BY Barrister, Hannatu Musawa
Sadly, Nigeria is gradually evolving into a child sexual abuse basket case. Similarly, sexual abuse in the form of incest is on the rise. This ugly spectre cuts across every ethnicity, region and religion within our clime. However, since they are not issues that bother on secession, Biafra, crude oil, corruption or politics, they do not make the front burner of national dailies, neither are they top priority for national discourse.
UNICEF reported that 1 in 4 and 1 in 10 boys had experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. According to a survey by Positive Action for Treatment Access, over 31.4 per cent of girls said that their first sexual encounter had been rape or forced sex of some kind. According to UNICEF again, 6 out of 10 children in Nigeria experience emotional, physical or sexual abuse before the age of 18, with half experiencing physical violence. These findings are undoubtedly staggering.
Child sexual abuse exploits and degrades children and can cause serious damage to cognitive, social and emotional development of a child. There have been many significant sexual abuse cases against minors that have cruised below radar. Such sexual abuse cases are so sick that I still find it repulsive just writing about it. For instance, one 26-year old Rafiu Idowu, was arrested by the police in Ile-Ogbo, Osun State, sometime last year for defiling a 10-year old. He strangled the girl for raising the alarm during the act.
In another case, a 35-year old Matthew Umeh was arrested for raping his wife’s 15-year-old sister who had been living with them from the age of five. Police reports stated that the man had been violating the minor since she was five years old. Again, one Saviour Edith, 24, was arraigned in Lagos last year for defiling his neighbour’s three-year-old daughter. It was the girl’s agonizing cry that alerted her mother to the scene.
In Funtua General Hospital, the medical director stated that all the 13 rape victims treated in the past four months were below the age of 13. He further stated that most of the cases required surgery because they “were very severe.” Elaborating on one of these cases, a 13-year old victim was raped by her neighbour after being sent to buy oil for cooking. These are just some of the plethora of rape cases against minors abound in Nigeria.
For victims of rape however, life is often permanently bruised by the stigma associated with it. In January it was reported that a primary five pupil in Bariga, Lagos, was gang-raped by six men. Now a primary five pupil should be about 10 or 11 years old. Imagine such a girl being gang-raped by six men. Making matters worse is that the girl has been ostracized by people in her community as most of them have been avoiding her since the incident occurred.
Incest has also been on a steady increase. In 2015, 49-year old Sylvester Ehijele raped his seven-year-old daughter. His wife said the last straw was when her husband, who had earlier defiled their 17-year-old daughter, violated their 18-month-old granddaughter. In another repulsive case, a man raped his 12-year-old daughter in Ogbia, Bayelsa State. When the girl was four months pregnant, he took her to a quack health practitioner to procure a crude abortion for her.
From the above findings, one doesn’t need a soothsayer or rocket science to know that sexual abuse against children in Nigeria is becoming grim. All across the country, this dastard violent act is inflicted on children in different forms. It should be noted that sexual abuse against children is not someone else’s problem. It is a problem for all of us. The things we need to do in order to curb this malaise are many.
Alarmingly, there seems to be a growing army of child rapist and paedophiles. If the phenomenon is left uncontrolled, it will surely mature into a pandemic. Child sexual abuse cannot be attributed to a particular group. It is perpetrated by the rich, the poor, teachers and coaches, religious leaders and laymen, educated and illiterate, and more particularly by family members and neighbours. For a country that prides itself as one of the most religious country on earth, this is certainly unbecoming.
So, how do we confront this sinister monster? Firstly, the National Assembly should strengthen the laws against child molestation and abuse. The enforcement of the law will curb the resort to sentiment and pressure, which allow child sexual abuse suspects to plead with families of their victims not to be prosecuted. Secondly, the police should establish a desk dedicated to the crime in every station in the country and train those deployed there in the science of investigating sexual abuse.
Thirdly, religious organizations should stop living in denial of it. They should begin fervidly preaching against it and inculcate moral values in their adherents. We need to also ensure accountability for acts of abuse against children and prioritize them. We also need to improve the quality of support services for children and make institutions for their care work. Lastly and more importantly, parents of victims should not shy away from seeking help. During cases of discovery of sexual abuse, believe your child, be supportive, stay calm, be caring, and do not despair. Parents should also be vigilant. know the signs, keep communication line open with your kids, know their friends, get to know what they know, be careful of accommodating family/strangers and always spend time with your kids.
As a society, we have a collective responsibility to prevent child wsexual abuse in all its forms. To accomplish this, we must initiate and support policies enumerated above that enhances child development, health and safety and we must advocate for policies and programs to help meet the basic needs of children and families. We must also promote research, training and public education to strengthen protective factors that buffer risk factors for sexual abuse while also directly addressing those risk factors.