EBELE ORAKPO & BOSE ADELAJA
June 16th every year, was declared the International Day of the African Child by the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU) in 1990 following the sacrifice of some black children in Soweto in the then Apartheid South Africa in June 1981. The children were protesting the introduction of Afrikaans as the official language of learning in their schools. During the protest, over 500 children aged between 10 and 20 years were murdered in cold blood and thousands injured by government agents.
To commemorate this year’s edition, Vanguard Media Limited in collaboration with the Centre for Black Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) and the First Lady of Lagos State, Dame Abimbola Fashola, organised a two-day summit with the theme: The place of parenting in curbing child abuse. The programme attracted school children from schools in Lagos State, teachers, parents, market men and women, NGOs, as well as government officials.
Addressing the gathering, Speaker of the Lagos State Children’s parliament, Mr. Onoudo Emmanuel said parents should create time for their children because money is not everything. He said supposing the parents make all the money to buy all the good things of life and their children have become miscreants, those children will turn around and destroy all those goodies and make life unbearable for the parents.
For the wife of the Deputy Governor of Ogun State, Mrs. Olufunmilayo Adesegun, not praying for your children is child abuse.
In conclusion, the Customs officer said: “Parents have a role to play by first of all understanding what it takes to train a child before venturing into making babies. It is the responsibility of the parents to train a child to the level of self-dependency to enable them also groom their own children, not their siblings.”
Speaking with Vanguard Features (VF), Rev. Dr Omadeli Boyo, the Medical Director of Pinecrest Specialist Hospital and founding Senior Pastor of Chapel of His presence in Lagos, said child abuse is something that affects the totality of a child.
“Child abuse could be emotional, physical or mental. In Africa, children get abused by being neglected. A child has human rights – right to education, shelter, right of expression and right to be taken care of by the parents. When children are abandoned, that is the beginning of neglect and this starts from the womb, the way a mother takes care of herself in ante-natal period, the way a child is born. All these constitute the bedrock of how children grow up,” he submitted.
Corroborating this assertion, Mrs. Florence Inuk, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs said: “Child abuse starts at the point where a child comes into the world without being planned for. People just get married or unmarried and start procreating without taking into consideration whether they are psychologically, financially, materially and mentally ready or knowledgeable in child-rearing,” adding that “child-rearing is an art which should be learnt and understood before going into child-bearing. Great ignorance on the part of parent(s) constitute abuse. Before God created man, He made sure that everything that man needed to survive was ready before man came.” Continuing she noted: “This ignorance and unpreparedness manifest in greed, poverty and selfishness which culminates into the various vices and molestations that the society witnesses.”
Elaborating further, Dr. Boyo noted that when children are growing up, the way parents relate with them, the way they talk to them or the way they use them in childhood matters. “When you deny a child the right to education, it is an abuse in itself and up till today, we have child labour and child slavery in different parts of the world when these children ought to be in school. In more advanced countries, children below 18 years are not found on the streets because they are either in primary or secondary school. If you are found on the streets, you must have a purpose. So when children are not properly placed in school, then there is a problem.”
He frowned at the practice of sending children who are not up to the age of work to work. “A child below 17 or 18 should not be working. That is why the driver’s licence is not issued to children below 18. But today, you see children driving molue and danfo! You may say well, they are fending for their families. They should be in school,” he said.
On child labour, Mrs. Inuk noted that “child labour, forced labour and sexual abuse come as a result of exposure to wrong influences due to the inability of parents or guardians to meet their own needs financially. The child is therefore seen as a human being that should support himself and family. Laziness or ill health of parents also sends some children out to be abused.”
“Sending children to hawk food after school instead of studying, exposes them to all kinds of gangs.,” said Boyo.
According to him, other things that could constitute child abuse are: Peer pressure. “By allowing children to mix up with other children who have very bad characters and habits, we are exposing them. Children are also abused when they are sick and they are not properly taken care of. We have a situation where a child has high temperature, he is sick and the parents tell him: ‘You are okay, go and manage yourself.’ A child should be taken to the hospital as soon as he is sick and let him have access to proper medical care. Then we have incest when adults – family members or guardians sleep with children. Nowadays, people who should be parents and uncles are already having sexual relationship with their wards and nieces. These are all ways of abusing a child.”
Dr. Boyo believes that children can be made to understand that what they are doing is wrong, so instead of going for the cane or koboko, parents should find a way of talking to them and making them see why they should not do certain things. In as much as he is not in support of beating a child, he is against pampering too as it is a form of abuse. He said: “The other extreme is to pamper the child.”
Both believe that government has a role to play in curbing child abuse. Said Mrs. Inuk: “Government contributes to child abuse through bad governance which leaves its citizens poor and impoverished. Government has to come to terms with reality and know that economic development and growth are tied to happy people not broken in hearts. Education and enlightenment should be part of the infrastructure government and institutions provide at all levels to get people to know what is expected of them. Laws should be enforced without fear or favour. There should be no sacred cows.Government should be held responsible where it fails to deliver as expected.
Said Dr. Boyo: “Education is supposed to be free in most cases. The problem with the government is that when they say free education, there are so many other things attached, one of which is access. You have to transport yourself to the school. Sometimes children trek two to three hours to get to school. Sometimes, they have to board a bus so we find out that government should first of all make jobs available for parents and let parents earn a living, increase the GDP, increase the standard of living and then make the schools attractive.
Children won’t go to school when they have to sit on the floor, or study under a tree. They are 60 in a class and don’t understand what the teacher is saying so they lose interest. Government therefore has to make the school environment habitable and attractive. That will make children get interested because school should be the first place they see nice things, see people and learn. But when you get to some schools, you find out that there are no toilets, everything in school is worse than home so the children run away from school.
So school should not only be free, it should be affordable and should have all the necessary attractions that children will need. There should be laboratories, libraries. In Europe and America, schools have a particular number of days in a year they should hold. If you cut short those days, they take it from your holidays.
But in Nigeria, sometimes children don’t go to school for months and nothing happens.” He appealed to the Parent-Teacher associations (PTAs) to wake up “and parents should be charged if they don’t send their children to school. They should be asked questions by the authorities. Why is your child not in school? So that they are forced to send their children to school.”
In her speech, the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Hon. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire noted that child abuse is not just sexual abuse and harassment but “parents who abandon or neglect their children due to career or religious engagement; or deny them the basic fundamental rights as enlisted in the United Nations Charter on the Rights of Children, have abused such children.”
She harped on the need for parents to create and spend time with their children apart from providing them the basic needs. “Parenting is a serious business that we cannot abandon, abdicate or transfer to our house help or relations who can easily molest or abuse our children. If we are negligent or careless we will not be guiltless if our children are victims of child abuse,” she said. She said that the Lagos State Government has developed various programmes such as the Yellow Card initiative, ‘No Child is Left Behind’ Basic Education policy in compliance with the MDGs Goal No 2, the girl-child education project, the establishment of Skills Acquisition/Vocational centres, which empowers more than 9,000 young adults annually, the construction of the rehabilitation centre for victims of abuse and human trafficking as well as the provision of an enabling environment for learning and teaching, to take the children off the streets and prepare them for a better future.
In her keynote address at the occasion, the First Lady of Lagos State, Dame Abimbola Fashola stressed the importance of parents spending time with their children, noting that child-upbringing is a duty for the two parents. She urged children to make their parents their friends and confidants and talk with them on any form of abuse or harassment they may be facing outside the home.