T.T. Bella1, O. Atilola1, and O.O.Omigbodun1, 2

  1. Department of Psychiatry, University College Hospital, Ibadan.
  2. Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Ibadan.


Background: Many children in Nigeria face a life of poverty, family instability, inadequate educational opportunities and poor physical and mental health which hinder their ability to develop into healthy adults, live an improved quality of life or fulfil their life aspirations. These factors have also been associated with juvenile delinquency and need for institutional care.

Objectives: As a step toward providing comprehensive services for incarcerated children in Nigeria, this study aimed to identify the psychosocial needs as well as types of psychopathology among a group of incarcerated children at the Ibadan remand home.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey of children and adolescents at the Ibadan remand home was carried out using a semi-structured questionnaire.

Results: A total of 59 children were assessed over a one year period. Majority (90%) were in need of care and protection. All (100%) had significant psychosocial needs presenting as difficulty with their primary support, economic, social environment, or educational systems. Majority (97%) also demonstrated significant psychopathology and anxiety, suicidal and depressive symptoms were the most commonly elicited.

Conclusions: Incarcerated children in this study showed significant mental health needs which need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. This should be carried out through the collaborative efforts of mental health professionals with various stakeholders in child care.

Keywords: Children, Psychopathology, Psychosocial, Nigeria, Juvenile


Dr. Bella TT
Department of Psychiatry,
University College Hospital,
Phone: +234-8025905241


Nigeria is the most populous sub-Saharan country with a predominantly youthful population of less than 15 years of age1. However, many of its children face a life of inadequate educational opportunities, poor physical and mental health 2. Inspite of the enormous natural endowment of the country, development has been slow due to poor public management, and serious crisis of governance resulting in decaying infrastructure, stagnant economy, corruption and widespread poverty.3 A life of want, family instability, exposure to physical, sexual and emotional abuse has been associated with delinquent behaviour among children, and so a large number of Nigerian children are expected to be involved with the juvenile justice system. 4, 5

The Children and Young Persons Act II is the major piece of legislation dealing with matters affecting children and young persons in Nigeria.6 Its stated purpose is “to make provision for the welfare of the young, and the treatment of young offenders and for the establishment of juvenile courts’.6 Under the terms of the children and young persons law (CYPL), there are three categories of children who may become involved with the juvenile justice system: children in conflict with the law (those who have committed crimes similar to adult crimes), children in need of care and protection (those who have been abandoned or left destitute by their parents, or children of criminals, beggars or destitutes), and children beyond parental control (those brought to the attention of the authorities by their parents and are alleged to have engaged in minor criminal activity as well as truancy and running away from home).7

Institutional care for juveniles in Nigeria could be in remand homes, approved schools or borstal institutions. Remand homes serve as detention/ custody sites (maximum of 3 months) for juveniles awaiting trial,or disposal after a guilty verdict. Children in need of care and protection and children beyond parental control are also commonly kept in the remand home while a social inquiry report is being prepared. Approved schools are more permanent educational facilities for children in contact with juvenile justice where they are placed for at least 3 years, while Borstal institutions are specifically designated for the institutionalization of offenders and other categories of children between the ages of 16-21, for a period of about 5 years6.

Studies on juvenile justice systems in Nigeria reveal that these facilities were established for the purpose of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of juveniles and as such facilities for vocational and formal educational instruction were put in place in order to realize these goals.2 These facilities however have undergone a marked deterioration since the 1980’s due to lack of proper policy, legal and institutional frameworks, gross under funding, inadequate staff, and lack of necessary training facilities.2

Children who enter the Nigerian juvenile justice system usually meet the police as their first point of contact. A study carried out on the treatment of Juveniles during arrest and detention by the police found that about two-thirds (66.5%) of the juveniles reported being verbally abused, physically assaulted (64.7%), and threatened with beating (68.5%).2 Only 13.7% reported being well fed in police cells; and 12.9% were provided with adequate materials for personal hygiene. Within the custodial institutions, the situation was only slightly better with a high proportion of juveniles reporting subjection to mental or psychological torture by threats of beating (45.9%), denial of food (30.0%) and long detentions (31.7%).2

Inspite of these reports, little attention had been paid to the psychological well being and eventual outcome of these children till date and they often lack access to mental health care.2 Moreover, recent studies suggest that about two thirds of youths involved with the juvenile justice system meet criteria for one or more psychiatric disorders, even after excluding conduct disorder. 8, 9 As an important step towards planning and providing mental health services for these children in Nigeria, the mental health needs of children and adolescents in a remand home facility in South West Nigeria were determined.