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Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Birth Registration: Children derive their citizenship from their parents. The government does not require birth registration, and the majority of births were unregistered. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent data source available, found that only 42 percent of births of children younger than five were registered. Lack of documents did not result in denial of education, health care, or other public services.

Education: The law requires provision of tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. According to the constitution, women and girls are supposed to receive career and vocational guidance at all levels, as well as access to quality education, education advancement, and lifelong learning. Despite these provisions, extensive discrimination and impediments to women and girls’ participation in education persisted, particularly in the north. The lowest attendance rates were in the north. According to UNICEF, in the north, for every 10 girls in school, more than 22 boys attended.

Pregnant girls were generally not allowed to attend school, with some schools reportedly conducting pregnancy tests before admitting them.

Public schools remained substandard and limited facilities precluded access to education for many children. Increased enrollment rates created challenges in ensuring quality education. According to UNICEF, in some instances there were 100 pupils for one teacher.

The North East had the lowest primary school attendance rate. The most pronounced reason was the Boko Haram and ISIS-WA insurgencies, which prevented thousands of children from continuing their education in Borno and Yobe states (due to destruction of schools, community displacement, and mass movement of families from those crisis states to safer areas). Attacks on schools and kidnappings exacerbated the situation.

Many NGOs including Save the Children International expressed concern regarding school closures in Zamfara, Katsina, Adamawa, Kaduna, and Niger states due to concerns of schoolchildren being abducted (see section 1.b.).

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common throughout the country, but the government took no significant measures to combat it. Findings from the Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey released in 2015 revealed that approximately six of every 10 children younger than 18 experienced some form of physical, emotional, or sexual violence during childhood. One in two children experienced physical violence, one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence, and one in six girls and one in five boys experienced emotional violence.

According to UNICEF, in 2019 the country had approximately 10 million Almariji children, poor children from rural homes sent to urban areas by their parents, ostensibly to study and live with Islamic teachers. The system persisted because of scarce government social safety net and welfare programs. Parents of children with behavioral, mental health, or substance abuse problems at times turned to the Almariji, who claimed to offer treatment. Instead of receiving an education, many Almariji were forced to work manual jobs or beg for alms that were given to their teacher. The religious leaders often did not provide these children with sufficient shelter or food, and many of the children effectively became homeless. Beginning in 2020 and throughout the year, northern governors condemned the abuses occurring at Islamic rehabilitation centers and Almariji schools and enacted programs to protect vulnerable children. In 2020 governors of 19 northern states agreed to ban Almariji schools, and during the COVID-19 pandemic they repatriated thousands of students across state lines. Governors Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna, Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, and Aminu Masari of Katsina campaigned against the involuntary confinement of children and young adults in rehabilitation centers and Almariji schools throughout the north. The government raided centers in response to allegations that women, children, and men were being held captive, chained, and tortured as part of rehabilitation programs in the region.

In some states children accused of witchcraft were killed or suffered abuse such as kidnapping and torture.

So-called baby factories operated, often disguised as orphanages, religious or rehabilitation centers, hospitals, or maternity homes. They sold newborns of pregnant women – mostly unmarried girls – who were sometimes held against their will and raped. The persons running the factories sold the children for various purposes, including adoption, child labor, child trafficking, or sacrificial rituals, with boys fetching higher prices.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets a minimum age of 18 for marriage for both boys and girls. According to UNICEF, 43 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18, while 16 percent were married before age 15. The prevalence of child, early, and forced marriage varied widely among regions, with figures ranging from 76 percent in the North West to 10 percent in the South East. As of January, 26 state assemblies had adopted a law that sets the minimum marriage age, but most states, especially northern states, did not uphold the federal official minimum age for marriage. The government engaged religious leaders, emirs, and sultans on the problem, emphasizing the health hazards of early marriage. Certain states worked with NGO programs to establish school subsidies or fee waivers for children to help protect against early marriage. The government did not take significant legal steps to end sales of young girls into marriage.

In the north parents complained the quality of education was so poor that schooling could not be considered a viable alternative to marriage for their daughters. Families sometimes forced young girls into marriage as early as puberty, regardless of age, to prevent “indecency” associated with premarital sex or for other cultural and religious reasons. Boko Haram subjected abducted girls to forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child commercial sexual exploitation and sexual intercourse with a child. Two-thirds of states had adopted the relevant federal law. The minimum age for sexual consent varies according to state law. The constitution provides that “full age” means the age of 18, but it creates an exception for any married woman who “shall be deemed of full age.” In some states, children as young as 11 can be legally married under customary or religious law. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking.

The law criminalizes incest. The law criminalizes the production, procurement, distribution, and possession of child pornography.

Sexual exploitation of children remained a significant problem. Children were exploited in commercial sex, both within the country and in other countries. There were reports that girls were victims of sexual exploitation in IDP camps. The government expanded efforts to identify victims of exploitation in IDP camps. For example, the government continued a screening and sensitization campaign to identify sex trafficking victims in IDP camps in Bama and other areas near Maiduguri. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons also collaborated with the Borno State government, international organizations, and NGOs to establish the Borno State Antitrafficking Task Force.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Media reports indicated some communities killed infants born as twins or with birth defects or albinism.

Displaced Children: According to UNICEF, as of July 2020, children made up 60 percent of the IDP population. There were displaced children among IDP populations in other parts of the north as well. Many children were homeless.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at

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