There is a prevailing crisis of child abuse going on in Nigeria and by extension, the whole of Africa. It is a crisis that began as a way of upholding the morals and culture in the society. However, this supposed protection and upholding of imminent good has in turn turned out to be dangerous itself.
The practice of abuse in many African homes encompasses not just the physical aspect. It consists of verbal abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and so on. Over the years, abuse of children has somehow garnered attention by many governments in African countries. However, it would seem like the authorities are prejudicial about the type of abuse they give attention to. We don’t have as much attentiveness to emotional abuse as we do to physical and sexual abuse. Aspects of emotional abuse that needs to be given special type of attention, includes rejection, name-calling, teasing or bullying, yelling, criticism, isolation or locking a child up for extended periods, exposure to domestic and family violence.
What is child abuse? Child abuse is the maltreatment of a child physically, emotionally and psychologically especially, when it is done by a parent or guardian. Today, many cases of depression, suicide and emotional distress in young adults can be first traced to their upbringing as children.
In Nigeria, child abuse takes various forms. Children and young adults are being sexually raped and exploited, especially by close relatives. Many parents have become irresponsible for their children and even use them as a means to maintain their income flow. The hawking of goods by children on the streets has become a normal phenomenon in Nigeria. No one even remembers to ask these children about their parents or why they aren’t in school. Why would they? Many Nigerians have the “it’s none of my business mentality” and so they keep ignoring things they ought to berate and condemn.
Although there are laws against child labour and endangerment, they are essentially ineffective and have been used as a means to exploit the “victims”. My point here is not to ignore the extreme rate of poverty in the nation but to shed more light on the forms of child abuse whether or not it is intentional. We can not say because the rate of poverty is high, we should choose to expose children to labour.
A child’s basic needs include food, housing, clean living conditions, health care, adequate clothing, adequate supervision and so on. If you can not provide all these, you have no business taking a child under your wings.
In the year 2020 when I visited the city of Ibadan, I couldn’t help but notice the number of children who were either begging for food or money. They were everywhere! You are trying to buy something in the market (they are looking, gesturing their hands to their mouth). You are on your way to the mall, and they are stationed at the entrance. You are walking on the street, coming back from work, they are there begging you for alms. The very surprising thing about these children is, they never back down. They have been made to understand that “applying pressure” would get them the money they need. Every day, they resume in the morning and leave at night and resume back the next day.
Domestic violence is the order of the day in more than half of the homes in Nigeria. It’s fine! You don’t have to agree with me. The bitter truth is that so many adults have been violently abused by their parents and they have somehow convinced themselves that it was the right thing to do. Don’t feel bad! Psychologists say so much of the things we believe in is based on what an “authority figure” has told us. You have been psychologically dispositioned to think physical violence is okay as long as you are trying to train the child. Violence is violence! Violence is a refuge for the incompetent so why opt for it?
In the name of discipline, many children are abused and violated. Some children are beaten to the extent that they begin to question the need for their existence. Some are too scared to ask for help because they have been made to understand what it would mean for them. – more beatings, rejection, name-calling, abandonment and sometimes starvation.
Last week, I was in a friend’s office and we got talking. As we got talking, I noticed he became silent all of a sudden. He had this serious look on his phone. I tried to get his attention and he looked up at me and said, “Pelumi, you would not believe what I’m staring at right now”. I replied, “what is it?”. He responded, “ I think It’s best I show it to you”. He passed his phone to me and there it was! A Facebook post of a former acquaintance of his. The person posted a public announcement of his disownment of his parents. This is the post below
I was bewildered. The question that ran through my mind was, what manner of thing could one’s parent do to make a child say such distasteful things about his parents? This was too much! I began to deeply think about it. In fact, we couldn’t stop analysing the situation for hours.
You see, the truth is, there are so many things that could have triggered the above outburst. I call this a public meltdown and cry for help. I am not in his situation, I do not know what he has gone through but I do know one thing. Something definitely triggered his outbursts and his parents are not faultless.
