If recent reports are anything to go by, these are indeed strange times, especially in a country where there is an upsurge in girl-children being abused and robbed of their innocence by randy men who have become specialists in taking advantage of them and traumatising them in the process.

Last week, Vanguard Features, VF, began a report of the pathetic stories of several minors in Plateau State who were raped and left with emotional wrecks by some unrepentant rapists. The stories are as shocking as they are confounding as the reader is left wondering the kind of base instinct that could move a full grown man to have forceful carnal knowledge of a child as young as four or three years. But while the focus of last week’s report was Plateau State, it has since emerged that rape of minors or under-aged girls is actually on the increase across Nigeria, even approaching alarming proportion.

By Marie-Therese Nanlong, Jos

AS you approach her, she  averts eye contact, preferring to look at the ground; call her name, she nods her head without saying a word. She is equally not forthcoming when you try to engage her in a conversation. Yet this is a girl who was said to be outgoing and playful before her most recent traumatic experience.

But after much prodding by Vanguard Features, VF, 13-year-old Sadia (not real name) and a primary five pupil of a private school in Jos, the Plateau State capital, was able to tell her story, albeit amidst tears.

Residents in shock

A middle aged man was caught defiling her at about 7am on the fateful day of October 12, 2014. It was an ugly incident that has since turned her life upside down and left residents in the neighbourhood reeling in shock.

She said it was not the first time the man raped her, adding that she had before this time allowed him to have his way because he gave her money to meet her urgent need, which is food. So their being caught in the act, booed and sniggered at by a curious crowd of residents, was a “shame too much” for her bear.

Narrating her ordeal, she said: “Papa Emeka always sent me to buy things for him and he would leave the change with me. One day, he asked me if I had started seeing my menses and I asked him what that means, but he said I should forget it. Another day, he called and told me to enter his room and clean it. As I entered, he came in, pushed me on the bed and held my mouth. I was scared but he was pleading with me not to shout that he wants me to start seeing my menses.

“As he was trying to rape me, I bit him and he left me alone. Because he locked the door, I could not go out, so he started begging me not to tell anyone and he gave me N500. I did not tell anyone because I was confused and I was scared of telling my stepmother because she would beat me.

“After many weeks, he asked me to buy a bottle of soft drink for him. When I went in to give him the drink, he poured it inside a cup for me. After drinking it, I started feeling tired and had to lie on the floor. I did not know what happened thereafter, but when I woke up, he said I should go before my stepmother would start looking for me. I was feeling pains and did not know anything but I could not tell anyone.”

Sadia added: “About five days later, he called me, put me on his leg and started touching my body. He asked me if I told anyone that I slept in his house, and I said no. Though I was scared, I could not tell anyone because immediately he finished, he gave me N500 and said I should go home and have my bath. Since I did not eat, I used the money and bought food at the roadside.”

However, luck ran out on the randy man on the third day (October 12, 2014) when he called the girl at about 6.30am not knowing that the stepmother was yet to leave the house and suspicious neighbours took note when the girl entered his apartment.

While the stepmother was looking for the girl, a neighbour knocked at the randy man’s door, opened it and caught him in the act. She drew the attention of others but before the culprit could be apprehended, he escaped through the back door and the poor girl had to face the shame of neighbours openly reprimanding her.

Ever since the incident, she keeps to herself, plays with no one and endures the trauma of daily scolding from her stepmother. She confessed she felt like dying as she knows people are yet to forget the incident and are talking behind her back.

 

Long list of girls raped, traumatised

 But unknown to Sadia, she is one in a long list of young girls who have been raped in recent time. On September 13, 2014, in Mangu Local Government Area, another minor, eight years old Nankling (not real name), a primary two pupil, was defiled by a teenager at Mangu Halle. On the same day, a 10- year-old girl in Mararaba Pushit was raped by a married man who has two children. At Jakatai, a nine- year-old was raped on September 22, 2014 by a 38-year-old father of four.

