This study has examined the intricacies involved with respect to child’s rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Nigerian laws. It has been argued that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion entails the liberty of conscience accorded to the individual to have or adopt any religion or belief including the right to change one’s religion or belief as well as the freedom to manifest one’s religious belief in teaching, observance, practice and worship. The research work is predicated upon the problems arising out of the complexities involved with the tripartite issues of protecting the rights of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion on the one hand and the liberty of parents/guardians to secure the religious upbringing of their children as well as the obligation placed upon States in respecting this right. The main objective of this research work therefore, is to provide an appraisal on the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Nigerian Laws. It is contended that children should not be allowed absolute autonomy to decide for themselves on matters bordering freedom of thought, conscience and religion but such delicate decision should only be exercised through their parents/guardians who would provide directions as to the manner in which their child should exercise his/her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It is therefore observed that Nigerian law recognizes the ultimate right of children to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and is to a large extent compatible with international norms and standards under the UN Human Rights system. It is further observed that the application of freedom of thought, conscience and
religion in relation to children requires additional caution and a special consideration of the diverse structure of the Nigerian society. This is in view of the fact that the legal framework on child rights in Nigeria perpetuates only the application of western ideas on the adherents of all religions in Nigeria. It is thereby recommended that in view of the vulnerable state of their mind, children should not be allowed full liberty to take everlasting decision for themselves on matters pertaining to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that despite the integration of the concept of autonomy into the concept of children’s rights, such autonomy must always be made subject to the overriding choice of parents. Any framework short of this would, in our view, be tantamount to enforcing absolute secularism and/or free thinking by the state on all children independent of the wishes of parents. Therefore, the study concludes with the firm recommendation that as Nigeria is comprised of both Muslims, Christians and
adherents traditional African religions, a model law on the subject of freedom of thought, conscience and religion more particularly as it affects child protection must be one which takes into account the religious rights and interests of Nigerian citizens without spreading western ideas on adherents of all religions in Nigeria. It is therefore suggested that to curve the indiscreet secular element involved in the idea of autonomy and freedom of choice in religious matters granted to children independent of the wishes of parents, States in Nigeria that desires to enact into law the provisions of the CRA especially those states in northern Nigeria that applies the sharia, such states should cautiously revise and redraft the pro-western conception on child’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in order that respect should be accorded to the religious rights and interests of parents and legal guardians to secure the religious upbringing of their children.