A juvenile is a term that is usually used interchangeably with a minor, infant, young person or child. In other words, it means some one that is not yet an adult. On the other hand, delinquent means failing to perform an obligation or guilty of serious anti-social or criminal conduct. A juvenile offender or delinquent in generally known as a child or young person who commits an act defined by law as illegal and who has been so adjudicated and found guilty by an appropriate court. The legal definition is usually restricted to persons who are below the age of criminal responsibility.
The age of criminal responsibility differ from country to country. In Nigeria, the Child’s Right Act 2003 sees a child or juvenile as a person who has not attained the age of 18 years. However, according to the Penal Code, “no act is an offense which is done by a child under 17 years of age, or by a child above 7 years of age but less than 12 years of age who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature or consequence of such act.
Overall, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended defines a child or juvenile as someone below the age of 18 years. Hence, this author supports the definition by the supreme instrument in Nigeria. Juvenile offenders are not adjudicated by regular courts. They are adjudicated by juvenile courts with the purpose of hearing and determination of cases relating to children or young persons. The juvenile courts are constituted by a Magistrate sitting with such other persons, if any, as the Chief Justice of the state shall appoint. In most states in Nigeria, instead of a permanent juvenile court, Magistrates hear cases involving juvenile outside the normal court rooms. This is in line with the need to keep the privacy of such matters sacrosanct as stipulated by local and international instruments on juvenile justice.
The colonial government established the first juvenile justice custodial institution in 1937 as a wing of the Enugu Custodial Centre and for several years, it received inmates from the various regions of Nigeria. The Borstal Institutions and Remand Centres Act (No. 38 of 1960) CAP B11, LFN 2004 establishes Borstal and remand centres as federal juvenile correctional institutions. This law led to the establishment of the Borstal Training Institutions in Kaduna (1962), Abeokuta (1984) and Ilorin (2005). Borstal Training Institutions (BTI) are the social control institutions meant to keep and reform children and adolescents both girls and boys who are delinquents.
The purpose of the borstal institution, according to the Borstal Institutions and Remand Centre Act, is to bring to bear upon the inmates every good influence which may establish in them the will to lead a good and useful life on release, and to fit him/her to do so by fullest development of his character, capacities and sense of personal responsibilities. In Borstal Training Institutions (BTIs), there are provisions for vocational training in tailoring, photography, welding, building, electrical installation, as well as for formal education. Though many of these training facilities have deteriorated and some in comatose, the institutions still exist and functions as a correctional institution in the administration of juvenile justice in Nigeria. The major challenge of juvenile justice administration in Nigeria is the gross insufficiency in the number of BTIs in Nigeria. As at the time of writing this piece, only three (3) borstal institutions are available in Nigeria namely; Kaduna, Abeokuta and Ilorin. Though a handful of states and private institutions run borstal-like institutions such as remand homes and approved schools which keep custody of young offenders. The available borstal institutions face several challenges such as gross neglect of the institutions as well as lack of proper policy, legal and institutional framework for juvenile offender correction and juvenile delinquency prevention. Other challenges include lack of proper planning and implementation, gross under funding, inadequate staff in qualitative and quantitative terms, lack of facilities for young female offenders and lack of necessary training facilities in the workshops and educational programmes.
The United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (Riyahd Guidelines) was adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly Resolution 45/112 of December 14, 1990. The guidelines are in consonance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights , the Declaration of the Rights of the Child , the United Nations Standards Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules) , as well as other international instruments pertaining to the rights and well-being of young persons. Research has shown that most juvenile delinquents graduate to become hardened criminals in the future. Hence the need for parents, guardians, teachers and other significant others to take this social problem seriously.
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