Curbing child sexual exploitation is not so difficult in Nigeria, some say. All it requires, they insist, is mass orientation and vigilance. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE writes on the need to use education to fight the menace of child sexual abuse in the country.
The emotionally stoked 2012 South African drama, Little One, directed by Darrel Roodt, exposed the heinous world children live. Subjected to the pervasiveness that has been entrenched by the very people who are expected to protect and care for them, African children continue to suffer sexual abuses daily.
The six-year-old Little One (Vuyelwa) was sexually abused, beaten badly by three men and left in the bush for dead (according to report from police test results from the remains of semen found on her).
Sadly, her abusers were never apprehended by the police but she found love and care in the arms of a good woman, before she met her real parents.
While Nigeria enjoys favourable ranking for police reported cases of rape (whether child or adult) in the world, experts believe that most cases of Child Sexual Exploitations (CSE) are never reported.
Supressed by family for obvious reasons, the cases of CSE continued to increase in Nigeria, as more cases spring up with different narratives.
Perpetuated often, by close family members, neighbours, religious leaders, law enforcement agents (as reported in the camps of internally displaced persons) parents and a host of others, cases of CSE are now prevalent in several parts of the country.
In 2003, the Nigerian parliament came to the rescue of the child with the passage of the Child Right Act (CRA) which considers a child as “a person below the age of 18 years.” It also states that a child’s best interest should be of uttermost priority in any case involving a child.
The goal for promulgating the CRA is to improve the child’s relationship with his/her family or community. The CRA broadly covers the rights, duties and responsibilities of every child. One of the most important parts of the act is [that] it provides that the “best interest” of the child should be of paramount importance in all actions concerning the child.
It focuses on the duties of children, parents, the government organisations, authorities and bodies. The CRA provides for different rights children should have and enjoy for instance: freedom from discrimination, right to rest, leisure and enjoyment, right to good medical care, food, shelter, drinking water, education, hygienic and sanitised environment, provides for disabled children.
It also provides for certain offences that should be considered as a violation of children’s rights for instance: maltreatment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, betrothal and child marriage, tattoos, marks, female genital mutilation, trafficking, wrong exposures to criminal activities, prostitution and narcotic drugs, using children to hawk, beg, sell, sexual abuse.
The Act makes provisions for family courts in Nigeria, to hear cases in respect of children. It also provides for an active child justice administration in Nigeria. The act goes ahead to prohibit the use of capital punishments, imprisonment and corporal punishment for children under the age of 18 years.
While several states struggle to domesticate the laws due largely to political will, religious and cultural beliefs, customs and poverty, the menace of CSE continues to haunt many children in Nigeria.
Lagos State alone recorded a total of 150 reported cases of sexual and physical abuse for one year, as at April 27, 2016.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Mrs. Lola Akande, was reported to have said that, in the last year, the ministry had treated about 589 cases, ranging from sexual abuse, physical abuse, child labour, to others.
There are other staggering statistics of rape and sexual exploitations of boys and girls from others parts of Nigeria, a situation that has created fear in several homes across the country.
Worried by the ugly development in Nigeria, Jose Foundation, a non-governmental organisation based in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, committed itself to fighting the evil of child sexual exploitation in Nigeria.
Taking a cue from how the UK is tackling its own case, the foundation believes that Nigeria is progressing too slowly to address CSE as sufficiently as she should.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend on CSE, president, Jose Foundation, Prince Martins Abhulimhen said his foundation sees child sexual exploitation as despicable to the human race.
“Back in the ‘70s, it beats me hollow to see parents giving out their girl children between the ages of nine and 13 for marriage. Some tribes see the girl-child as a source of wealth for the family, in order to eradicate poverty. These are all part of the problems of child sexual exploitation. On that ground, Jose Foundation took the gauntlet to address the issues, in order to become a part of the solution to carry out this awareness to the world, as it’s quite despicable to the human race,” he said.
He added that the ugliness of recent happenings in Nigeria informed a more aggressive measure towards reducing the cases of CSE through awareness among the most vulnerable and the internally displaced persons across Nigeria.
Also, Abhulimhen stated that his foundation submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with copies sent to the ministries of health, women affairs, justice, education, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other relevant stakeholders, notifying them of a planned workshop to be held in Abuja and some IDPs’ camps, on child sexual exploitation.
“The programme is designed to raise awareness and educate children, teachers, community leaders, pastors and all stakeholders and to better equip them in reporting and recognising such issues. It empowers them to know they have a right to report and never condone such nefarious acts as condoned in parts of Nigeria.
“When we finish the workshop on CSE in Nigeria; hopefully, with the team of experts from the UK and launch the book on CSE, there will be no need for government to wait until 2030 to eradicate child marriage. By prolonging this issue of child marriage, the government could be seen as encouraging CSE in Nigeria.
“We at Jose foundation want to be a part of the solution and we want government to join us to be part of the solutions rather than the problems of CSE in Nigeria,” said Abhulimhen.
He also stressed that a foremost UK expert in CSE, Councilor Jayne Senior (MBE) would lead other experts to Nigeria for the training programme, in order to educate stakeholders and the vulnerable on how best to tackle the problem, by sharing her country’s experience.
He said the UK government is committing about 40miilion pounds about 20billion naira to fighting child sexual exploitation in 2017 alone. He urged the federal states governments to take the issue seriously by committing resources to address the problem.
In an interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend, a child psychologist and senior lecturer at the Benue State University, Makurdi, Dr Elvis Ihaji, pointed out that parents and adults must be educated not to take advantage of minors.
Ihaji took a swipe at religious and political leaders who often take advantage of little girls, as he insisted that education would begin with them.
He added that a significant number of adults, lawmakers, parents, community and ward leaders must be involved in workshop to sensitise them on how to handle children, especially the society’s most vulnerable.
“Parents should not be tempted to give out their minors, especially girls, for sexual exploitation. Also, girls should be taught to talk whenever they are threatened or sexually harassed by anyone.”
Ihaji further called on law enforcement agents to be ready to prosecute those found guilty of CSEs, just as he emphasised the need for proper education of girls and children on how to deal with threats of sexual exploitation.