless, inadequately provided for and or forced to leave home. Some of these street children who have been neglected, exploited and even in some cases murdered are traced to be from single-parent homes. In 2002 UNICEF reported an alarming estimate as high as 100 000 000 children cited as street children, while recently stating that it was impossible to quantify.
We have seen an increase in the numbers of street children in Nigeria that is not proportional to the awareness that is being raised within society. There are now reports of boy prostitutes on the streets of Nigeria, a subject that was not the case in recent years past or at least was not a subject of major concern. Mothers have been found to have deserted their children naked, filthy and running lawless on the streets of several local communities.
How did we get here?
Our Lawmakers have failed the Nigerian Child. Whether these children have engaged in petty theft, prostitution and formed gangs, it is not a reason to not address child homelessness, child welfare and inadequate protection with their root causes.
Society tends to focus on more obvious factors like social, political and economic disruption – Where I see a giant elephant in the room; Nigerian Lawmakers.
The Nigerian Lawmakers and by extension government have failed to make provision for broken homes and/or families. Nigeria now experiences rural-urban migration which has dislocated extended families serving as support nets that have filled in to take care of deserted, neglected and abandoned children.
It is clear that the Nigerian Law does not adequately provide for child support obligations for minors and vulnerable persons. Whether we differentiate between minors and vulnerable persons or not, one thing is certain. No man should be allowed to walk the streets of Nigeria without full-filling due diligence in terms of providing maintenance obligations for the children they brought into the world. Likewise, every woman whose children are in custody of their Father or legal guardian. Maintenance obligations in this regard are within the economic capacity of each parent and as the Law can prove so.
By way of protocol, it is imperative that the Nigerian Judiciary see it beneficial to add a rule to provide assistance to spouses during divorce proceedings in order to ensure especially equality of financial strength between the divorcing spouses and/or non-married partners in some cases.
Children born in Nigeria through marriage, parentage, relationships or affinity reserve a right to be cared for regardless of their vulnerability. Every parent natural or adoptive, indeed has an obligation to provide maintenance support for their children, minor and unmarried vulnerable persons to the extent to with they are capable of doing so.
Nigerians must graduate to a place where children considerably subsist modestly and according to the situational social status of their guardians.
Nigerian men who find it culturally acceptable and deny their adoptive or natural children child support or maintenance should face adjudication. Again, I repeat that men who find it acceptable and deny their children as known to them of basic maintenance and as within their economic capacity should be remanded in prison.
If you cannot afford to take care of children do not bring them into the world. These principles should be taught in schools. Society needs to understand the direct and indirect implication of engaging in birthing children without planning. Traditional rulers, local community heads and educational institutions must begin raising awareness on these issues. And if situations ensue that result in the inability of parents to provide maintenance and support for their children, then there should be proven effort to show a sense of responsibility on their part.
Men and Women should share a common responsibility for the obligation to provide food, necessary subsistence, clothing and housing for their children. It behoves us as a society to set in place effective enforcement measures with authorities making declarations for child support and maintenance whether under the federal authority or at state levels. No man should walk the face of the earth free, should they owe arrears of maintenance and child support for their children, adoptive or natural. It should be required retroactively and if possible by indexation.
Government officials who live off of taxpayers money should have their checks garnished if not outrightly relieved of their duties when found to be guilty of child maintenance and support abandonment. This should be seen as a serious offence as their actions ultimately are responsible for some causes of social vices in our communities. Lawmakers must seek to charge parents for recklessly abandoning their children to damage, drugs, crime, abduction, torture and even murder. I suggest parents who hide under the guise of marital differences should be prosecuted also. No Nigerian child should suffer for the inability of the parents to communicate and find common grounds to adequately and mutually care for their children.
Yes, we must begin prosecuting people especially men, after a process of determination for paternity is established – State and/or federal officials should work to obtain information about parent’s income and financial circumstances including the location of their assets. Amicable solutions to include voluntary payments of maintenance should be encouraged where suitable by use of mediation, conciliation or similar processes.
Nigeria as the Federal Republic should begin looking toward initiating institutions and competent authorities to create procedures, carry out processes and enforce decisions on child support and maintenance related cases primarily for disintegrated families. Nigerian officials must look into developing a unique system for effective implementation and adoption of operations that would encourage consistent electronic and statistical management of databases for this purpose.