Sexual abuse and challenge of girl-child protection
The realities confronting the girl child in today's world are indeed scary as sexual predators and pedophiles abound, hence the urgent need to safeguard, protect the life and future of the child.
Daily, the media is rife with stories of toddlers, teens, adolescent girls being raped, abused by close 'uncles' which often times happens at home or in school.
Faces of these abusers are usually familiar to the girl child and they come in form of; nephews, male cousins, close family male relations who is either living in same home with the child or on visit, a family friend, a neighbour or an uncle in school.
As a way of family bonding, during holidays most parents send their daughters to the family of these 'uncles' with the intention to build stronger ties but often times, these girls are subjected to sexual abuse.
While in the school environment, girls are daily being molested, raped, abused by male class teachers of which sometimes go unnoticed.
Describing sexual violence, experts say, it is all forms of sexual abuse or exploitation which encompasses a range of acts, including unwanted completed sex acts (such as rape), attempted non- consensual sex acts, abusive sexual contact (such as unwanted touching), pressured sex (such as through threats and tricks) by any person regardless of the relationship with the child experiencing the violence, in any setting.
Recently, in Lagos, the realities were unpleasant for two year, eleven months old pupil of Chrisland School, Victoria Garden City after being abused by a 47 year old teacher, Mr Adeneken Adegboyega.
According to Justice, Sybil Nwaka of an Ikeja Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court, the pupil said to have high intelligence quotient and gave a vivid and consistent narration of how she was defiled by Adenekan while she was on her school uniform.
The judge noted that the child testified she was defiled twice by Adenekan; once in his office and the second time in a hall.
The child who revealed to the court said, Adenekan put his finger in her 'wee-wee' (vagina), put his 'wee-wee' (penis) in her 'wee-wee', and his mouth in her 'wee-wee'.
Justice Nwaka said, "in our present case, there is certainty of penetration. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient; it is not necessary if injury is caused or the hymen ruptured
"The essential ingredients to prove a charge of defilement was that the defendant had sexual intercourse with a child under 11 years, and that there was penetration into the vagina."
She noted that the evidence of defilement is the same as that of rape but said that, in defilement, it is immaterial if it was with or without the consent of the child.
Sexual intercourse, she said can be by hand, penis, cucumber or any blunt object as it is essentially the insertion of the penis into the vagina for pleasure, reproduction or both, adding that other types of sexual intercourse are; oral sex, anal sex or fingering.
Adenekan sentenced by the court to 60 years’ imprisonment serves as a wakeup call that schools should ensure due diligence while hiring teachers and not only be interested in economic gain but also the welfare of pupils. Schools should not cover up teachers who sexually abuse children.
Despite this laudable progress on the court rule, all over Nigeria and virtually from every nook and corner comes constant flow of graphic stories of violent sexual attacks of children as young as one year old by depraved male adults who sometimes end up going free from the laws made against such brutal violation of the sexuality rights of the girl child.
But hopefully the police and law enforcement agencies are bringing such cases of violence against children to book.
A survey on Violence Against Children, VAC carried out by United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF in collaboration with Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, reported that one in four females experienced sexual violence in childhood and reported more than one incident.
The survey also stated that almost half of females who reported to have experienced sexual violence said it occurred before the age of 16. A third of female experienced the first incident between age 14 and 15.
The data on health and social outcomes reported by those who experienced sexual, physical and emotional violence in childhood compared to those who did not experience such violence, clearly demonstrates that VAC in Nigeria is linked to poorer mental and physical health outcomes for females.
Furthermore, VAC is also associated with increased risk for subsequent sexual risk-taking behaviour and there is a propensity for children to use violence against their intimate partners both during childhood and adulthood.
Experts say, parents and care givers should be watchful at all times especially with male uncles to their child, stressing the need to watch the closeness, if the child is comfortable or not.
UNICEF’s child protection specialist, Dr. Olasunbo Odebode, pointed that all forms of violence and harmful practices against women and girls are of epidemic proportions in Nigeria.
She said this during a two-day media dialogue on Spotlight Initiative in Ibadan, Oyo State, stating that, "today, Nigeria is one of the countries where Gender-Based Violence is highly prevalent."
Odebode cited the recent story of a 17 year-old girl, whose father regularly had sex with before paying her school fees is one of the many incidents.
However, concerned stakeholders in the campaign say cultural and harmful practices including ignorance are key drivers of the trend.
Odebode disclosed that 43 percent of Nigerian girls are married before age 18, adding that 17 percent do so before they turn 15. Also, she said 20,000 new cases of obstetric fistula occur every year in Nigeria.
She maintained that violence against women and girls remains a silent killer that has taken the lives of many.
Furthermore, she said "the health outcomes go beyond the direct result of physical, psychological or mental health issues. Violence against women and girls in Nigeria is against the law and survivors do not usually receive full legal support, as they may prefer to stay in abusive relationships than leave."
Odebode said women and girls subjected to violence are unwilling to lodge formal complaints due to lack of trust in the police and stigmatization.
A member of the Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, James Ibor, identified cultural and religious practices as the major factors encouraging Violence Against Women And Girls, VAWG in Nigeria.
Ibor said VAWG mostly happens during wars, adding that women and girls are raped and brutalised to humiliate their community.
He however listed other forms of violence against women and girls to include: trafficking, sexual exploitation, deprivation of resources including; health, food, livelihood, confinement, child marriage, battering, and Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, among others.
Ibor further disclosed that, "Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa. Nigeria has the third-largest number of women and girls who have undergone FGM in the world. Girls and boys are raised, treated and valued differently from birth to adulthood. Women and girls are solely responsible for care giving and household chores and this has implications for girls' school attendance."
To stem the tide, analysts stressed that, parents through the education sector should promote sensitization and awareness of violence against children through School Based Management Committees, SBMCs, teachers, parents association and the community at large.
They said, to achieve the total elimination of VAC in our society, there is need to break all forms of barriers to accessing help at state and community level in order to support programme designed and planned to bridge the cycle of violence and ensure that children can access the help they deserve.
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