Country Report for Nigeria
LAST UPDATED: June 2021
Summary of necessary legal reform to achieve full prohibition
Prohibition is still to be achieved in the home, alternative care settings, day care, schools, penal institutions and as a sentence for crime.
Article 295 of the Criminal Code (South), article 55 of the Penal Code (North) and the Shari’a penal codes in the Northern states confirm the right of parents to use force to “correct” their children. The near universal acceptance of a degree of violence in childrearing necessitates clarity in law that all corporal punishment is prohibited, however light. These provisions should be repealed and prohibition enacted of all corporal punishment by parents and others with parental authority.
Alternative care settings – Prohibition should be enacted in legislation applicable to all alternative care settings (foster care, institutions, places of safety, emergency care, etc).
Day care – Corporal punishment should be prohibited in all early childhood care (nurseries, crèches, kindergartens, preschools, family centres, etc) and all day care for older children (day centres, after-school childcare, childminding, etc).
Schools – Prohibition should be enacted in legislation applicable to all education settings, public and private, together with repeal of the provisions for the use of force by teachers in, article 295 of the Criminal Code (South), article 55 of the Penal Code (North) and the Shari’a penal codes in the Northern states.
Penal institutions – Prohibition of corporal punishment should be enacted in relation to disciplinary measures in all institutions accommodating children in conflict with the law.
Sentence for crime – All provisions for judicial corporal punishment of persons under 18 should be repealed, including under Shari’a law.
Current legality of corporal punishment
Note: The legal system in Nigeria is a mix of Islamic law, English common law and customary/native law. In the southern states, criminal laws dating from before Independence in 1960 remain in force; in the northern states, criminal laws enacted during the settlement of 1960 are still in force, together with Shari’a laws enacted following the adoption of the 1999 Constitution. The Shari’a laws in the north were passed by individual states, mostly based on the first ones enacted in Zamfara. A Harmonised Shari’a Penal Code and a Harmonised Shari’a Criminal Procedure Code have been drafted but have not been widely adopted. In 2003, the National Assembly passed the federal Child Rights Act, but this is in force only in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja and in states that have explicitly enacted it, a process in which it may also be modified. Child legislation in states that have not yet adopted the 2003 Act is based on the Children and Young Persons Law, enacted originally in 1943 and extended to the Northern Region in 1958. By March 2014, 26 of the 36 states have enacted child rights laws pursuant to the Child Rights Act.
The 1999 Constitution is under review and in this context proposals have been made to make the Child Rights Act 2003 automatically applicable in all states. Draft legislation based on the Act has been under consideration in a number of states. Other laws under review include the Children and Young Persons Laws, the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Shari’a Penal Code.
Corporal punishment is lawful in the home. Article 295 of the Criminal Code (South) states: “A blow or other force, not in any case extending to a wound or grievous harm, may be justified for the purpose of correction as follows: (1) a father or mother may correct his or her legitimate or illegitimate child, being under sixteen years of age, for misconduct or disobedience to any lawful command; (2) a master may correct his servant or apprentice, being under sixteen years of age, for misconduct or default in his duty as such servant or apprentice;… (4) a father or mother or guardian, or a person acting as a guardian, may delegate to any person he or she entrusts permanently or temporarily with the governance or custody of his or her child or ward all his or her own authority for correction, including the power to determine in what cases correction ought to be inflicted; and such a delegation shall be presumed, except in so far as it may be expressly withheld, in the case of a schoolmaster or a person acting as a schoolmaster, in respect of a child or ward.” Article 55 of the Penal Code (North) states: “(1)(a) Nothing is an offence which does not amount to the infliction of grievous hurt upon any person and which is done: by a parent or guardian for the purpose of correcting his child or ward, such child or ward being under eighteen years of age.” These provisions are also confirmed in the Shari’a penal codes in the Northern states. Article 11 of the Child Rights Act 2003 states that every child is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and no child shall be “subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, including sexual abuse, (...) torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, but these provisions are not interpreted as prohibiting all corporal punishment in childrearing. Similarly, child rights laws at state level prohibit corporal punishment that reaches a certain threshold of severity but are not interpreted as prohibiting all corporal punishment by parents.
Nigeria is a Pathfinder country with the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, which was established in 2016. This commits the Government to three to five years of accelerated action towards the achievement of Target 16.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals. A Roadmap for Ending Violence Against Children was published in October 2016, ahead of Nigeria’ accession to Pathfinder status; it did not refer to the issue of corporal punishment of children. Although a National Action Plan was planned for publication in early 2017, it is yet to be published.
