Friday, August 28, 2009

11-Year old girl sentenced to seven years in prison finally set free

An 11-year old girl imprisoned for allegedly stealing 10,000 naira ($64.91) from her foster mother has finally been set free after someone noticed that it probably wasn't legal to put her in prison in the first place. Here's the full article from Daily Independent:

Freedom came the way of 11-year-old Rose Otuba in Ebonyi State a couple of weeks back when the wife of the State Governor, Mrs. Josephine Orji, visited the prison. She suspected that Miss Otuba's incarceration was unlawful and contacted the State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, and the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), who investigated the matter.

It emerged that sometime in 2007, one Paul Nwochi who claimed to be Rose Otuba's father handed her over to his purported distant cousin, Nicholas Otuba, on the grounds that Rose was stubborn. Shortly after, she was accused of stealing ten thousand naira from her foster mother and was charged before an Effium magistrate's court in Ohuakwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. The court found Rose guilty and sentenced her to a seven-year imprisonment, which she began to serve. Her case is a nauseating travesty.

Nigeria's oldest legislation regulating the welfare of children and young persons, and the treatment of young offenders, is the Children and Young Persons Law (CYPL), a version of which is contained in Chapter 25 of the Laws of Lagos State, enacted on July 1, 1946. Under the this law, a "child" means "a person under the age of fourteen years", and a "young person" is "a person who has attained the age of fourteen and is under the age of eighteen years." This law, or some version of it, applies to all the Southern states of Nigeria.

It is evident that, as at the time Rose was 'sentenced' and up to her recent release, she was and is still a child. She has not even attained the age of 14 that would qualify her to be seen before the law as a 'young person'. Even if she had attained the age of 14, the provisions of the CYPL would have made her appearance before a juvenile court unlawful. Section 3 of the law authorises arraignment before the juvenile court only in matters relating to a person of the "age of seventeen years or upwards".

Further, in Section 6(5)(6), the CYPL prohibits the publication of the name, address, school, photograph or any identification of the child or young offender except with the permission of the court; while the words "conviction" and "sentence" are prohibited from being "used in relation to children and young persons dealt with in a juvenile court".

It can hardly be gainsaid that the legal rights of little Rose have been grossly violated by her country. While Mrs. Orji's intervention leading to her release is commendable, it does not serve the cause of justice sufficiently that no subsequent investigation of the circumstances that led to this miscarriage of justice took place, to the knowledge of the public, in order to prevent an odious precedent from being set in our legal system.

What is the explanation for the magistrate's court's provocative conduct? Was Rose, for example, unusually mature in appearance as to mistake her for a young person? What efforts were made by the court to ascertain her true age? Was it a behind-the-scenes trial? Who, really, is to blame, for the conduct of a delinquent child if not the parents and the society itself? Is it justified to lock up a child in prison for seven years on allegation of stealing? And in a society where the elite are reported daily to be engaged in treasury looting and fraud?

Section 15(a-m) of the CYPL says "Where a child or young person charged with any offence is tried by a court, and the court is satisfied of his guilt, the court shall take into consideration the manner in which, under the provisions of this or any other law, the case should be dealt with, namely, whether (a) by dismissing the charge; or (b) by discharging the offender on his entering into a recognizance; or (c) by discharging the offender, by means of a corrective order, to the care of a relative or other fit person; or (e) by sending the offender by means of a corrective order to an approved institution; or (f) by offering the offender to be caned; or (g) by ordering the offender to pay a fine, damages, or costs; or (h) by ordering the parent or guardian of the offender to pay a fine, damages, or costs; or (i) by ordering the parent or guardian of the offender to give security to his good behavior; or (j) by committing the offender to custody in a place of detention provided under this Law; or (k) where the offender is a young person, by ordering him to be imprisoned..." At 11-year-old, when Rose was allegedly sentenced to prison, Section 15(k), which permits imprisonment of a young person as the last option of punishment, certainly did not apply to her.

It is disgraceful that a colonial law enacted 63 years ago is more humane in its recommended treatment of children and young persons than the 21st century Nigerian judicial system, under a sovereign State, is capable of delivering to its own children. What a tragedy!

1 comment:

  1. Seriously what is wrong with people, 11 yrs old c'mon