Between February and June this year, the nation’s judiciary recorded more than five convictions in cases bordering on child sexual abuse with most of them decided in Lagos State. Since it was inaugurated by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on February 1 this year, the Sexual Offences Court of Lagos State has lived up to expectations by meting out substantial punishment to paedophiles. These child predators have been on the prowl,defiling underage children.
The first judgement of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court in Lagos came 15 days after the court was inaugurated. The court sentenced a 58-year-old paedophile to 60 years in prison with hard labour for defiling a 12-year-old pupil. In her judgement, Justice Sybil Nwaka said the sentence would serve as a deterrent to sexual predators in the state.
In another judgement delivered by the same court last week, the judge sentenced a 48-year-old man to 60 years in prison for raping a seven -year-old primary two pupil. He described the convicted paedophile as an animal without conscience.
While we commend the Lagos State government for being decisive on these barbaric acts against minors, it remains to be seen when other state governments will begin to name, shame and convict child sex offenders by publishing their names and photographs so that the public can be aware of the potential danger of having such deviants close to their children.
Some argue that paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children. In our view, however, nothing will excuse or rationalise depraved men having sexual craving for minors.
In the opinion of this newspaper, while it is a heinous crime to rape anyone, it is even more barbaric when the victim is a child. Most paedophiles get away with the crimes they commit because they are much older and can intimidate or brainwash their victims. Most times the perpetrators of these crimes are people known to the victims as fathers, brothers, neighbours, uncles and in-laws.
Nigeria is one of the 194 countries of the United Nations that signed the Convention on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, however, not much has been done by the government to protect children from these predators. The convention stipulates that children have the right to survival, the right to develop to the fullest, the right to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation and the right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. Disturbingly, families of victims of paedophilia often prefer to hush up the crime out of embarrassment especially if it is within the household, all in an attempt to preserve their dignity. But we think that is the wrong approach. There should be severe punishment for these child defilers.
In our candid opinion, it is not only necessary to ensure maximum punishment but also essential to enforce this punishment in a very firm and decisive manner. The police authorities should courageously investigate and recommend for prosecution the alleged offenders. The judiciary should not shy away from handing out maximum punishment when the occasion demands. This will serve as deterrent to other aberrant members of the public. Judges should dispense justice without interference from the other arms of government and efforts should be made to ensure that cases are resolved speedily. A hedging judiciary will promote child abuse despite the enactments of several laws prohibiting it. Just like Lagos, other states should reinforce the use of juvenile courts to try offenders. We also strongly suggest that, apart from the punishments provided in the laws, convicted offenders must be made to undergo compulsory psychotherapy.
On the part of parents and guardians, their first duty should be to the children at risk. They should be vigilant enough to know who pose danger to their children. Instead of turning a blind eye and ignoring the predicament of the victim, they should stand up to these people and report them to the authorities. There should be more awareness so that people can know what signs to look out for if they believe a child is being groomed or abused. Parents should learn how to be closer to their children. If they are distant from their children, there is the tendency that their children will not confide their abuse to them. It is their duty as parents to sense when things are wrong with their children. Everybody needs to be vigilant. Child rape or paedophilia is not acceptable, not just in Nigeria, but everywhere.
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