In November 2020, the Katsina State House of Assembly adopted a Child Protection Bill. The Bill does not prohibit corporal punishment in any setting. It also provides for the supremacy of the Sharia law with respect to a Muslim child. We are trying to find out if the Bill has been signed by the Governor of Katsina State.
Alternative care settings
Corporal punishment is lawful in alternative care settings under the Criminal Code (South), the Penal Code (North) and the Shari’a Penal Codes in the north. It is not explicitly prohibited in the Child Rights Act.
Corporal punishment is lawful in early childhood care and in day care for older children under the Criminal Code (South), the Penal Code (North) and the Shari’a Penal Codes in the north. It is not explicitly prohibited in the Child Rights Act.
Corporal punishment is lawful in schools under article 295(4) of the Criminal Code (South), which states that “a schoolmaster or a person acting as a schoolmaster” is automatically considered as having been entrusted with “authority for correction, including the power to determine in what cases correction ought to be inflicted”, and article 55 of the Penal Code (North), which states: “Nothing is an offence which does not amount to the infliction of grievous hurt upon any person and which is done by a schoolmaster for the purpose of correcting a child under eighteen years of age entrusted to his charge.”
The Government has stated that the Child Rights Act prohibits corporal punishment in schools. Article 11 of the Act states that every child is “entitled to respect for the dignity of his person” and that no child shall “be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, but it does not explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in schools.
Corporal punishment is presumably prohibited as a disciplinary measure in penal institutions under article 221 of the Child Rights Act (see under “Sentence for crime”), but to our knowledge there is no explicit prohibition applicable in all states. We have no details of provisions in the federal Prisons Act 1990.
Sentence for crime
Law reform has not fully prohibited corporal punishment as a sentence for crime. Article 221(1)(b) of the Child Rights Act states that “no child shall be ordered to be subjected to corporal punishment”. In states which have adopted the Act without modifying this provision or the definition of the child, it would be unlawful to sentence a person under 18 to corporal punishment. At least two states have modified the definition of the child: in the southern Akwa-Ibom, a child is defined as 16 and under and older children are presumably sentenced as adults, including to corporal punishment under the Criminal Code 1916 and the Criminal Procedure Act 1945 (see below). In northern Jigawa, a child is defined with reference to puberty, so a Muslim child from the age of puberty may be sentenced to corporal punishment under the Shari’a Penal Code 2000 and the Shari’a Criminal Procedure Code Law 2001 (see below).
With regard to states which have not adopted the Child Rights Act, article 9 of the Children and Young Persons Law states: “Where a juvenile charged with any offence is tried by a court, and the court is satisfied of his guilt, the court may ... (f) order the offender to be whipped”. Article 11(2) states: “No young person shall be ordered to be imprisoned if in the opinion of the court he can suitably be 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.”
In the southern states that have not yet enacted the Child Rights Act, children may be sentenced to corporal punishment under the Children and Young Persons Law (as above). In addition, the Criminal Code Act 1916 states that when a male person under 17 has been found guilty of any offence “the court may, in its discretion, order him to be caned in addition to or in substitution for any other punishments to which he is liable” (art. 18). The Criminal Procedure Act 1945 states that when a child or young person (aged 7-16) is charged with an indictable offence other than a capital offence, the magistrate may deal with the case summarily, inflicting the specified punishment including, for boys, corporal punishment (art. 302). It states that no young person (aged 14-16) shall be imprisoned “if he can be dealt with in any other way whether by probation, fine, corporal punishment or otherwise” (art. 419(2)), and lists the measures available when a child or young person has been convicted of an offence, including “by ordering the offender to be whipped” (art. 427). Under the Criminal Code Act 1916, persons aged 17 and over are tried as adults and males may be sentenced to caning, including for rape and other sexual offences, and endangering life (arts. 27, 218, 219, 221, 222, 225A, 330, 334, 358 and 359). Caning may also be ordered for any offence punishable by imprisonment for six months or more (Criminal Procedure Act 1945, art. 387). According to the Criminal Procedure Act, a maximum of 12 strokes shall be inflicted with a light rod or cane or birch (art. 386(1)). It must be carried out as soon as possible after sentencing or after the decision on appeal of the sentence (art. 388). Females may not be caned (art. 385).
