By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
Mrs. Olufemi Kayode, a graduate of Criminal Justice from Walden University in the United States, is a voice to be reckoned with in child activism in Nigeria. An Ashoka Fellow, she is the founder/executive director of Media Concern Initiative(Mediacon), a non-governmental establishment set up in Lagos with the sole aim of preventing child molestation and abuse. In this interview, she dwells on how the fight against child abuse can become a success.
I THINK Nigeria is in a way making headway in the fight against child abuse; at least in 2003 we had the Convention on the Rights of the Child finally rectified with our own Child Rights Acts. Now we have over 23 states that have enacted the Child Rights Laws. Welfare systems are also catching up. You know, things canâ€™t just catch up so fast because a lot of things have gone so bad. With time, the situation will be better.
Why people think we now have more cases of child abuse is because the nation is not what it used to be.Â In those days, children were disciplined even by neighbours.
Even those taken to remand homes used to come out reformed. But now, with the population explosion, the system has died down; it no longer has that capacity and enablement. Now, to catch up with the huge demand is a big problem because weâ€™ve seen governments come and go without looking so much into social welfare issues. Even some of the institutions that were set up decayed.
Poverty is hitting harder and people are having more children than they can cater adequately for. Some people take advantage of this, and children are therefore being trafficked for prostitution, etc. You find nine, eight year old children in brothels. You have many trafficked and used as maids in houses and shops.
Lagos State now has Yellow Cards for these traffickers, and I guess other states will follow suit.Â States should know that it is not just about having a law but making the law work. I work in Lagos, and I am not a politician; I support no party and I have no political interest. But I want to say that it is right to say the truth when you see that things are beginning to work; things which make our own work as NGOs thrive.
Having the law shouldnâ€™t be the basic, but implementing the law. Implementation happens to be a big problem in Nigeria. Social welfare system is an issue that needs to be looked more into by our government. I think the problem is that our politics has nothing to do with issues. Imagine a politician saying during election campaign â€œIâ€™ll give you light, roads, free education, etcâ€.
Thatâ€™s rubbish because it is our entitlement. They are not giving us anything! There are issues that affect the poor which our politicians should begin to look at. They need to go and do their research to find out these issues. We are playing money politics, and not politics with substance. When you do things that affect people positively, you wonâ€™t need to lobby for them to support you.
Our politicians should find out why poverty is increasing, why we continue to have more criminals on the street, to mention but a few. We are bringing out graduates who have no entrepreneurship sense, thus they think they need to go get a job.
We are not even releasing people with adequate skills to face jobs. Even our NYSC is a waste of time; many countries have even canceled it. We should understand that we donâ€™t have enough money to handle it because we donâ€™t have the number of graduates we used to have.
The population is an issue and it is because we donâ€™t plan.Â We donâ€™t have the proper projection; nobody is planning for what could happen in the next ten years in the country, and thatâ€™s why when things happen we see them as sudden.
Like I said, it is a progressive thing, but I believe we should wake up and do more. One other problem we have is that weâ€™re too sentimental. Even our politics is sentimental! That is why the people who can and are willing to do a lot for children can not access our systems because of too much bureaucracy.
If we are not careful, we may end up having children who cannot keep this nation tomorrow. Imagine NGOs begging to be allowed to work with children in public schools! The process is pretty too much.
When children are sexually molested, there should be a place to go to. If we have what is called a Rape Crisis Centre within the emergency structures in hospitals, children will go there! I still have an issue with the Lagos State Government; after your medical examination for sexual assault, you pay the state for collecting the medical report. My question is; What about those who did not ask to be sexually molested?
Another general issue is that we have a statutorily law that holds on to the idea that if you donâ€™t report a case after two months, there is no cause. Meanwhile, in the US it is five years, and theyâ€™re still fighting to push it.
We need to look into the issues of children otherwise there isnâ€™t going be a Nigeria for us in the future. We should consider the modern trends in tackling issues of children, and see what laws need to be changed. Is it the criminal code that weâ€™re still using since the British came to colonize us? Laws which those who handed them to us have reviewed in their countryÂ several times?
We should also look at what needs to be done in the system so that people can access any help they need at any given point in time. Our education system has crashed, and nobody is looking into that! They keep giving out money carelessly, and some people keep pocketing them. At the end, they only come up with some count charge and the person walks away free.
They all know what to do, but they feel theyâ€™re not concerned because their children are probably not here. They forget their children will come back to the country tomorrow to meet those children theyâ€™ve earlier deprived, waiting for them on the highway.â€™