Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Our many crimes against children

I am worried, deeply worried about the many atrocities we daily commit against children in Nigeria. The future looks grim, ominous and unsafe unless we retrace our steps and start doing things right both as parents and as government. Nigerian children are increasingly being molested, dehumanised, traumatised, and impoverished in spite of a decade of passage of the Child Rights Act 2003 by the Federal Government while no fewer than 16 states had also adopted and ratified the law. It is a common feature to read about paedophiles who prey on young girls. Hardly would a day pass without reports of teachers allegedly raping their pupils, neighbours having a forceful carnal knowledge of their co-tenants’ female children or fathers raping their daughters. What incest!
The PUNCH of April 25, 2013 documents some incidents of rape of minors. The story was told of one 47-yea-old Amuda who allegedly raped a 12-year-old girl four times. Unfortunately, in the past six months, the girl in question has been having discharges in her private part. Another animal in human skin is 29-year-old Ijiwande who allegedly raped a nine-year-old in the school toilet where he was teaching in a primary school in Osogbo, Osun State. Yet, another named Oyeleke who teaches Mathematics and Social Studies also in another Primary School in the same town was alleged to have raped some girls in his class in the school’s toilet. The PUNCH account also regaled us with the story of another scoundrel named Ibiyemi, an employee of the Mainland Local Government Area in Lagos who was also accused of raping a nine-year-old girl. What is this world turning to?
So much for paedophiles, a different mind-boggling development is the soaring incidence of sale of children. It was said that many maternity clinics, foster homes, orphanages or shelters for homeless pregnant girls also sometimes double as baby factories and trade centres. Writing under the caption, ‘How child trafficking network operates in the South-East’, Uduma Kalu in the Vanguard of July 10, 2011 chronicles how this illegal trade works. He said inter alia, “Child trafficking in the Eastern part of Nigeria is a lucrative trade. In Nigeria, human trafficking ranks the third most common crime after financial fraud and drug trafficking. At least, 10 children are sold every day across the country, according to the United Nations. Globally, the traffickers earn $33bn yearly. In Nigeria, the traffickers are seldom caught, and even when they are, they easily buy their way out. It is rampant in Nigeria but prevalent in the Eastern part of the country, especially child trafficking.”
Kalu recounted how a desperate Yoruba lady who had been married for five years without a child left Lagos to purchase a child in Aba for N2m. According to him, “In Janet Fajemigbesin Street, in Amuwo Odofin, behind old Durbar Hotel near Festac, Lagos, teen ladies charge N150,000 and N200,000 per baby. Twins sell for N450,000. The boys who impregnate the girls are paid N10,000 to N20,000.” On May 28, 2010, policemen acting on a tip-off were said to have rescued 32 teenage expectant mothers from the clinic known as The Cross Foundation, Aba where the girls were kept until they were delivered of their babies. Police said the babies were then sold and their mothers discharged after being paid N25,000 or N30,000 depending on the sex of the baby.
In the days of yore, it was unheard of that children were offered for sale. I am not sure children were traded during the inhuman slave trade era. Among my people in Yorubaland, children are regarded as priceless hence names like Omoboriowo, which literally means children are more desirable than wealth (apology to the late deputy governor of old Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo). Unfortunately, these days, children have been reduced to a mere chattel to be traded.
Perhaps, one of such children purchased was the one Simon and Gladys Heap from Oxford attempted to smuggle out of Nigeria before eagle-eyed British law enforcement agents spotted, arrested, prosecuted and got them jailed. The story as reported in Thisday of April 24, 2013 was that, “Gladys aged 52 and her husband, 47, had entered Nigeria in July 2010 and had gone to the British High Commission in Lagos to apply for a British passport for the baby girl claiming Gladys had a baby just a few days after entering the country. According to the British High Commission in Abuja, the employees at the High Commission were however suspicious….DNA tests later confirmed that neither adult was related to the child. A birth certificate they had presented was also found to be fraudulent.” Following an investigation by a Joint Border Force and Metropolitan Police Service, the couple was arrested and charged with facilitating a breach of immigration law. They were sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and 250 hours of community service after pleading guilty on April 16, 2013.
According to the UNICEF, “The trafficking of children for the purpose of domestic service, prostitution and other forms of exploitative labour is a widespread phenomenon in Nigeria…There is yet no reliable estimate of the number of children trafficked internally and externally primarily because of the clandestine nature of the phenomenon. The causes of children and women trafficking are numerous. They include poverty, desperation to escape violence, corruption, unemployment, illiteracy and ignorance.”
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other law enforcement agencies have been trying to curtail this illegal trade by clamping down on the baby factories. However, as the economic situation gets worse, more and more ladies are being lured into this criminal racket. Additional crimes daily committed against the children of this country is their lack of proper upbringing as parents engage in the rat-race of making ends meet. The children from poor families are sent on street hawking or in some worse situations to beg for alms. Over 10 million children of school age are said to have been out of school in Nigeria. They possibly never got enrolled in school or had to drop out due to the inability of their parents to give them the needed support.
Where then do we go from here? We have to go back to the basics. The Child Rights Act is in place but it has not seen much enforcement as the victims are somewhat incapacitated to enforce their rights. Parents who should do this on their behalf are actually in many instances the perpetrators of the inhuman acts. There is, however, no one-size-fits-all solution to this menace. Parents need to help in protecting their children’s rights by providing them with necessary care and support. We need to love our children and teach them good moral values. We need to earn their confidence and encourage them to trust and confide in us. The laws against rape and trafficking in children need to be strictly enforced by all those saddled with their enforcement. Given the economic downturn, it has become imperative for government to step up campaigns for child-spacing and family planning. We also need to simplify child adoption procedures and make them more attractive for couples in need of children to access. This should discourage them from opting outright to buy children. Free and compulsory basic education should also be provided by government at all levels.