In the north, the 11 Shari’a states that have not enacted the Child Rights Act provide for corporal punishment (caning, retribution and amputation) of Muslim children from the age of puberty under the Shari’a penal codes. Lashing or caning is a punishment for certain offences relating to alcohol, drugs, sex, theft, murder and hurt; amputation is a punishment for theft, kidnap of a child, embezzlement and robbery; the punishment of retaliation for hurt may involve amputation, blinding and other serous wounding. Many Shari’a Penal Codes allow for offences which are not specified in them to be punished by flogging, and other laws prescribe caning for particular offences. In 2004, the Government informed the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that several persons under 18 had been sentenced to amputation and flogging under the northern Shari’a Penal Codes, but that between 2001 and 2004 none had been carried out as they had been quashed on appeal. A 2004 report by Human Rights Watch states that several boys under 18 were sentenced to amputation in Sokoto in 2003, and lawyers and NGO visitors to Sokoto prison in 2002-3 estimated that the majority of the 10 prisoners sentenced to amputation were under 18; at least one boy under 18 was sentenced to amputation in Katsina State. The most common form of corporal punishment carried out under the Shari’a laws is flogging, inflicted frequently and in public and often on teenagers.
The Harmonised Shari’a Penal Code provides for punishments of caning, retaliatory wounding, and amputation (art. 93). Caning is specified as punishment for virtually every offence in the Code and it may be ordered by any court on any offender in addition to or in lieu of any other punishment except death (art. 100). A person aged 7-17 may be sentenced to caning up to 20 lashes instead of the punishment specified in the Code (art. 95(1)). The Code punishes the offence of causing grievous hurt with qisas (retaliation) (arts. 215 and 219), theft and hirabah with amputation (arts. 144 and 152).
Non-Muslims in northern states may be sentenced to corporal punishment (caning) under the Penal Code 1960 and the Criminal Procedure Code 1960. Up to 12 strokes may be passed by any court on a male offender in lieu of or in addition to any other punishment except capital punishment (Criminal Procedure Code). Flogging is commonly inflicted on child offenders for a range of offences.
 27 March 2014, A/HRC/25/2 Advance Unedited Version, Draft report of the Human Rights Council on its twenty-fifth session, para. 280
 5 January 2009, CRC/C/NGA/3-4, Third/fourth periodic report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, para. 7.1.6
 CRC/C/RESP/72, Written replies to the Committee on the Rights of the Child
 “Political Shari’a”? Human Rights and Islamic Law in Northern Nigeria, New York: Human Rights Watch
Universal Periodic Review of Nigeria’s human rights record
Nigeria was examined in the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2009 (session 4). No recommendations were made specifically concerning corporal punishment of children. However, the following recommendations were made and were accepted by the Government:
“Accelerate the process of passing into law the various rights-based bills before the National Assembly in order to provide broader scope of protection for vulnerable members of society, especially women, children and the disabled (Ghana); … Further pursue that its existing legislation at federal, state and local levels fully complies with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (The Netherlands); … The National Action Plan include concrete and time-bound steps to accelerate the process of full domestication of all international human rights treaties to which Nigeria is Party… (New Zealand)”
The second cycle review took place in 2013 (session 17). No recommendations specifically on corporal punishment were formally recorded, but during the review the Government was encouraged “encouraged” to “abolish any form of corporal punishment used against children”. A number of recommendations were made concerning the harmonisation of national legislation with human rights standards and violence against children, and so are relevant to prohibition of corporal punishment, which the Government accepted, including the following:
“Take further measures to implement the 2010 recommendations by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, especially related to the domestication of the CRC … (Finland);
“Ensure international conventions are streamlined in domestic laws (France);
“Enact national legislation to translate the ratified international treaties into national law (Sierra Leone);
“Adopt the necessary legislative and administrative measures to implement those treaties that they have already ratified (Niger);
“Continue to strengthen the regime for the protection of the rights of the child in accordance with the obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Russian Federation);
“Intensify its efforts, through legislation and practical measures, to promote and protect the rights of children against all forms of violence (Montenegro);
“Introduce appropriate legal measures prohibiting all forms of violence against children, ensure accountability and end impunity (Poland)”
Third cycle examination took place in 2018 (session 31). No recommendation specifically on corporal punishment of children was extended but the following recommendation was made:
“Accelerate its measures to eradicate violence against children (Japan)”
The Government supported the recommendation.
 5 October 2009, A/HRC/11/26, Report of the working group, para. 103(2)
 16 December 2013, A/HRC/25/6, Report of the working group, para. 120
 16 December 2013, A/HRC/25/6, Report of the working group, paras. 135(12), 135(14), 135(20), 135(22), 135(23), 135(26), 135(83), 135(84), 135(85), 135(86) and 135(92)
 26 December 2018, A/HRC/40/7, Report of the Working Group, para. 148(272)
 8 February 2019, A/HRC/40/7/Add.1 Advance version, Report of the Working Group: Addendum
Recommendations by human rights treaty bodies
Committee on the Rights of the Child
(21 June 2010, CRC/C/NGA/CO/3-4, Concluding observations on third/fourth report, paras. 5, 6, 40 and 41)
“The Committee welcomes efforts undertaken by the State party to address the concerns and recommendations adopted upon consideration of the second periodic report of the State party in 2005 (see CRC/C/15/Add.257). However, the Committee remains concerned that certain recommendations have not been given sufficient follow-up.
