UNICEF has expressed deep concern over the jailing of a 13 year-old boy by a Sharia court in Kano.
The boy, identified as Omar Farouk, was sentenced to 10 years in jail, by the same court that sentenced to death the singer, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu for the same offence.
The boy’s case only came to light last week and lawyers who are trying to get him freed have been denied access to him.
UNICEF has asked that the sentence be reversed immediately.
‘The sentencing of this child – 13-year-old Omar Farouk – to 10 years in prison with menial labour is wrong,’ said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, in an appeal to both Kano and Federal Government.
‘It also negates all core underlying principles of child rights and child justice that Nigeria – and by implication, Kano State – has signed on to.’
Hawkins said: “The sentencing of this child, 13-year-old Omar Farouk, to 10 years in prison with menial labour is wrong.
“The sentence is in contravention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Nigeria ratified in 1991.
“It is also a violation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which Nigeria ratified in 2001 and the Nigeria’s Child Rights Act 2003, which domesticates Nigeria’s international obligations to protect children’s right to life, survival and development,” he said.
The representative expressed appreciation for the strides recently made by the Kano State Government to pass the Kano State Child Protection Bill.
He however, called for an urgent need to accelerate the enactment of the bill so as to ensure that all children under 18, including Farouq, are protected.
He also urged the government to ensure that all children in Kano are treated in accordance with child rights standards.
“UNICEF will continue to provide support to the Federal and Kano State Governments on child protection system strengthening, including justice sector reform, to ensure that states put in place child-sensitive measures to handle cases involving children.
“This includes adopting alternative measures, in line with international best practices, for the treatment of children alleged to have committed offences that do not involve detention or deprivation of family care, ” Hawkins said.
Hawkins added that the sentencing highlights the need to ‘accelerate the enactment of the Kano State Child Protection Bill so as to ensure that all children under 18, including Omar Farouq are protected.
‘And that all children in Kano are treated in accordance with child rights standards.’
Farouq was convicted on 10 August for allegedly using foul language towards Allah during an altercation with a friend.
He was sentenced on 18 August.
His lawyers vainly attempted to set the conviction aside, based on the argument that blasphemy is unknown to Nigerian law and constitution.
Just like UNICEF, Farouk’s lawyers are angry.
They said the conviction and sentencing break a number of international conventions on the right’s of children, including the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which Nigeria ratified in 2001.
Kola Alapinni, a member of Farouq’s legal counsel, said his team only found out about Farouq’s case when working on that of Sharif Aminu.
‘We found out they were convicted on the same day, by the same judge, in the same court, for blasphemy and we found out no one was talking about Omar, so we had to move quickly to file an appeal for him,’ Alapinni said.
‘Blasphemy is not recognised by Nigerian law. It is inconsistent with the constitution of Nigeria,’ he added.
Alapinni said Kano State had not granted lawyers access to Farouq and that the boy’s mother was forced to flee to a neighbouring town when an angry crowd came to her home.
‘Everyone here is scared to speak and living under fear of reprisal attacks,’ he said.