BY Ruth Choji
…. the unabated incidents of child sexual abuse in the country and what can be done to stem the tide.
Sexual violence against children in Nigeria is on the rise, however, there is an adequate statistic, due to the nature of the crime and the culture of silence that surrounds the issue.
A survey carried out by UNICEF in 2015 disclosed that four in 10 girls and one in 10 boys in Nigeria will experience some sort of sexual violence before the age of 18.
Mrs Juliet Obiora, programme coordinator, Action Against Child Sexual Abuse Initiative (ACSAI) says “we think it could be more. The work we do reveals a staggering number of victims who are still children, and victims who are now adults. Most of these cases go unreported. Studies have constantly shown that most child victims of sexual violence delay disclosing their abuse – sometimes for relatively long periods of time.
“While we can’t put an accurate number to the statistics of child sexual abuse, the daily incidents reported in the media is more than enough to spur immediate action.”
Today, what used to be a taboo and sacrilege is gradually assuming a national spread with everyday occurrence of horrifying cases of fathers abusing their young daughters, unabating cases of incest and rape of minors by those whom they are kept in their care.
Dr Biola Ayodele, a pediatrician said that “Child abuse comes in different forms; it is a situation where an adult uses the child for sexual stimulation or pleasure.” Dr Ayodele says that forms of child sexual abuse include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activity; putting pressure on the child to perform sexual acts.” Some adults he said, just wants to see the child genital for sexual pleasure, or they use the child to make lewd movies. These perverse behaviours, he said has left so many children depressed, and psychologically traumatized. Child sexual abuse may cause infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Depending on the age of the child. Due to a lack of sufficient vaginal fluid in the child, chances of infections are higher. Child sexual abuse can result in both short-term and long-term harm like psychopathology, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety eating disorder, self-esteem, dissociative anxiety, disorder, somatization, neurosis. Some of the children end up as substance abusers, and with other self-destructive behaviors.
Psychologists say sexually abused children suffer from psychological symptoms than non-abused children. The risk of harm in the child is said greater if the abuser is a relative, and it involves intercourse or attempted intercourse, or if threats or force are used. The level of harm may include penetration, duration and frequency of abuse, and use of force. Child sexual abuse may cause internal lacerations that result in bleeding, sexually transmitted diseases or permanent vaginal fluid.
Research has shown that traumatic stress, including stress caused by sexual abuse, cause notable changes in brain functioning and development. Child sexual abuse may leave a lasting damage on the victim depending on the age and size of the child, and the degree of force used. In severe cases, damage to internal organs may occur, which, in some cases, may cause death.
David Isuwa, psychologist who is a counsellor to abused children told our correspondent that “Pedophilia is the urge to have sexual preference for children, whether boys or girls. The typical pedophile is unable to find satisfaction in an adult sexual relationship and may have low self-esteem. Pedophilia is the act or fantasy on the part of an adult of engaging in sexual activity with a child or children.
Isuwa says that “Sexual attraction toward children dominates the pedophile’s life, often causing the individual to live in fear of the attraction and in some cases causing the person to act on his or her urges. If a pedophile is driven to sexual encounter, the encounter frequently stops short of intercourse, with the pedophile obtaining sexual gratification through fondling the child and sometimes through genital display alone.”
Pedophiles he said, “have impaired interpersonal functioning and elevated passive-aggressiveness, as well as impaired self-concept. Pedophiles use cognitive distortions to meet personal needs, justifying abuse by making excuses, redefining their actions as love and mutuality, and exploiting the power imbalance inherent in all adult-child relationships. Most adult victims of child molestation struggle with depression, low self-esteem or self-hatred, Substance abuse, alcoholism and suicidal behaviour, anxiety and panic disorders.”
Others he said, “can end up with headaches, gastrointestinal problems and asthma, insomnia, obesity and other eating disorders, as well as self-injury behavior. Psychologically, others tend to have flashbacks immediately they smell something that triggers and bring back memories of the abuse. The social stigma of child sexual abuse may compound the psychological harm in children.
“Child sexual abuse, has been found to be related to the development of high levels of dissociative symptoms, which includes amnesia or loss memories, child sexual abuse often occurs in poor family environment.
According Isuwa, some of the factors that turn people into pedophiles “could be childhood abuse, internet-proliferated pornography, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, bipolar disorder, low self-esteem, emotional immaturity, internal dysphonia, isolation or loneliness, and antisocial personality disorder. The difference between pedophiles and sex offenders is that, the pedophile does not want to or intend to hurt children but sex offenders make the deliberate decision to attack children not minding the implications. Pedophiles understandably try to separate themselves from being labeled sex offenders.”Isuwa says that “It is not easy to treat a pedophile because it may mean surgical castration, or removal of male testes, sometimes lower testosterone levels or drugs can be given to lower the libido. They could also be treated through cognitive behavioural therapy, behavioural interventions or the use of medication to lower the sexual libido of the adult like Depo-Provera, Lupron.
A retired secondary school principal, Mrs. Agnes Tanko who spoke to our correspondent stated that action in schools is vital for reducing sexual and other forms of violence. According to her, “children from primary school must be taught about sex and how to protect themselves from sexual abuse. It is because they don’t know, that is why such evil people take advantage of them.”
Child sexual abuse, she says includes “sexual assault, sexual exploitation or sexual grooming which involves the potential child sex offender grooming his would-be victim to be more accepting of his advances.”
Phillip Bauta, a legal practitioner and child right campaigner stated that “Nigeria is a signatory to some laws and charter on right of the child and the Criminal Code has a range of offences meant for the protection of the child and the preservation of his or her dignity. Our problem is that, we don’t enforce them and then parents tend to shy away from reporting these offenders. Sexual molestation is a serious offence because of the stigma and psychological trauma it leaves on the child.
“Section 30 provides that “A person under the age of seven years is not criminally responsible for any act or omission and that, a person under the age of twelve years is presumed to be incapable of having carnal knowledge.” This is elaborated in Chapter 21 of the Criminal Code dealing with offences against morality contained specific provisions for the protection of the child and preservation of the dignity of his person. Under Section 216 any person who unlawfully and indecently deals with a boy under the age of 14 years is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for seven years. Similar indecent practices between males attract imprisonment for three years under Section 217.
“Section 221 prescribes two years imprisonment for anybody who has or attempts to have unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl who is 13 years or above but below 16 years of age and Section 222 says, unlawful and indecent dealing with a girl under the age of 13 years attracts imprisonment for three years but where the girl is 13 years and above but below sixteen years, the punishment of the offender is two years imprisonment. That same Section 222a says whoever, having the custody, charge or care of a girl under the age of sixteen years, causes or encourages the seduction, unlawful carnal knowledge or prostitution of, or the commission of an indecent assault upon such a girl, is liable to imprisonment for two years. Procurement of a girl under the age of eighteen years to have unlawful carnal connection with any other person or persons, either in Nigeria or elsewhere attracts imprisonment for two years for the offender.
“Similarly, Section 225 prescribes two years imprisonment for an offender who abducts a girl under eighteen years of age with intent to have her to be unlawfully carnally known by any man.”
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international treaty that legally obliges states to protect children’s rights. Articles 34 and 35 of the CRC require states to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. These include outlawing the coercion of a child to perform sexual activity, the prostitution of children, and the exploitation of children in creating pornography. States are also required to prevent the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children. As of November 2008, 193 countries are bound by the CRC, including every member of the United Nations except the United States and Somalia.