Help! The Girl-child Is An Endangered Specie
It is no secret that child rape is now prevalent in Nigeria as hardly a day passes that the media is not awash with gory details of a minor being sexually assaulted by an adult that is supposed to nurture and protect. The courts are daily inundated with cases of rape, most of them minors and the justice system does not seem to be too sympathetic to this monstrous plight.
And these are the stories that make it to the media as most are not usually reported as studies and polls have shown. The rising incidence of sexual abuse of minors in the country is evidence that our policies and laws are not working. The ever-increasing incidents of rape, especially of minors, have become a source of worry to many Nigerians. The punishment for rape as spelt out in Section 358 of the Criminal Code is life imprisonment, while an attempt to commit rape attracts 14 years imprisonment. Nobody has, however, been convicted and faced this punishment despite overwhelming evidence. In spite of this stiff penalty for rape, it still thrives, because of bottlenecks of legal technicalities, and unwillingness of victims to pursue their cases to logical conclusions.
According to NOI polls in partnership with the Stand to End Rape Initiative (STER), about 70 per cent of Nigerians are aware of the high prevalence of child rape in the country and 50 per cent personally know a child that has been raped between the ages of 7-12 years. This is a worrying statistic and shows that this is more of a problem than we are willing to admit. Child rape is one of the most traumatising forms of violence against children, usually committed by a person in a position of power and trust in the child’s life. While several cases are officially reported to the appropriate authorities in Nigeria, most people believe the majority of rape cases go unreported mainly because parents want to protect their children from potential stigmatisation and embarrassment.
Ivy Fidelia Basil-Ofili is the programme officer for Partnership For Justice, owners of Mirabel Centre, a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). It is the only one of its kind and is located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) in Lagos. It is a safe, friendly and conducive place where one can get free help after going through trauma of rape or sexual assault. The centre has catered to almost 900 victims with a whooping 90 per cent under the age of 18, a lot of them not even teenagers yet.
According to Basil-Ofili who spoke with The Guardian, “We can confidently say that there is increase in reporting as people are beginning to have more confidence in the system. However, impunity plays a major role in deterring prospective perpetrators. When an abuser is set free without facing the consequences of his or her action, either because prominent members of the society have begged on his behalf, we are sending the message that he can get away with the crime, that the violation of the rights of that child is not important. We are also encouraging others to abuse minors as they can get away with it. This is not acceptable.”
On ways of tackling this menace, she insists that this hydra-headed monster cannot be tackled by one agency or by the government alone. “The Lagos state government has put in place a good legal framework by way of laws and policies like the Child rights Law, Domestic Violence Law, Sex Offenders Register and mandatory reporting. It has also set up the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team for expedited response to issues of domestic and sexual violence in Lagos State. The society also has to do its part.
“First, we need to stop the silence and talk about the abuse and seek help for the abused child. We need to stop begging on behalf of the perpetrator and allow the law to take its course. We need to stop stigmatisation of the survivors and change the way we discuss rape and other issues. For instance, rather than talking about the child who was abused, the society should focus on the alleged perpetrator as the criminal that he/she is. That way, the perpetrator will not be protected but will face the consequences of his action. In addition, the society needs to stand up as a whole to condemn child abuse and hold the perpetrator accountable.”
Basil-Ofili further points out that the tendency for an abused child to become an abuser in future was pretty high, thereby continuing the evil cycle. Also, many of these children contract sexually transmitted diseases, become pregnant and might have their education disrupted.
Furthermore, she adds that abused children tend to suffer psychologically and become emotionally unstable, swinging from one excessive trait to another and are extremely aggressive or violent in most cases. “Early introduction to sexual activities can lead to promiscuity in future or frigidity. Some suffer from VVF and have to live with that condition for the rest of their lives.”
Basil-Ofili disclosed that rape and sexual abuse was not limited to just female children alone even though they constitute an overwhelming majority. She points out that young boys are now falling victims of rape and they have treated and counseled some male victims at the centre.
According to her, the only way sexual abuse can greatly reduce or even be eradicated is when the community takes a stand against it and ensures to protect every child, whether that child is known to one or not. If you see or notice any strange friendship/activity between an adult and a child, report to the appropriate authorities. She enjoins mothers to be more vigilant and ensure they are close with their children, such that the children tell you everything going on with them. Also, mothers should try as much as possible to refuse leaving children with even relatives as statistics have shown that 70 per cent or rape is carried out by known relatives and friends.
A three-year-old female child (name withheld) is one of the victims at the centre. She was brought there after she complained of pains in her private parts. Upon several prodding, she revealed that her uncle put his fingers in her repeatedly. The case has been lodged in the police station but the criminal has not been brought to justice, however.
Another female child aged 11 has unfortunately contracted Hepatitis B after being raped on three different occasions by their neighbour, warning her not to tell anyone or else she would die. The case is also lodged at the police station and the assaulter is undergoing prosecution. Another child, aged seven has been assaulted for over a year before help came her way. Two men raped the poor child on different occasions but thankfully, they have been arrested and it is hoped they would face the full wrath of the law.
One of the saddest cases this reporter noted, however, was that of Mary (not real name) who was sent to collect money from a man. The man was not around and referred her to his assistant who told her he forgot the money at a friend’s house and told her to follow him to get it. On getting there, he pounced on her and raped her. The man has been arrested and it is only hoped that he would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
These are just several instances of the hundreds of children that have been assaulted and are still being assaulted till date. Basil-Ofili notes that the complicity and tendency to cover-up the crime is still very high. Many parents often drop the case out of fear, wanting to ‘protect the child from stigma’ and monetary incentive. Some parents do not even know it is a criminal act and fail to report to the police as well as take their child to the hospital for proper treatment. Such was the case of Rashida and her parents.
Rashida (not real name) was raped by her landlord on several occasions at their one-room apartment located in one of the suburbs of Lagos. After her mother discovered this sad incidence, she said the landlord threatened them with ejection and they had to keep mum because they didn’t have money to look for another apartment. The best she could do was to send Rashida to go live with her sister in another part of Lagos.
This shouldn’t be the case Basil-Ofili stresses and not getting help and justice for the victim only damages the victim even more and gives the criminal more room to continue committing evil, as if the child is not properly counseled and rehabilitated, it can lead to greater problems later on and affect his/her future negatively.
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