Vista Woman

August 8, 2010

Your nanny: How much do you trust her?

By Helen Ovbiagele Woman Editor

We’ve been advised not to act on every forwarded mail we get on the internet, as our responses are closely monitored by the initiators, so that they can add more e-mail addresses to their mailing list for SPAM mail, which in most cases is commercial.
However, when I received the same forwarded mail from several sources, I decided to take a closer look at its contents.   It was titled NANNY ALERT, and along with the message, there was a photograph of a young lady.

The message was that the young lady in the picture attached, was a nanny who left her last employer early April this year.   It was after she left that it was discovered that she had been sexually assaulting the three year old girl placed in her care in the house.   She and the man who brought her to the family she worked for, and who claimed to be her brother, had absconded from their house on the outskirts of Lagos, and are now at large.

I was wondering how a nanny can sexually assault a little girl when, the next morning, a neighbour two doors away from me, stopped  me on my way out, waving the same e-mail at me.

“Madam,” she said, “read this and see how much the devil has eaten deep into the hearts of human beings.”
“I had one like this some days ago,” I told her.  “It’s strange.  If we can’t entrust a female child to a female house-help, then what can we do?”

“Madam, that’s my question too.  You tell yourself that apart from being harsh to your daughter or smacking her, there won’t be much harm done.   It didn’t say here how she sexually assaulted the little girl, and why it wasn’t discovered until the nanny left her employers.”

“And yet this nanny in the picture looks sweet and kind,” added another neighbour who had joined us.  “I didn’t receive that e-mail, but a colleague did and she circulated it to us in the office.  We were all alarmed.  Those who have nannies vowed to start examining their daughters every day for signs of abuse.”

“My husband said we shouldn’t take any chances, but to send the nanny to our  daughter away right now.  But we can’t do that now.  Who will stay home, take her to and from the nursery, and also do the housework?  We both work.  We need to, so, at any given time we need someone to take care of the little girl.”

“Same thing with me,” said the other neighbor.  “My little girl of four needs a nanny.  I was so alarmed when our colleague circulated that e-mail that I couldn’t wait to get home to examine my child.  The maid was surprised when she saw me doing that and asking questions.  Although she’s a good house-help who’s always kind and patient with the kids, you can’t really vouch for these helps.”

“True.  Some of them pretend to be nice when you’re home, but they can be really nasty to your kids when you’re not there.  I learnt that even little boys can be sexually assaulted by either male or female house-helps.  Na wao!  What does one do?”

“But going back to that e-mail that was circulated, shouldn’t a little girl of three be able to tell the mother if anything odd was done to her body while the parents were away?” I asked.  “Usually, little girls talk a lot; at least most of them do at that age.  She should have told the mother what odd thing the nanny did to her, and that nanny would have been apprehended and handed over to the police before she had the chance to leave that employment.”

“Madam, the poor little girl may have been threatened, and told never to tell what was done to her.  Don’t forget that she’s in the nanny’s custody most of the time, and is thus helpless.  Even a threat not to give her food, or to lock her up in a room, is enough to keep her mouth sealed.”

“You could be right.  Since the man who brought the nanny absconded too, I believe he must have been the one who was coming to sexually abuse the little girl.  The pair must have been doing that wherever the nanny worked.  The other families may not have found out.”

“God help us o!  The world has turned upside down.  Yet, one has to work or do business.”
One can’t help sympathizing with couples who still have very young for whom they need to hire nannies.

The truth is that no human being, no matter how humble, wants to be a servant to another human being.  It is a humiliating experience which robs you of your dignity and self-respect.   But whereas in times past, people who found themselves in that lowly position, limited the damage they did to get back at their employers to, spitting into food and drinks, these days, sexual assault and encouraging the children in their care to embrace bad habits are the order of the day.

Those who are against women with young children going out to work will, with this incident, re-emphasize their stand.  I don’t agree with them.  Women who need to work, either to supplement the income of the husband, or to enhance their career or profession, should go ahead and work.  But they must put the children first, and get them settled into a good creche near their home or their place of work.

It is important that either parent can be easily reached in an emergency, even when the kids are in primary school.  Those who have widowed elderly women in their families who are willing to come live with them and help out with the kids, should avail themselves of this service.  In that case, little kids can be left in their care if they’re responsible and still active enough, or, they can supervise closely, the nanny.

Apart from sexual abuse, some house–helps lock up their wards in the house alone and go off. The child can come to some harm while left alone. In creches, there are nannies and supervisors.

But most importantly, parents should get very close to their children, making time to ask relevant questions and listen to the kids. We shouldn’t be too tired or occupied to hear all that they have to tell come or show us.

Examine the very young ones every day for any sign of abuse, even when they back from creche and nursery schools.  Little girls should be taught to scream when someone touches some parts of their bodies, and they should never go with strangers.

Let’s hope that the little girl in the e-mail circular didn’t contract some dreadful diseases from the sexual abuse.