Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Time to stop violence against children

I had other plans for Tuesday, September 15, 2015. However, I woke up to see the electronic invitation sent by my sister from another mother, Ms. Angela Agoawike, inviting me to the launch of the “Year of Action to end Violence against Children”. Angela is a communication consultant to the United Nations Children’s Fund better known as UNICEF. As a father, children issues are dear to me. Thus, I altered my original plan for the day and headed for the International Conference Centre venue of the launch. By the time I got there, the entire place was filled to the brim. The parking space was at a premium. In fact, I had to park my car outside of the venue. The entire ICC premises were swarming with children (pupils and students) and adults alike. The Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, was there in person, likewise the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, clerics, representatives of donor agencies, Non-Governmental Organisations (some of whom mounted exhibition), and the media. President Muhammadu Buhari was ably represented by the Head of Service of the Federation, Danladi Kifasi.
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As I listened to speaker after speaker, I was moved to tears over the atrocities some animals in human skin perpetrated against children. I heard from the Chief Judge of the FCT of a man who was raping his daughter; a magistrate who was sending children who engaged in street hawking to prison rather than just ordering the confiscation of their wares; as well as the case of a woman who wanted to adopt a child for her boyfriend under false pretence. All that was a tip of the iceberg. Preceding the September 15 launch, in 2014, the Nigeria Violence against Children Survey named VACS was carried out by the National Population Commission, with support from UNICEF and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Nigeria is the first country in West Africa and the ninth in the world to undertake this survey.
The survey findings were mind-boggling and heart-rending. The VACS focused on three types of violence namely, physical, emotional and sexual. Some of the findings were that, “Approximately, six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence; half of all children experience physical violence; one in six girls and one in five boys experience emotional violence by a parent, caregiver or adult relative. According to UNICEF, a child dies every five minutes from violence. It is that bad. Of course, perpetrators are familiar faces. They include parents, neighbours, school teachers, house helps, friends and extended family members.
While some of this violence can be said to be perpetrated ignorantly, many others are pre-meditated. To my own mind, some harmful cultural practices and traditional norms contribute in no small measures to this menace. There are prominent Yoruba communities where child cursing is seen as a norm, a means of correcting the child’s wrongdoing. The people there do not realise that it is a form of emotional violence. Punching, kicking and flogging are all perceived as means of correcting children’s misbehaviors whereas they constitute physical violence on the victims.
Child trafficking is a big issue today in Nigeria. It is part of human trafficking which experts say is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32bn every year. Of that number, $15.5bn is allegedly made in industrialised countries. Many of the trafficked children are forced into prostitution, soldering, robbery, drug trafficking, used for rituals and engaged as house helps.
Akin to child trafficking is also “child farming” where some unscrupulous orphanages, fertility clinics or maternity homes arrange for some teenage boys to get teenage girls pregnant for the purpose of selling such offsprings. Aside from that, there are also married couples who deliberately offer their children for sale. Many of such have been busted by the police and other security agencies across the country. Perhaps, the ring leaders of these criminal gangs never saw their fiendish acts as violence against children, which it is.
I am also of the opinion that abortion, infanticide, and child-dumping are all forms of violence against children. All of these are on the increase in Nigeria. Another rampant form of violence against children is sexual abuse. Increasingly, there are reports of girls and boys below 18 years of age being raped. Foluke Daramola-Salako, a renowned Nigerian actress, admitted to being raped at the age of 17 while featuring on Sunrise, a Channels Television programme last Saturday, September 26. This made her to establish an NGO known as the PARA (Passion against Rape in Africa). While Foluke may have overcome her own trauma and stigma, many others have yet to get out of the emotional pain.
Generally speaking, violence against children is linked to poorer mental and physical health outcomes for boys and girls in childhood and into adulthood, according to the aforementioned survey report. Physical violence is said to be associated with higher risk for mental distress, thoughts of suicide and substance use. Sexual violence is linked with high rates of sexually transmitted infections, mental distress, suicidal inclinations and unwanted pregnancies. Emotional violence engenders higher levels of mental distress and thoughts of suicide amongst females and higher levels of mental distress and drinking amongst males. More disturbing revelations from the VACS are that females and males who experienced physical or sexual violence in childhood are also likely to perpetrate violence against children. This means that the vicious cycle will continue.
You may ask, are there no laws dealing with this issue? There are quite a few of them. They include the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, signed and ratified by Nigeria; the Children and Young Person (Street Trading) Law; Violation against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015; the Criminal Code; and the Penal Code to the Child’s Rights Act. Unfortunately, there is the lack of political will by law enforcement agencies to investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators. The good thing however is that the current Inspector-General of Police and the Federal Government have made renewed commitments to end violence against children during the September 15 launch.
Beyond law enforcement, another veritable way of dealing with this menace is sustained enlightenment campaign through the use of conventional and non-conventional media strategies. I am glad that some newspapers have started writing editorials and news analyses on the issue. It is also heartwarming that partner organisations who did the VAC survey have started media advocacy to educate the public on it.
One of such commendable efforts is the campaign done last Saturday, September 26, on Radio Link, a Radio Nigeria magazine programme. In that broadcast anchored by Solomon Iorpev, Ms. Sharon Oladeji, who is the Child Protection Specialist with UNICEF, and Dr. Samson Olanipekun, who is the Director, Planning and Research with National Population Commission, took time off to sensitise the listening public to the issue while also correcting the erroneous impression that the initiative is a form of cultural imperialism from the Western world. I like the emphasis on the need for positive parenting and recommend it to all parents and guardians.
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