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Rising brutality: Weighing the potency of Nigeria’s child rights laws

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Nneoma on her hospital bed


The Nigerian child, especially one from a poor home, is insecure almost on all fronts. With his parents unable to appropriately cater to his/her needs and no social safety net from government, he/she starts life on a sour note hoping that it ends in bliss. Some people in this category are molested by their own parents out of frustration, even to the point of inflicting grievous bodily harm on them. Others are given out to relatives or even strangers as house helps where they are subjected to all kinds of inhuman treatments, but they dare not cry out because they are afraid that doing so would attract even worse treatments. And so, they endure the pains, which usually comes with adverse psychological consequences. Help only comes their way when neighbours who can no longer withstand the sight of their conditions draw the attention of law enforcement agents.

This was the case of 10-year-old Nneoma Nnadi, who was until Wednesday, July 1, this year, a house help to Mr. Jude and Mrs. Ifeoma Ozougwu, where she was gruesomely abused and molested. The Enugu State Police Command arrested the couple that fateful day for allegedly burning little Nneoma’s belly, back and buttocks with hot electric pressing iron and drilling a six-inch nail into her head.

The pathetic story generated overwhelming public outcry, with many concerned individuals and non-governmental organisations insisting that the couple must be brought to book. The police acted swiftly and arraigned the couple on Monday, July 6, before the Magistrates’ Court, Enugu, charging them with unlawful attempt to harm, kill and engaging the little girl in hazardous, injurious and exploitative work against her physical and socio-psychological development.

The distraught mother of the tortured house help, Mrs Nnedinso Nnadi, who spoke with journalists at the Intensive Care Unit of the Enugu State University of Technology Teaching Hospital (ESUT–Parklane), where Nneoma has been receiving treatment, regretted releasing her ward to the Ozougwus.

“My husband’s brother came to me and said they wanted her to come and live with them and take care of their children. I agreed. I did not know that it will be this way,” she said.

Aside from Nneoma’s story, on July 12, men of the Ogun State Police Command arrested a 24-year-old man, Badmus Folarin, for burning the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy, Sunday David, for allegedly licking from a tin of tea. Folarin allegedly used a hot knife to burn the buttocks of the victim for taking from the tea, which belonged to his (Folarin’s) mother.

Also on July 14, a couple, Mr. Effiok Umo and his wife, Nnenna, both from Okwojo Ngwo community in Udi Local Government Area (LGA) of Enugu State, were arrested by the police for torturing and inflicting severe bodily harm on her 12-year-old daughter, Mercy Umo.

The Police Public Relations Officer, Enugu State Command, ASP Daniel Ndukwe, who disclosed the arrest, said a preliminary investigation by the police showed that Mrs. Umo, who is Mercy’s stepmother, was in the habit of brutalising the girl with sticks, electric cable and heels of shoes.

“The height of it happened on July 10, at about 10:30p.m when the wife abused and assaulted her to the extent of inflicting bodily harm on her with the excuse that she dozed off while slicing onions required for food being prepared that night. This led to neighbours reporting the matter to the police through the NHRC,” Ndukwe said.

These incidents happened within a period of two weeks, an indication that cases of child abuse and brutality persists in the country despite the numerous laws to curb it.

The Criminal Code, the Penal Code, the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP Act) and the Child Rights Act all have provisions that protect the Nigerian child from various forms of abuse.

But how effective are these laws? Are they being properly enforced? What are parents supposed to do to protect their children against being molested by their guardians? How can a parent/guardian discipline a child without necessarily molesting him/her? How does maltreating a child affect him/her psychologically? The stories below provide further details to the genesis of Nneoma’s ordeals and answers to the above posers.

‘Nigerians Must Rise Against All Forms Of Child Abuse’
From Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
WHEN she gave her ten year old daughter, Nneoma out as ‘house help’ six months ago, Mrs. Nnedinso Nnadi had done so believing that it was one of the best decisions that could help the little girl achieve the dreams of a better tomorrow.