“The Committee urges the State party to take all measures to address those recommendations contained in the concluding observations on the second periodic report that have not yet been implemented and to provide adequate follow-up to the recommendations regarding, inter alia, ... corporal punishment ... contained in the present concluding observations on its combined third and fourth periodic report.
“The Committee remains concerned that little or no action has been taken, or is planned for, by the State party to follow-up on its earlier recommendations concerning the outlawing of corporal punishment, especially by amending the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code and the Children and Young Persons Act which are inconsistent with the State party’s obligations under the Child Rights Act and the Convention.
“The Committee urges the State party to ensure the prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings, including in the home and under sharia law, as recommended by the Committee in its earlier recommendations (CRC/C/15/Add.257, para. 38). The Committee further strongly recommends that the State party conduct awareness-raising campaigns to ensure that alternative forms of discipline are used, in a manner consistent with the human dignity of the child, drawing the State party’s attention to general comment No. 8 (2006) on the right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment, and that it seek assistance from traditional and religious leaders in this respect.”
Committee on the Rights of the Child
(13 April 2005, CRC/C/15/Add.257, Concluding observations on second report, paras. 38, 39, 79, 80 and 81)
“The Committee takes note that article 221 of the Child Rights Act prohibits corporal punishment in judicial settings, and that a ministerial note has been sent to schools notifying them of the prohibition of corporal punishment in schools. Nevertheless, in light of article 19 of the Convention, the Committee remains concerned that corporal punishment is still widely practised in the penal system as a sanction, as well as in the family, in schools and in other institutions. In particular, the Committee is concerned about:
a) articles 9 and 11 (2) of the Children and Young Persons Law which provides for the sentencing of juvenile offenders to whipping and corporal punishment;
b) article 18 of the Criminal Code which provides for whipping;
c) article 55 of the Penal Code which provides for the use of physical corrective measures;
d) Shari’ah legal code to children prescribing penalties and corporal punishment such as flogging, whipping, stoning and amputation, which are sometimes applied to children; and
e) legal provisions that tolerate, if not promote, corporal punishment at home, in particular article 55 (1)(a) of the Penal Code and article 295 of the Criminal Code.
“The Committee recommends that the State party:
a) abolish or amend all legislation prescribing corporal punishment as a penal sentence, in particular the Children and Young Persons Act;
b) expressly prohibit corporal punishment by law in all settings, in particular in the family, schools and other institutions; and
c) conduct awareness-raising campaigns to ensure that positive, participatory, non-violent forms of discipline are administrated in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the Convention, especially article 28 (2) as an alternative to corporal punishment at all levels of society.
“Despite the State party’s claim that there are no discrepancies between the provisions of the Convention and the Shari’ah laws with regard to the rights of children, the Committee remains deeply concerned by the sentencing of persons below 18 years to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment such as stoning, flogging, whipping and amputation by Shari’ah courts. The Committee is further concerned that under section 95 of the Shari’ah Penal Code, persons aged 7-18 years can be subjected to the punishment of confinement in a reform institution, or 20 strokes of cane, or with fine, or both.
“The Committee recommends the State party to review its legislation, policies and budgets to ensure the full implementation of juvenile justice standards, in particular article 37 (b) and article 40, paragraph 2 (b) (ii)-(iv) and (vii) of the Convention...
“In this respect, the Committee urges the State party to, in particular:
e) amend, as a matter of urgency, the Child and Young Persons Act and the Criminal Code, as well as the Shari’ah Penal Codes to abolish death penalty as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on juvenile offenders, and in the meantime take measures, as a matter of priority, to ensure that persons under 18 are not sentenced to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading forms of sanction such as flogging and amputation by Shari’ah courts;
h) enact an amendment to the Children and Young Persons Act, prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment in penal institutions….”
Committee on the Rights of the Child
(30 October 1996, CRC/C/15/Add.61, Concluding observations on initial report, paras. 15, 36 and 38)
“… The problem of violence against children and the physical abuse of children in the family, in schools, in the community and in society are also of major concern to the Committee.
