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By Helen Ovbiagele

It was a Saturday morning, and we had barely begun our meeting  at Mrs. X’s house, when the strident voice of a young girl rent the air. “No!  No!  Leave me alone!  Leave me alone.” she screamed.  “Leave me alone, you hear?  Ooooooooh!  I say, leave me alone.  Oh no!”

You can imagine the effect on us.  We rushed to the window to look down into the premises of the house next door, where the screams were coming from.  We saw a young girl of about 15 being held in a tight embrace by a  bare feet young man in only shorts.  The more the girl screamed, the tighter he held her.  Another young girl of about the same age was standing some distance away, looking on and swinging her arms as if it was a normal sight.

“Call the police immediately,” a member told Mrs. X.
“Ssshh.  I won’t do anything of the sort.”
“Why not?  If something isn’t done fast, that man may violate the girl.”

“There’s no need for him to do that.  She and the other girl lives in the house with him and some other young men – about six or seven of them.  He’s probably her boyfriend or her husband, who knows?.  What would one report to the police?”
“That man may not be the one she’s living with, and he’s trying to violate her in her man’s absence.”

Just as we were trying to think that over, the girl broke free from the man and ran towards the main gate.  He went after her, got her and dragged her into the house.  The other girl followed.  More screams and the man’s bullying voice.  “I beg you, leave me alone.  Leave me alone.” “I won’t leave you alone.”  “Oh my God!  Leave me alone!”

By now, it had become the affair of the neighbourhood as some people gathered outside the gate, calling out the man’s name.  He didn’t answer, and the screams continued.  A guard in a neighbouring house went into the premises, and called out the man’s name.

“Wetin dey happen? ……….. wetin dey happen.”  No answer, and the girl’s screams subsided into whines.  The guard and the others dispersed.  Soon four young men in jerseys, and football boots came in and entered the house.  Mrs. X explained that they lived there.

A cross section of students participants at a conference on African Child

They must have been briefed about what was going on, because they called out the man’s name and asked what was going on.  Soon, the girl bolted out of the house and ran into the street.  One of the boys ran after her, calling out her name, but she was gone.  We heaved a sigh of relief and returned to our seats; wondering what those two young girls were doing in a house full of men.

“Aren’t they under-aged?  Where are their parents or guardians?  That’s what I would like to know.” said a member.
“They look like girls who abandoned their families, or were  brought into the city by men, to be used as sex objects.

When these men get tired of them, they would turn them loose onto the streets, and in no time, they turn to prostitution.”
“They could end up being used for rituals, or, they would get pregnant and go for abortion.”
“Or, they have the babies and abandon them.”
“That’s if they don’t strangle them first.”  We sighed at the helplessness of such a situation.

Tough life!
I asked Mrs. X if the men beat those girls. “Of course there’s violence there.  That’s to be expected when the men are their meal tickets. If they don’t do as they are told, they get beaten.  The first time I heard one of the girls screaming as she was being beaten, I called our local police station to tell them.”

“The lady who took the call was very polite, but said that they couldn’t just barge into a private residence and interfere in an obvious domestic matter, unless the victim comes to report to the police herself.  After that, I just tune out when I hear them being beaten.

The wonder of it all is that after getting these beatings, these girls continue living with the men, until they’re thrown out.  I won’t be surprised if that girl who dashed out just now, returns in the evening to continue living there.  I don’t think any of them actually has a receptive home to return to, or who to turn to for help.” That’s the sad thing.

Help, ready help, goes a long way in tackling the increasing violence we’re witnessing in homes and among young people around the world, not just in Nigeria or Africa.  It seems there’s this generational anger which drives people to inflict physical hurt on another human being.  Dialogue seems incapable of settling any matter these days.  But it’s women and young girls who are mainly the victims in our country.

Whereas in the western world governments are concerned enough to establish help lines that people can ring to report violence, there’s nothing like that here, and that’s  why violence, particularly the domestic one,  is on the increase.  Who do you report cases to?.

Here, the Police may interfere in violence on the street, but they’re usually reluctant to go to residences  when there’s a report of violence.  Even some victims who’ve had the courage to go report, say they were advised to go settle with their attackers.  I understand the need to encourage peaceful settlement, but none timely intervention by the law, may make matters worse, and lead to loss of  life!

It is important to have Police helplines for reporting abuses, violence and criminal activities, but with regards to violence in the home, and child abuse, the social/welfare department of the local government, which is supposed to be close to the community and the grassroot, should come in , in a big way and give residents in their areas, helplines which are displayed in every ward.

In some western countries, the scene my friends and I witnessed would have been reported to the local social welfare department, who of course, has records of  people living in the wards, and who would have been aware that those girls live at that residence.  They would know the troubled families in the communities, and assign officers to specific ones who need help.

Children who are in danger of abuse, or those who have spiralled out of control, are legally removed from their families, are placed in homes.  There they are well-monitored and supervised by their assigned social welfare officers.  If these ones fail in their duty and those young people come to harm, the officers are charged to court, because they’re supposed to report to the Police any threat to their wards’ lives and general well-being.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always wondered if our local government areas are really close to the communities, and are doing their job well.  Apart from bringing tenement rate bills and chasing shopkeepers, technicians, mechanics and traders for one offence or the other, I don’t see what positive  impact they are making on our lives.   Maybe their duties have not been well-defined for them.


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