Having lost her husband to death in 2012 and having no serious handiwork to support a family of four she has to solely carter to, Nnedinso had praised God when Mr Jude and Mrs Ifeoma Ozougwu notified her of their intention to have Nneoma live with them to help take care of their children and run other errands. Jude is a staff of a commercial bank while Ifeoma is a housewife.

They had promised to train the little girl in school and ensure that she became useful, not only to her mother but also to the society. They also rationalised that taking Nneoma to live with them would give some relief to the mother of four who feeds from hand to mouth in her bid to ensure that all her children got basic education.

“All these happened a few months ago. I had willingly asked them to take Nneoma to their residence in Enugu town, after getting the consent of my daughter that she was willing to live with them. The couple is related to my late husband, so I had no doubt that they would do as promised. I also yielded because they already have two little children and needed someone to take care of them, especially when they are not around,” she said.

Alas, the promise of a better future for Nneoma has turned awry. Not only has she been given a near permanent scar by the couple, she might live in regret her entire lifetime for accepting to live with them. This is because between January this year when she joined the family at their No. 3 Akonameze Street, Thinkers Corner, residence in Enugu and July when the bubble of the dehumanising treatments her guardians were meting out to her eventually blew open, Nneoma had become a psychological wreck. Several parts of her body had been inflicted with wounds resulting from the torture by her madam and the husband.

Investigations revealed that meting all manner of torture to the little girl was a routine for the Ozougwus. Sources said most of the time, Nneoma was starved for days even as she was made to sleep in one of the rest rooms in their apartment. It was gathered that on the fateful day, July 1, ‘Madam’ was said to have gone with Nneoma and the children to a hair-dressing saloon. When it was her (Madam) turn to be attended to, she was said to have left the care of her kids to Nneoma. She (Nneoma) cuddled the youngest among the children who started sleeping and in the process slept off as well. The little girl reportedly fell off her hands but did not sustain any injuries. However, ‘Madam’ was very displeased with the development.

“I learnt that when they got home, she decided to mete out serious torture on her in return for allowing her baby to fall down. She inflicted serious injuries on her by administering hot electric iron on several parts of her body. She was said to have driven a six-inch nail into Nneoma’s skull, inserted red pepper into her private parts and locked her up in the toilet afterward,” said Nneoma’s distraught mother, who narrated the story to The Guardian at their hospital ward last Wednesday.

It was neighbours who heard her wailing that alerted the Police, who searched the house, rescued her from the toilet and moved her to the Intensive Care Unit of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology Teaching Hospital (ESUTH), where she is currently recuperating.A Magistrate Court in the state had last Monday sent the couple to a Correctional facility in Nsukka until August 10 when their bail application would be heard.

Mrs Nnedinso further told The Guardian: “I did not believe the sight of my daughter when I saw her. Tell me the kind of mother that will be happy or even sleep in the night with this level of injuries on her child? If not poverty, what will drive me into giving my child out as help to anybody?

“Have I not been doing my best to at least feed my children? They requested that they want to help me by taking Nneoma to live with them. I did not force them. If what I heard is true, I must say it is not the right way to treat someone’s child.

“My interest now is for my child to live. I want my daughter alive. That is all. I do not know how to explain this. But those who saw what happened and the number of people that have visited us have condemned this act,” she said.She said she was in the market on the fateful day when she received a call that she should come the Teaching Hospital and do something. According to her, she abandoned her wares and rushed there only to meet her child reeling in pains.

“I want to thank God for the intervention that saved my daughter. I want to thank all those who have supported us since we got to this hospital. I want to thank the Enugu State governor who has agreed to take care of my daughter’s welfare from now henceforth. Honestly, I feel relieved that she is doing well and by the grace of God she will overcome this,” she added.

Asked why she agreed to send out a 10-year-old girl as house help, she said: “I thought they would take good care of her. It is a good lesson that I will not forget in a hurry. But all these are part of life.” She stated that until the incident, she never visited nor saw her child. “But I spoke with her some time ago and she said she was fine. I am a full housewife and barely doing anything. If I have the resources I wouldn’t have given her out.