“The Committee shares the view of the State party that major efforts are required to address harmful practices such as early marriage, betrothals of children, female genital mutilation and abuse of children in the family. The Committee recommends that all legislation should be reviewed to ensure its compatibility with the eradication of such violations of children’s rights and that campaigns be developed and pursued with the involvement of all sectors of society with a view to changing attitudes in the country as to the non-acceptance of harmful practices….
“… Measures must also be taken to ensure that discipline in school is administered in conformity with the provisions of article 28, paragraph 2 of the Convention….”
African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
(November 2009, Concluding observations on initial report, recommendation 5)
“... The Committee request the State party to include in the next periodic report, information on programmes for child retention in school, student teacher ratio, gender disparities, corporal punishment in schools and the nature of facilities in place....”
Prevalence/attitudinal research in the last ten years
Nigeria’s first national Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) conducted in 2014 found approximately six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence; half of all children experience physical violence, with parents or adult relatives being the most common perpetrator. Male teachers are the most common perpetrators of the first incident of physical violence against children in the neighbourhood. One in six girls and one in five boys experience emotional violence by a parent, caregiver or adult relative. The study notes that while it is not focused on acts of discipline, many of those perpetrating the violence may be doing so in the name of “discipline”.
(National Population Commission of Nigeria, UNICEF Nigeria & US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2015), Violence Against Children in Nigeria: Findings from a National Survey, 2014, Abuja, Nigeria: UNICEF Nigeria)
According to UNICEF statistics collected in 2011, 91% of children aged 2-14 experienced “violent discipline” (physical punishment and/or psychological aggression) in the home in the month prior to the survey. Nearly eight in ten (79%) experienced physical punishment and 81% experienced psychological aggression (being shouted at, yelled at, screamed at or insulted). A smaller percentage (62%) of mothers and caregivers thought that physical punishment was necessary in childrearing.
(UNICEF (2014), Hidden in Plain Sight: A statistical analysis of violence against children, NY: UNICEF)
A report based on visits to police stations and prisons throughout Nigeria and interviews with hundreds of former detainees documents widespread torture and ill-treatment, including of children in detention.
(Amnesty International (2014), Welcome to Hell Fire: Torture and other Ill-treatment in Nigeria, London: Amnesty International)
A report carried out at the end of the Transforming Education for Girls in Nigeria and Tanzania (TEGINT) project, a 2007-2012 initiative to transform the education of girls in Northern Tanzania and Northern Nigeria, found that in Nigeria 71% of community members and 72% of girls agreed “it is not okay for teachers to whip a girl who comes late to school because she was caring for a sick relative”. The study involved surveys with 629 girls and 186 community members.
(Institute of Education & ActionAid (2013), Transforming Education for Girls in Nigeria: Endline research summary report, Abuja: ActionAid Nigeria)
According to statistics collected in 2010 under round 4 of the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey programme (MICS4), 91% of children aged 2-14 experienced violent “discipline” (physical punishment and/or psychological aggression) in the home in the past month. Seventy-nine per cent experienced physical punishment, 34% severe physical punishment (being hit or slapped on the face, head or ears or being hit over and over with an implement) and 81% psychological aggression (being shouted at, yelled at, screamed at or insulted).
(National Bureau of Statistics et al (2011), Nigeria Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2011: Summary Report, Abuja: National Bureau of Statistics)
In a survey of 172 elementary school teachers in Ilorin State, 80% of respondents had seen pupils being punished by elementary school teachers with a cane; 46% had seen pupils being punished with a horse-whip (“koboko”), and 30% with a hand; 61% had seen pupils being hit on the buttocks, 49% on the back, 52% on the palm of the hand, 20% on the head and 16% on the face. Twenty-nine per cent said they favoured the use of corporal punishment by elementary school teachers.
(Mahmoud, A. O. et al (2011), “Observations of teachers in Ilorin, Nigeria on practices of corporal punishment that are potentially injurious to their pupils’ eyes”, Annals of African Medicine, 10 (2))
A study by the African Child Policy Forum in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Senegal found that hitting, beating and forced hard work were the most prevalent forms of violence against girls, and that most of the physical violence experienced by girls was corporal punishment. The study involved a survey of 3,025 young women (nearly 600 per country) aged 18-24 about the violence they had experienced in their childhood. In Nigeria, 84% had been hit during their childhood, 90% beaten, 55% kicked, 71% denied food and 17% choked or burned. Parents and close relatives were the most common perpetrators of physical violence.
(The African Child Policy Forum (2010), Childhood Scars in Africa: A Retrospective Study on Violence Against Girls in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Senegal, Addis Ababa: The African Child Policy Forum)