Telling the story to VF, the mother of the eight-year-old victim, Mama Nankling, said she is yet to overcome the trauma of having her daughter being defiled in that manner. She added she never imagined the neighbour could be so wicked to do such to her baby.

According to her: “He always came around here to play with my children. One day, he took this girl to one uncompleted building in our area and started sleeping with her. I did not see my daughter around so I thought she was playing in the neighbourhood, but she came home, limping and crying. When I asked what happened, she told me what Aminu did to her. When we got to his house and he confirmed he did it, we got him arrested. He is there with the Police and they had charged him to court. No matter the result of the judgement, I will still be sad that this happened to me and I feel guilty that I did not do enough to keep my child from harm’s way.”

At Kwata, Zawan in Jos South Local Government Area, a 17-year-old girl was on July 7, 2014 raped by a neighbour who also threatened to kill her if she told anyone. There was also another case at Barkin Ladi where a security personnel attached to the Special Task Force, STF, raped a four-year-old girl in the neighbourhood. Though the randy Mobile policeman had been dismissed by the Police authorities and charged to court, the parents of the girl still lament the situation.

 

Relationship with victims

Within three weeks in November 2014, three different incidences occurred at Corner Shagari area of Jos North. First, a teenage girl was raped by six men and then at Tudun Wada in the same local government, a three-year old was raped by a middle aged man. At Bukuru in Jos South, a five year old girl was raped by a man in his 30s.

The case is not different in other areas like Kanam and Qua’an Pan where VF investigations reveal that rape of minor is on the increase across the religious divides in the local government areas. It was also established that most of the assailants had some form of relationship with the victims and this, most times, hinders the cases from being reported.

Curiously, there have also been cases involving fathers and their biological daughters, stepfathers with stepdaughters, uncles with nieces, ‘trusted’ neighbours taking advantage of innocent girls and some security personnel philandering with young girls in their areas of operations as well as male teachers and their female students.

Beside the accompanying trauma, some of the victims have also in the process been infected with sexually transmitted diseases; some are left with unwanted pregnancies which result in their dropping out of schools.

Many parents and guardians attribute the rise to poverty, ignorance, influence of drugs, rituals, inadequate punishments for assailants, drunkenness, lack of care and excessive intake of traditional medicine. Some believe that if you have HIV and you sleep with a girl who is a virgin, you will be cured.

Authorities confirmed that though many of the cases are not always reported due to several reasons, an average of 10 cases had been recorded in a month in the past six months. They assured that effort has been intensified to sensitize the people to know that rape of whatever kind is a crime against the state and must be reported.

 

Why rate of rape of minors is high, alarming

The failure of the state in getting justice for the victims usually embolden prospective rapists to engage in this act knowing the chances of paying for their crime is minimal.

It is against this backdrop that many have come to raise alarm and condemn the rise in rape incidents in the State. Among them are the State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Sarah Yusuf, the State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, DSP Emmanuel Abuh, the Plateau State Vice-Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. Ibrahim Chindo, the Chief Imam of Jos Central Mosque, Sheikh Balarabe Daud, a gynaecologist with the Jos University Teaching Hospital, JUTH, Prof. Olufunmilayo Para-Mallam who had researched extensively on gender-based violence as well as the Long Kwa, Miskagam Ignatius Didel. They have also agreed that it was high time that perpetrators were severely punished for the crime.

Mrs. Yusuf told VF: “The rape of minor is really high. The rate of reported cases of rape of minors in the State in recent months is alarming. We never really had this problem in the past; this is a new phenomenon and it is becoming a problem for us. We have received so many cases of rape of minor in the State.”

Blame lawyers, judges–Police

But in response to this,   a policeman who did not want to be named said: “Let me tell you the truth, Police is frustrated with the issue of rape because people don’t even like to report it; when they do, a lawyer will come and say this and that. The lawyers will defend obvious suspected rapists and through superior arguments the judge will set them free.

“The judiciary should assist when such cases are charged to court; they should do what is expected and leave the rapists behind bars. Apart from that, parents of the children will tell us to drop the case even when a rape case is established.”