Mr and Mrs Ozougwu


“If I have support, I would like to engage in food stuff business. It will help me take care of my family. I am prepared to ensure that the rest of my children do not experience anything like this. But it is not for me to judge. Let God be the judge on those who perpetrated this kind of act,” she added.
The increasing rate of child molestation in the country has led to heightened advocacy for the effective implementation of the Child Rights Act and other laws that were to protect the Nigerian child from abuse.

Speaking with The Guardian, a development expert and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Amaka Chinwuike-Uba Foundation (ACUF), Dr Chiwuike Uba, described rising cases of child molestation as a painful development, adding that it could not be contemplated that Nigeria was still having cases of child abuse despite the provisions of the Child Rights Act (2003).

He said: “The recent cases you cited are pathetic but they represent just a class of child abuse happening in Nigeria. According to the Child Rights Law of 2003, child marriage, child betrothal, tattoos and skin marks, exposure and use of narcotic drugs, abduction, removal or transfer of the child from lawful custody, child labour and unlawful sexual intercourse are forms of child abuse. 

“In addition to other national laws and international conventions, among others, Nigeria is also a signatory to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1999, which provides that children must be protected from all forms of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, physical, mental or sexual abuse, and neglect or maltreatment. Under Section 17 (3)(f) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, children should be protected against exploitation as well as moral and material neglect. The relevant provisions of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution are supported by Section 71 (1) of the Matrimonial Causes Act Cap 220, 2010.

 
“Section 33(2)(e) of Labour Act Cap L1, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004; Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003; and Sections 216, 218, 219 and 295 of Criminal Code Cap C38 LFN, 2004, protect the rights of children. Specifically, Section 295 of the Criminal Code Cap C38 LFN, 2004, states that no correction that is unreasonable can be justified; it provides that the age, physical and mental condition of the child should be considered before corrections are inflicted on children.

“Painfully, despite the various provisions of the laws, conventions and policies available to protect the rights of children, they still suffer from various forms of abuse, degrading treatment, cruelty and violence. Therefore, it is evident that the problem is not lack of adequate laws to protect the rights of children but mainly a poor enforcement mechanism of laws that protects their rights, as provided and guaranteed under the various laws.
Unfortunately, the abuse of children has both political and socio-economic consequences and costs both in the short term and long term. Currently, more than 50.8 per cent of Nigerian children, aged between five and 17 years are engaged in child labour. Various crises in society are traceable to child neglect and abuse.”
 
He pointed out that in most cases, complaints regarding child rights were either ignored, responded to too slowly or the wrong decisions were made due to the incompetence of law enforcement agents, who according to him, were not well trained to respond to child rights issues.

“In addition, due to a lack of awareness and sensitisation on the provisions of the Child Rights Act and other related laws, many people are not aware that some cultural and religious practices are an infringement on the rights of children and abuse. The excessive beating of children by Nigerian parents is seen as discipline and not as a form of abuse. Most children are also abused as a result of poverty. In this instance, they are out of school and are in the streets either hawking or engaged in other disadvantageous activities – prostitution, drug trafficking and robbery,” he said.

He added: “Weak governance systems, non-domestication of the Child Rights Act of 2003 in some states in Nigeria and inefficient judicial process are part of the reasons child abuse is continuing despite the laws against child abuse. The cost and duration of the litigation process, insufficient jail terms for adults that violate children (if they are convicted), and lack of offenders register are a disincentive to pursue and follow-through a child abuse case in court.”

Country Director, Global Society for Anti-Corruption (GSAC), Mrs Amaka Nweke, also traced the rise in cases of child abuse to what she described as “lackadaisical implementation of the law,” stressing that parents/guardians capitalise on the weak governance structure to maltreat and deny children their legitimate rights.
 
