Tuesday, 6th June 2023
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‘We have provided the first free child helpline in Nigeria’

Mrs Bola Tinubu is the Founder of Cece Yara Foundation, an NGO fighting against child exploitation and sexual abuse. A lawyer and a staunch advocate for children, in this interview with GuardianWoman, she talks about the activities of the Cere Yara Advocacy Centre....

Bola Tinubu

Mrs Bola Tinubu is the Founder of Cece Yara Foundation, an NGO fighting against child exploitation and sexual abuse. A lawyer and a staunch advocate for children, in this interview with GuardianWoman, she talks about the activities of the Cere Yara Advocacy Centre, which, among other things, has also launched a 24-hour operational hotline to attend to victims in distress

Who’s Mrs. Bola Tinubu? Tell us about yourself
MY professional background is in Corporate Law, and I work full-time as a Partner in the law firm of Olajide Oyewole LLP, leading its Corporate Services Group, and advising companies and businesses. I have always had a burning desire to help others and, over the past 20 to 30 years, I developed a general interest in the prevention and awareness of child sexual abuse. About two years ago, my personal research led me to understand the devastating extent of the problem in Nigeria, and I decided that I could no longer be a bystander waiting for the government, or anyone else, to provide the child-focused services that were badly needed by children who experience sexual abuse. In my spare time, I trained as a child advocate, focusing on child sexual abuse, and I am now also a certified forensic interviewer. This led to my founding The Cece Yara Foundation a year ago, which started operations with six full-time staff, and 10 volunteers.

On the personal side, I am the mother of five children who keep me busy and on my toes. I am also married to a wonderful husband who has been extraordinarily supportive. With their generous support and patience, I have been able to embark on this journey to provide support and a voice to children affected by abuse.

Tell us about your NGO, the Cece Yara Foundation
The Cece Yara Foundation is a child-centered non-profit organisation which I established in March 2016, to prevent child sexual abuse, to promote prevention awareness among adults and children and to provide access to care, information, protection and emergency intervention for children who are sexually abused or at risk, and their family. “Cece Yara” means “Save the Child” in Hausa, and I chose it because it sounded beautiful.

We provide access to support in two ways: Firstly, the Foundation provides the ideal response to children through a 24-hour free child telephone helpline (0800 800 8001) which is a unique memorable number, and which is manned by specially-trained counsellors who provide a listening ear, counselling, referral services or emergency intervention when needed. I believe that it is the first free child helpline in Nigeria

We have also opened our Child Advocacy Centre, a safe and child-friendly free facility for children to make disclosures and get the help they need. It was very important for us to establish a place where our children will have their own space to disclose their abuse without fear of reprisal, shame or guilt. The Centre is run by in-house professionals that include counsellors, social workers, child advocates, lawyers and forensic interviewers. In partnership with our medical alliances, we offer a coordinated approach in responding to abuse, and provide legal and psycho-social support, all in a single location.

The unique aspect of this Centre is that the child is our main client, as opposed to the adult family members (who we also provide support services to), and we act in the child’s best interests always, with our central goal being to heal the child and to restore his or her childhood.

The Foundation also conducts prevention education programmes for children to teach them the skills needed to protect themselves, as well as programmes for adults to raise the awareness of sexual abuse, and educate them on how to protect children from sexual abuse.

How rampant is the case of child molestation in the country?
It will shock many people to learn that one-in-four girls and one in 10 boys will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18 in Nigeria, while only 4 percent of girls and 2 percent of boys receive help after experiencing sexual violence.

This means that out of 16 million children in Nigeria who will experience sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18, 96 percent of the girls and 98 per cent of the boys are left to deal with the long-lasting negative effects of abuse on their own, without any form of support. These effects can lead to behavioural changes including delayed development, depression, shame, fear, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, propensity to further victimisation in adulthood, physical injury, among other problems.

How many cases have you handled? Have you been able to secure conviction in Courts?
Within the last six months we have handled over 15 cases. However, not all the cases have been charged to court, and the main challenge in these cases is being able to gain the family’s trust, and getting them to believe that with our support, they can withstand all the pressures that militate against the prosecution of the offender, and the healing of their child. Don’t forget that 90 per cent of child sexual abusers are known to the child and his or her family, so there is family pressure, community pressure, societal pressure, religious pressures and psycho-social pressures. Added to this is the stress as well as the economic cost of pursuing the police investigation and the prosecution, which make the child and non-offending family members relive the abuse. Many family members simply want to put the awful experience behind them as quickly as possible, and the quickest way is simply not to prosecute the offender. Our goal is to provide these families with every form of support they need to withstand the process, ranging from economic support, legal support to psycho-social support. Our child advocates are with them every step of the way, through to conviction and healing. Without holding the perpetrators accountable by law, the cycle of sexual violence cannot be broken.
Other challenges we sometimes face include the lack of thorough investigations by the police, and the unfortunate mishandling of evidence. To tackle this, we have trained forensic interviewers and a criminologist on our team who are able to extract quality evidentiary information, and to review and advise on all the facts and evidences in-house. In conjunction with our lawyers, we can provide support to the Police’s case where necessary. The encouraging news is that we were been able to secure a conviction within a record four months, and we have about three ongoing trials.

