On this page you can download our report Nigeria: Children and Young People with Disabilities, produced jointly by Asylos and Asylum Research Centre (ARC) Foundation and kindly funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Our report combines relevant and timely publicly available material with new information generated through interviews or written correspondence with eight individuals with authoritative knowledge on the topic. Together these sources paint a troubling picture of the situation for children and young people with disabilities in Nigeria, despite the recent adoption of legislation by the State to comply with their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Sources highlight the multiple forms and layers of discrimination, by state actors and within communities and families, and the prevailing lack of protection or access to redress, that affect children and young people with disabilities in Nigeria, severely impairing their lives and in many cases putting them at (further) risk of exploitation and harm.

We hope that the report will help fill the gap in the COI literature and thus contribute to a more transparent and informed debate about the topic.


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Nigeria: Children and Young People with Disabilities
October 2021

Throughout our research we were aware of the heterogeneity of Persons with Disabilities and the impact of aspects of their individual identity, as well as barriers to participation, that shape their life experiences. In addition to the form of impairment they live with, aspects of individual identity may include age, ethnicity, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, geographic and temporal location, as well as political opinion or status as a migrant, indigenous, internally displaced person or returnee. Inherent in this definition is the critical role of intersectionality in understanding the situation of Persons with Disabilities, adult or child, with each individual’s experience being unique and dynamic.

It is this heterogeneity of Persons with Disabilities that made it challenging to produce a generic report such as this, as it is not possible to provide information to cover every potential permutation of a Person with Disabilities’ identity or situation. However, we hope that the report spotlights and provides non-exhaustive but illustrative information on pressing issues common to Persons with Disabilities in Nigeria and relevant to protection claims. In this way it can stand as a solid baseline from which individualised case-specific research can begin. The list of sources and databases consulted for and provided in this report will assist users to conduct such further research.

​​Do you have any comments or feedback on our report? We would love to hear it! Submit your feedback through this form or send us an email at [email protected].

The report is part of a series of strategic research reports that address critical gaps in country of origin information.


The main findings of the report have been summarised as follows, presented under the relevant research headings found in the report:

Treatment by society (including families, communities and other non-state actors)

Societal discrimination

  • Superstitious and negative cultural beliefs result in discrimination and mistreatment against persons with disabilities.
  • Stigma and discrimination faced by persons with disabilities in Nigeria, lead to their ostracisation and exclusion from society. This includes evidence that many children and young people are not allowed to leave the house.
  • Lack of visibility of persons with disabilities facilitates further discrimination and stigma.
  • Families experience stigma as a result of having a child with disabilities.
  • Intersecting identity factors may affect persons with disabilities such as gender, age, religion, geopolitical zone and displacement.

Exploitation and other types of harm

  • Children and young people with disabilities are more vulnerable to child-specific harm because of stigma towards persons with disabilities which families rarely report.
  • Children and young people with disabilities experience forcible marriage, forms of constraint, neglect, abandonment and / or violence (including rape), by family or other community members.
  • Having a disability can be interpreted as signifying witchcraft, and lead to forms of violence, torture and murder perpetrated against children.

Treatment by the state (including government and state institutions)

Legal and policy framework

  • Nigeria signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2010, and in January 2019 enacted the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 (the Act). The Act draws on and seeks to domesticate the provisions of the CRPD with regard to the full integration of persons with disabilities into society. Similarly, Nigeria is a State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and domesticated its provisions through the Child Rights Act in 2003. 
  • Only 11 of 36 states have enacted the federal law (Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018). Similarly, only 24 of 36 states have domesticated the Child Rights Act.
  • Gaps exist in the legislation. For example the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act fails to make specific provision for children with disabilities, and the Child Rights Act does not adequately respond to the needs of children with disabilities. One source said that in communities where customary law and religious legal systems prevail it is difficult to implement this legislation in practice.
  • Very little evidence was found about legislative or policy measures explicitly targeting the protection of children and young people with disabilities from exploitation, trafficking, violence and abuse or to explicitly protect those without family support.
  • The current legislation fails to respond to intersectional discrimination, with negative consequences for children and other persons with disabilities.