“The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) as well as the Nigerian Police should focus a little more on local abuses and cases of trafficking as against the current wave of focusing on foreign incidents of trafficking. They should be considered as a primary disaster within their agencies for a child to be violated in whatever manner within Nigeria. They need to step up their enforcement and monitoring,” she said.

Nweke also said there should be regular sensitisation programmes for parents towards prevention of domestic abuses, adding that religious leaders have a duty to preach against the trend using their pulpits.
 
Speaking on some of the reasons for the current wave of dehumanising treatments being meted out to some children in the country, Nweke stated: “The coronavirus pandemic is really exposing the level of torture some children go through because it has made economies suffer and frustration has set in, in most families thereby making the living conditions of some families worse than it used to be. What you normally witness in such a situation is transfer of aggression to children and even women.
 
“I think the government also has a role to play here to ensure that these children who are the future leaders are secured. Government should make life more meaningful by introducing policies that should boost the economy. We cannot continue to blame the ravaging coronavirus for the bad economy that is eating deep in most homes. We have to find a way of helping our people overcome the hard times that they have been exposed to. I believe that with these and proper implementation and enforcement of our child rights laws, we would have secured the future of our children.
 
“We also need the state governments to begin to domesticate these laws in their various states. For us as a non-governmental organistaion, we have continued to speak against the molestation of children and why any child should be allowed to live. I don’t see any reason a couple should go for a maid when they know that they don’t have the resources to take care of that maid like their own child. It is wrong and the society must rise to condemn it,” she stated.
                                   
‘A Molested Child May Grow Up To Become A Sadist’
Dr. Celine Njoku is a Counseling Psychologist and a Fellow of the Counseling Association of Nigeria. She spoke with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA on the increasing cases of child molestation in the country, pointing out the underlining causes and how it could be curbed.

What is your take on the incessant cases of maltreatment of underage house helps?
The issue of maltreatment never used to be heard of as most people in the olden days lived communally. People, especially from the Southeast, take their cousins and relatives to live in with them, but recent happenings are becoming appalling.

The problem is from the home. People who abuse children must have been abused some time in their lives; so it is a chain reaction. Unfortunately, this is common mostly with ladies from the Southeast, and it is purely due to pride. A Yoruba woman who takes up a girl child helps to train her to be entrepreneurial so she will become useful even to herself.

Those who are maltreating these girls in the disguise of helping them do not know what they are doing. Socially they are frustrated; psychologically they are depressed and when one is depressed, it is transmitted. You don’t give what you don’t have.
Why do you think a woman would inflict grievous bodily harm on a child?

These ladies maltreating young girls and boys staying with them have low self-esteem of themselves hence they want to bring others down to their level. It is also largely as a result of frustration. The right thing to do to a child is to scold him/her when he/she does something wrong.

A typical case I handled a few years ago was a house help who prepared noodles for her madam’s child to take to school, which mistakenly spilled. The madam woke up, went to the kitchen and boiled water. She mixed the water with noodles, asked her to open her skirt and poured the hot noodles into her navel and asked her to go to school. She got to school fanning her navel, her teachers took her to a nearby clinic and I was called on.

These girls are passing through horror. They don’t take care of them forgetting that they are the ones that take care of their children. I believe they don’t know God else they won’t harm another person’s child; your child is no better than the others.

Do you think the husbands of women who molest their house helps have a hand in it?
Some wives batter the girls while their husbands take the girls to bed; that was the Ochanya Ogbanje story few years back. Unfortunately, however, some of these women are hooligans who batter even their husbands. When we invite some of these men they will say, ‘I have warned this girl to run away from my wife else she will kill her one day, but she wouldn’t listen’. Some of these men even get accused of sleeping with these girls when they insist their wives shouldn’t maltreat them. These girls are called unnecessary evils.

But then I will always say that if you cannot condone them it is best to send them home rather than putting them through trauma. Some of these girls who are molested don’t even know where they hail from. Their parents just move them from one madam to the other and their madam is at the liberty to ‘kill and eat them up’. Taking up a housemaid needs maturity. Women should understand how well to treat others; you cannot give what you don’t have.