Child abuse includes and is not limited to child endangerment, child labour, child marriage, female genital mutilation, physical and domestic abuse. I want to shift our attention to a popular practice that I have heard several people re-enact countless times. It is called “the confirmation”. The phenomenon involves parents / a parent carrying out an excessive, physical examination of their child or young adult’s private parts regularly.
For the sake of this article, I interviewed Elizabeth (not her real name). She opened up to me that since the age of 7, her father would ask her to open her legs and he would put his hands in her private part to check if she was still a virgin. She is 27 years old and her father still does this to her. He says, he would continue to do this until she is married. I asked her “Is your mum aware of this? And is she usually present when he does this kind of inspection?”. She explained that her mum was aware and does not totally agree with what her father is doing but she really doesn’t have a say on the matter. Sometimes, she is present for the inspection and other times she just can’t stand her daughter going through it.
The role of the Constitution and the need for sensitization.
The 230 pages long Child Rights Act of the Nigerian constitution has proven inadequate and inefficient in the protection of children’s rights in the country. There are 2 major reasons for this. The first one is the issue of religion and beliefs. Most constitutions are created from religious beliefs and approaches. Religious beliefs become a deciding factor as to what laws are taken seriously. The Love for humanity should be our one and foremost priority. There should be a uniform law regardless of religion and belief. The uniformity of the laws makes it more meaningful in every region in the country. Nigeria currently faces this problem, as most parts of the northern part of Nigeria strongly oppose many parts of the constitution. An example of this is their opposition to the banning of child marriage and their decision to execute the Sharia law over the people.
The first and foremost problem any constitution should solve is a problem that affects humanity. This means, if the constitution puts any other aspect above humanity then the constitution will become grossly deficient and meaningless. This is why the constitution of a country must be updated over a specified period of time. Also, the lawmakers of a country owe it to the people to pass new bills that fit into the needs, problems and challenges of their society.
The second problem is the inadequate implementation and enforcement of child protection policies. Enough is not being done to protect the rights of children. Complaints from victims of abuse and even from concerned citizens are usually taken with such levity and this discourages people. Men and women who handle child abuse cases are not being held under the highest ethical standards. To properly say this, the sensitizers themselves need sensitization. Proper sensitization and enlightenment can only be done when the sensitizers themselves know enough. There should be severe punishment for all child abusers. We need to stop using the modus operandi of “Let’s leave it to God” or “it’s none of my concern”. Let’s also learn to stop labelling maltreatment and abuse as “love”. It is not love if it causes more harm than good. Child abuse is not love even if the intentions are good.
Abuse & Abandonment of the boy-child.
Most African countries are patriarchal and Nigeria is not any different given the patriarchal culture which we inherited from colonial rule. In contemporary times, the girl child has gotten so much attention. This attention on the girl-child (although, a deserving one) has now somewhat obscured the fact that the boy-child also needs attention. I must emphasize that the boy-child suffers from extensive negligence in today’s world, especially in Africa.
Do you know that 2 in 5 boys get sexually molested before the age of 14? This molestation is usually perpetuated by older family members who are females. Growing up, I have had male friends describe how they were molested from a young age. They couldn’t tell anyone about it. Even as an adult, they are still unable to tell the story.
The sickening part of this is that, whether or not they get molested by a female or male, no one seems to think that that it’s as serious as that of the girl-child.
My concluding thoughts
Of a truth, I couldn’t possibly write enough about this subject matter as it is a broad and critical issue we are facing in society. Abuse is abuse regardless of the intentions, reasons, severity or duration in which it was perpetuated. I have seen people violently assault their child because they felt the child was possessed.
In Nigeria and the rest of Africa, we are faced with the harsh reality that child abuse will continually be a problem. It saddens my heart that child abuse does not get the same attention as other crimes would. There is no violence against children that is justifiable. Child abuse must be abolished totally for any form of development to take place. We as individuals must think about the psychological impact abuse can have on children. It needs to be prevented in homes, schools and any other gathering. Most importantly, there should be timely prosecution and punishment for all child abusers and justice for all victims. Only then, will we be able to put an end to the exploitation, neglect and ill-treatment of children.