Implementation of law and policy 

  • No information about a federal plan for implementing the Act at State level was found, no evidence that the Act has been translated into disability inclusive or disability specific policy at federal or state level, and no evidence of budget allocation or plans for monitoring implementation.
  • The key body responsible for implementation of the Act, the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, was not inaugurated until late December 2020, and in January 2021 only 3 states had established Commissions at state level. A  very limited budget for the National Commission was noted and sources were not optimistic that much would be achieved. 
  • Concerns were raised about the level of engagement and inclusion of persons with disabilities in planning and designing interventions in general.
  • Public and private institutions have yet to apply the provisions of the legislation and discrimination remains rife. 
  • Lack of progress in implementing the Act was noted due to multiple factors, including low awareness and capacity, and insufficient budget allocation.

Data Collation

  • There is a historical and current lack of data relating specifically to persons with disabilities (including children and young people with disabilities)There are serious concerns about the conceptualisation, likely efficacy, funding and political commitment to implementing the recently announced Nigeria Disability Databank.
  • Ongoing lack of data is increasing the exclusion and vulnerability of persons with disabilities, as the information needed for the targeting, design and implementation of programs to meet the needs of all disability types is missing.  

Treatment by State actors: Discrimination and Protection

Discrimination

  • Government agencies fail to support, and uphold the rights of, persons with disabilities and there was  evidence of state discrimination in housing, education, employment, transport and electoral processes. 
  • State actors do not consider children and young people with disabilities when designing and planning interventions. Furthermore, they fail to protect children and young people with disabilities from discrimination, exclusion and harm, and themselves carry out acts of discrimination and violence towards them. Female children with disabilities living in poverty and persons with disabilities living in conflict affected areas were reported to be most vulnerable to discrimination, exclusion or violence. 
  • The limited reporting of state discrimination and state violence towards persons with disabilities is due to lack of public and political interest, negative portrayal of persons with disabilities in the media, and government censorship. 
  • An increase in police brutality, harassment and abuse against persons with disabilities was reported during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protection 

  • Little evidence was found of legislation or policy being used in practice to protect children and young people with disabilities from discriminatory or violent actions by individual State actors, State authorities and State-run institutions. 
  • Few examples of children and young people with disabilities using the law or policy to seek redress were found despite The Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 empowering the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities to receive complaints of rights violations
  • Reports of complaints being registered by the Commission were not found amongst the sources consulted.
  • Persons with disabilities don’t report alleged discrimination because of multiple barriers in doing so. Most persons with disabilities don’t know that they have rights or where to make a complaint. They lack a voice and ‘suffer’ unheard.
  • The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities lacks the expertise, funding and ‘moral courage’ to carry out its mandate. 
  • Persons with disabilities generally do not register complaints against state authorities, and even when reports of abuse are made very little action is taken. 

Access to services and support

Healthcare

  • Persons with disabilities do not have access to healthcare in Nigeria. This is due to many intersecting factors, including affordability, accessibility, mobility, availability and stigmatization.
  • Access to healthcare, and especially access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services is especially difficult for women and girls living with disabilities.
  • There is evidence of forced sterilisation being perpetrated against girls with disabilities. 
  • Negative attitudes among health workers and lack of personnel who are specialised in disability inclusion and services contributed to barriers to access.
  • There is a lack of implementation of legislation and policies that are supposed to facilitate access to healthcare for persons with disabilities.
  • Corruption, lack of political will, and poor institutional structures are reasons behind Government failures to provide equal access to health care.
  • Persons with disabilities experience even more limited access to health care due to the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID 19 response

  • Disability activists widely criticised the Nigerian government for failing to take extra precautions to protect persons with disabilities (including homeless children) during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that policies and programming introduced did not consider their specific needs.
  • Persons with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in multiple ways: 
    • Social assistance programmes, such as the provision of food and financial assistance, were not inclusive and did not reach persons with disabilities.
    • Persons with disabilities have not been prioritized during the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Nigeria.
    • There were instances of police brutality against persons with disabilities as a direct result of the measures designed to respond to COVID-19.
    • A rise in sexual and gender-based violence, committed – amongst others – against women and girls with disabilities was reported.
    • Lockdown measures have resulted in an effective detention of people with disabilities in some of the country’s institutions.
    • Persons with disabilities are experiencing increased stigma and discrimination.