What do you think is responsible for this upsurge in child abuse cases in the country? Who are the most culprits? Does it have to do with social status?
It will be difficult to state categorically that there is an upsurge in child abuse cases in the country without a national baseline for comparison. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there is an upsurge in the media coverage of cases of child abuse in the country.

In the past, people were not informed enough to know how to identify child sexual abuse, and such child abuse would often go unreported. The underreporting was further aggravated by cultural, religion and socio-economic beliefs, which are not in the best interest of the child. I believe that we are now seeing a shift in these factors, leading to more reporting of abuse.

This shift has been due firstly, to the concerted effort between the federal government, state governments and civil society in taking up strategic priority actions towards ending violence against children, in response to the findings from the Nigerian Survey on Violence against Children in 2014. Secondly, there is more access to the internet and smart phones, as well as the advent of social media and online news platforms, which has made it possible for people to learn about cases of child abuse – unlike before when traditional media predominated. Thirdly, the increasing number of convicted perpetrators highlight the criminality and wrongfulness of child abuse and promote a positive perception of the judicial system. This simply encourages families to report and seek justice on behalf of their children.
Are there enough laws to handle these cases and how effective have they been, the Child Rights Act and others

While the laws in certain parts of the country need an upgrade, I believe that in the main, our laws are able to protect children from abuse. Nigeria has series of local laws – The Child Rights Act, The Criminal Code and The Penal Code, the various State Criminal laws, and the Child Rights Laws – and has ratified international instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The big problem is the enforcement of these laws. If these laws are adequately enforced and government policies supporting the intended objectives of these laws are well-formulated and implemented, the Nigerian Child will be well protected.

How have you been able to help rehabilitate the victims of abuse and how can government assist?
Our approach to rehabilitation is through The Cece Yara Child Advocacy Centre run by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals comprising forensic interviewers, child psychologists, social workers, child advocates and representatives of the judicial system with the aim of ensuring the child victim does not relieve the trauma of the abuse as the recall is only done once.

The Centre provides strict confidential counseling that is beneficial for assisting parents and non-offending family members in understanding the needs and behavior of the abused child. We offer counselling and psycho-social support by providing individual confidential counselling for the child who has experienced sexual abuse. We also offer Group/ Family counselling and support group for children who have experienced sexual abuse as well as referral to specialists for specialist or medical attention. Our case workers and social workers work with the families to assist them in getting their lives back to normal.

The support provided by the Child Advocacy Centre varies from case to case, depending on the requirements of the child and his/her circumstances. Our Child helpline provides immediate access to help and online counselling from any location. It encourages more disclosures and connects children to professionals that can help them in a manner that is tailored to each child.

Any role models that spurred you into this activity?
Yes. An English lady called Esther Rantzen who set up the UK’s first child helpline. She received 50,000 phone calls on the first night she launched the helpline on national TV, and the helpline still received thousands of calls till today.

Your advice to parents on how to protect their children/wards from these predators
Protecting the child from perpetrators of sexual abuse is the adult’s responsibility. Children cannot bear the burden of protecting themselves. We teach five easy steps which adults can take to protect children; which are: Learn the facts about child sexual abuse; where it occurs most frequently, the signs and ways by which it can be prevented; minimize the opportunity of abuse by eliminating or reducing opportunities for children to be in isolated, one-on-one situations with adults or other youths; talk to children about sexual abuse, as one of the best protections against sexual abuse is parent’s relationship with their children. Parents need to have open conversations with children about body safety, sex and body boundaries; recognize the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse such as anxiety, insomnia, increased reports of fear, as well as poor self-esteem; react responsibly to suspicions and reports of child sexual abuse. Believing the child’s disclosure of abuse and reassuring the child of getting help will go a long way in protecting the child.

How do you take time off your busy schedule?
I always take some time out during school holidays to spend with my family, and I am lucky that I am able to switch off work for a short while during this time. When I have some downtime. I enjoy cycling on the road and I am a keen amateur photographer.

What’s your philosophy of life?
“If it takes a village to raise a child; it takes a village to abuse one.”You are aging gracefully, kindly tell us the secret
Thank you. Hard work, a loving family, good friends, diet and exercise.