Author: O. M. Atoyebi S.A.N FCIArb. (U.K.)., Contributor: THEODORA NNODIM
The area of sentencing encompasses a wide range of methods and theories. , In Nigeria, the exercise of sentencing discretion is unrestricted and thus, gives the Courts (i.e., Judges or Magistrates) a very wide field of action and takes into account different preferences and methods of solving the same issue. However, there are several constraints and limitations on the nature and manner of punishments that can be imposed on juvenile offenders due to various stipulations in various Nigerian laws.
This article focuses on Nigeria’s juvenile justice system, and the conduct of juvenile proceedings in Court.
What is Juvenile Delinquency?
A comprehensive definition of Juvenile delinquency refers to any criminal offense done by a person classified as a juvenile but which, if committed by an adult, would be considered a crime or criminal conduct. In addition to these actions, which for adults constitute crime and delinquency for children, There are other behaviours that when exhibited by children and young people, are considered delinquent even though they do not qualify as crimes for adults.
Who is a Juvenile?
A Juvenile is a term that can be used to refer to a child, minor, or young adult. In other words, it describes someone who is not yet an adult. A “juvenile” is a person who has not reached the legal age at which the criminal justice system should consider as adults. According to Section 30 of the Criminal Code Act , there are only two circumstances in which a child under the age of 11 cannot be deemed legally guilty or responsible; :
Who is a Child?
In the Nigerian case of Labinjo v. Abake, the Court held that a person under the age of 21 is a minor and therefore lacks the capacity for contractual obligations.
Furthermore, the Children and Young Persons Act defines a child in Section 3 as “a person under the age of fourteen years”. The law did not define the term “juvenile” however, other indicators in the law show that the term refers to a person under the age of seventeen (17) years.
The Child Rights Act defines a “Child” under Section 277 as “a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years”. Thus, a child is a person under the age of majority.
Laws Applicable to Juvenile Sentencing in Nigeria
The following are the laws that play a role in the sentencing of Juveniles in Nigeria:
a) Child Rights Act.
b) Children and Young Persons Act.
Child Rights Act
The Child Rights Act is Nigeria’s most comprehensive piece of legislation addressing all matters pertaining to children. Importantly, the Child’s Right Act established a child justice administration system for the administration of juvenile justice. The Child’s Right Act provided for the establishment of Family Court at the High Court level and family court at the Magistrate Court level. It is important to note that there is no other Court, except the Family Court, that shall exercise jurisdiction in any matter relating to children in Nigeria. Thus, the Family Court is vested with exclusive jurisdiction in matters relating to children.
Children and Young Persons Act
The Colonial Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA), which was initially designed to apply only to the colony of Lagos, is the primary piece of legislation in Nigeria that governs the juvenile justice system. Fundamentally, each state of the Federation continues to use the Children and Young Persons Act as the model statute for the administration of juvenile justice.
The Children and Young Persons Act (the law) was primarily passed to “create provisions for the welfare of the young and the treatment of young offenders, and for the formation of juvenile Courts.”
Legal Framework for Juvenile Sentencing and Punishment in Nigeria
A sentence of the Court can be defined as a punishment on a defendant once a criminal trial is concluded and a guilty verdict has been rendered. This phrase must take the shape of an order which is definite in its nature, type and quantum.
Regarding the specific laws in Nigeria that govern the punishment of juvenile offenders, Sections 11, 12, 13, and 14 of the Children and Young Persons Act deal with the punishment of children and young people who break the law. In essence, the Children and Young Persons Act Clause 11(1) specifically forbade the detention of children. However, it’s crucial to note that Subsections (2) and (3) of the same section as Section 11(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act appear to have different provisions. No individual shall be sentenced to imprisonment, according to Subsection (2), “if he can be properly dealt with in any other way, whether by probation, fine, corporal punishment, committal to a place of detention or to an approved institution or otherwise.” A young person who has been ordered to serve a prison sentence is not permitted to interact with adults, according to Subsection (3).
The unwavering belief in the benefits of welfare has been one of the defining traits of youth justice for a large portion of the 20th century. Welfare in youth justice is predicated on the idea that rather than punishing young people’s actions, intervention should be based on satisfying their needs. To debrief sentencers of false notions regarding the validity or effectiveness of some of the metrics that have been used up to this point, it has been proposed that much more work has to be done given that many of these assumptions are not supported by any empirical evidence.
 (1924) 5 NLR 33.
 Cap. C58, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1958.
 Cap. C58, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1958.
The Children and Young Act was initially enacted as a colonial Ordinance in 1943.