Education

  • Children with disabilities face discrimination in access to education in Nigeria, with the education system being inaccessible for most, and even for those who do manage to attend, it is usually segregated from mainstream education.
  • Local and international laws and standards remain largely unimplemented.
  • Some sources were of the opinion that segregated schools were a form of institutionalisation.
  • Segregation can be distressing for children with disabilities (due to separation from families and feeling of ostracisation), making them more vulnerable to abuse, and leading to increased stigma and reinforced discrimination.
  • Practical challenges to education exist, including;
    • High cost of education and materials
    • Inaccessible environments
    • Inadequate learning aids
  • Instances of bullying, discriminatory and violent behaviour perpetrated by teachers and other pupils against pupils with disabilities were reported.

Child protection

  • The provision of child protection services in Nigeria is defined in the Child Rights Act 2003.
  • Many Nigerian states have not domesticated the law and even in those where it has been, implementation is extremely limited. UNICEF reported that this, combined with ‘dominant social norms create an environment in which violence against children is able to continue largely unchecked’ (UNICEF, 2018-2022 Programme Strategy Note: Child Protection, 2017)
  • There is no functioning child protection system across Nigeria that is available to protect children with disabilities from violence, abuse and discrimination.
  • There is no political will to promote the rights of the child or implement policies that are meant to protect children. Other factors included corruption and low awareness.
  • The abuse of children with disabilities was rarely reported.
  • There are limited alternative care options available for children in Nigeria who cannot live with their family, including care from extended family, NGOs, religious organisations, and private and state- run orphanages. The quality of care provided in these alternative care settings is highly variable, and children may be subject to abusive, violent and exploitative treatment.
  • Most of the Government run shelters are non functional, and as a result male children can be placed in juvenile homes, which are run by the general prison service.
  • As a result of a lack of formal alternative care, families might rely on informal support, which can put children with disabilities at risk of exploitation.
  • In the absence of social welfare programs, children with behavioural or mental health problems are sent to become ‘almajiri’ (emigrants), staying with Islamic teachers who claim to offer treatment. Many almajiri are subject to forced labour and do not have their basic needs met, with many becoming effectively homeless.

Institutionalisation

  • Children and young people experienced various forms of formal and informal institutionalisation in Nigeria.
  • An OHCHR Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, found evidence that persons with disabilities were often held by the state against their will in punitive custody and commonly arrested en-masse and transferred to “rehabilitation centres”, with deplorable conditions.
  • People with actual or perceived mental health conditions may be placed in formal and informal institutions / facilities without their consent, where they are detained indefinitely, shackled and experience physical and emotional abuse.
  • People with mental health impairments (including children and young people) who lack financial, familial or community support and those who live on the street are particularly vulnerable to being deprived of their liberty and institutionalised.
  • Some sources equated segregated boarding schools with institutionalisation.
  • Families often resort to informal institutions when they cannot afford the treatments available from formal institutions, and because of the stigma / discrimination experienced from the community. 
  • There is evidence of human rights abuses against persons with disabilities, especially those with mental health impairments, and including children, in many institutional settings. This includes the use of chaining, violence, the unsanitary and degrading conditions, and evidence of forced treatment. There is little accountability for these abuses. 
  • Whilst the Nigerian President said he would not tolerate torture within Islamic rehabilitation centers (leading to a few being shut down) he has not acknowledged abuse in government-run facilities.
  • Many Nigerians blame the government for failing to provide accessible and affordable alternatives to care, and failing to provide any oversight of the centres

Situation of children and young people with disabilities who are returned to Nigeria

  • The challenges for returnees in general include social stigma and rejection by their communities, as well as economic struggles.
  • Almost no information was found in the public domain about reintegration support for persons with disabilities who are returned to Nigeria.
  • Sources we interviewed gave us mixed information, with some saying they are unaware of any structured measures in place to protect and rehabilitate persons who are forcibly returned to Nigeria generally, let alone designed to meet the needs of children and young people with disabilities.
  • Another source claimed there are some reintegration programmes but there are no specific measures in place to accommodate the needs of children with disabilities who are returnees, which makes it difficult for them to access support.
  • Sources agreed that this lack of reintegration support makes children and young people with disabilities particularly vulnerable when forcibly returned to Nigeria, with some having to return to unsafe situations.
  • Sources also advised they will experience barriers to accessing appropriate education, health care and social services support.