What is the psychological effect of molestation on a child?
A child who has been molested will grow up deformed forever just like the Enugu incident. When she hears a woman raise her voice, she will be shaking; she will have mental torture and may vow never to see any woman in her life. This kind of child will also have suicidal thoughts. She will also grow up believing she is not okay and can never fit in.

There are four groups of people. First is, I am okay, you are okay. This set of people believes everybody around them should be happy. Second is I am okay, you are not okay; that is superiority complex. They believe the other people do not exist; you find them in spouses and colleagues. The third is I am not okay, you are okay. House helps fall into this category; they grow up having inferiority complex. The last set is I am not okay, you are not okay. These are real sadists who believe that nothing should work. These girls can grow up being either sadists or have inferiority complex and the chain continues.

How can the society curb child molestation?
We should continue talking about this menace in every possible media outlet. There should be adverts and jingles against it. Even in religious, political and educational institutions, everyone should be involved in spreading the message. Also, women should not take underage girls as house helps or use them as slaves because we are no longer in the era of slavery.

‘Parents Must Resolve To Raise Their Children By Themselves’
By Tobi Awodipe
THE Executive Director of the Cece Yara Foundation, Grace Ketefe, has identified poverty and the inability of many parents to cater to their children as major reasons they keep giving out their children as domestic helps where they are treated badly and in some cases, even assaulted. Ketefe in an interview with The Guardian said the failure of parents to regularly check on their children whom they have sent out give room to their guardians to molest them.

“Contrary to what some people may think, families, especially poor ones in the rural areas are willingly giving their children away to other family members in the major cities in order to improve the child’s status and lessen the burden on themselves. These poor parents give out their kids either as domestic helps or to go and live with better off families, hoping to give them a better life. In most cases, when these kids are taken away, the parents don’t even go back there from time to time to check on them. If people know that the parents of their helps can drop in unannounced to check on their children, caregivers would think twice before brutalising the children left in their care. Most caregivers know the parents of their help will not come and check up on the child’s welfare and so they tend to treat them badly.

“During the lockdown, people were forced to stay together and there was a lot of tension and pressure around and some expressed their frustration physically and sexually on weaker ones. That is why there is an increase in Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Normally, a good number of these helps would be in school but because of the restrictions, they are at home where they are experiencing increased violence,” she said.On why some guardians brutalise some of their underage house helps, Ketefe said many people have undiagnosed mental problems but instead of seeking help, they pounce on those around them that they perceive as weaker.

“When a child is subjected to constant emotional and physical abuse, they can react violently and that is when you hear of some house helps poisoning or harming their caregivers or the children placed in their care.

“There are several protection agencies for children at the state and local levels, both private and government owned. When children reach out to us on our child helpline, we refer them to agencies that can help if we see we cannot handle the case or we are too far away.

“We go to schools and communities to sensitise children on what to do if they or their friends are experiencing abuse. Most of the calls we get are from concerned adults who choose to remain anonymous. We always protect the identity of whistle-blowers because that is the only way to get more people to report cases of the use of under aged children as domestic helps and child brutality and endangerment. Even when we see videos of child brutality on social media, we follow up with the case and get that child removed from that environment,” she added.

Ketefe said state governments, especially states that have domesticated the Child Rights Act, needed to send a strong message that people who use underage children as helps would be punished for assault and child trafficking when caught.

“The child would be compensated and the perpetrators would be heavily penalised as well. As parents, you must resolve to raise your children on your own. You must be responsible and go through any challenges, if there are, with your kids by your side. More importantly, have the number of kids you can cater to comfortably. Here in Nigeria, we birth children hoping that others will take care of them. Cut your coat according to your size. Even if your kids are staying with relatives, check on them always. I want to appeal to all of us, if a child tells you they are being abused in any way, report it immediately. Child brutality, assault and rape carries a life sentence in Lagos and anybody, even police officers caught trying to cover up a child assault or rape case would face the wrath of the law,” she said.


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