Rape, sin against God; deserves death penalty–Religious leaders

Speaking on the issue, the State Vice-Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. Ibrahim Chindo said: “To the best of my knowledge, such crime has not been reported to us. Rape is sin against God and a crime against humanity. Anyone caught in the act should be prosecuted and no sane person should condone that.”

Similarly, the Chief Imam of Jos Central Mosque, Sheikh Balarabe Daud said rape is a very serious crime in Islam, which could attract death penalty if confirmed that such occurred. He warned parents to be on the watch to prevent their children from falling victim to rapists.

For Para-Mallam, a Professor of Gender and Development Studies and the Coordinator of Christian Women for Excellence and Empowerment in Nigerian Society, CWEENS: “From what we in CWEENS have observed, I must confess there is a shocking increase in the incidents and prevalence in violence against women and girls, most specifically against minors. In time past, many people used to say that women get raped because of the way they dress, they get raped because they go out late at night. Too often, people blame the victims for being raped.

“If a woman claims to be raped, they ask her what did you do, what were you wearing? But now, it is increasingly coming to the fore that little girls, girl children as young as 10 months old, 11 months old, 15 months old, two years, three years, four years are being raped.

“I tell you that one of the problems contributing to this is the high level of societal tolerance for violence against girls and women in general.

“Not only is there a high level of societal tolerance, there is also a situation whereby when girls and women experience rape, there is no adequate system in place to give them redress; so there is a very serious level of impunity where men know that they can do it and get away with it. There is a kind of nonchalant attitude by the society.

 

Raped by her father, disowned by family

“For instance, one of the ladies that came to us was raped by her own biological father not once but twice. When she dared to voice out what her father had done to her, her parents and the entire family turned against her and she became an outcast in her own home; in her family.

“She had to leave and so suffered a double jeopardy. Not only had she been abused and violated, she faced the injustice of victimization because she dared speak out. People are forced to keep silent.

“Another situation that came to our attention, all of them happening in Plateau State, a family living in a compound setting with another family and both of them are relatively poor, especially the family of the victim. Unknown to them, one of the men in the compound had called their daughter, a minor of 14 years, and began to entice her with money and sleeping with her.

“This girl got pregnant, he took her and aborted the pregnancy, the parents got to know but he begged and gave them some money, and it ended as a hush-hush affair. The second time it happened, the girl got pregnant again, he took her for abortion and it developed serious complications. An NGO was called in and they came to us to look into the situation they were dealing with.

“What we have found out and like the Commissioner of Police had told us, there is a large level of complicity where families themselves fail to protect the girl-child and when the girl-child is even abused, they fail to ensure that she is given trauma care, counselling, justice through the apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators. In many instances, these girls have to continue living with the perpetrators either in the same home or same compound.

“The tragedy of the situation is that where girls are supposed to be the safest, that is where they are being violated: by stepfathers, fathers, brothers, uncles, and cousins, even friends of families. It is a very serious problem.”

 

Conflict as a factor

Giving reasons for the increase, she added: “There are several reasons like violence in society. One of the after-effects of a society that has experienced conflict is the increase in violence against women and girls. During conflict situations, women often experience rape and other forms of sexual violence such as forced prostitution, sexual slavery, and forced marriage as we see with the Chibok girl, etc.

“During conflict situations, girls face this problem from security agents posted to communities to keep the peace and they end up stealing the peace of women and girls in this very insidious and horrible way. We also have an increasing culture of violence. Though I am not justifying rape but very often men are not taught how to handle anger and frustration so they turn it on the vulnerable and the weak.

“Another explanation is that in a patriarchal culture such as ours, too often, the rights of women are trampled upon; women and girls are not protected at all. In fact, they are totally denied. Men are brought up to feel that ‘I am the boss, I am in charge, I can command and control and have whatever woman I desire’. In such culture, women are often seen as sex objects; not only when a girl or woman is dressed half-naked, but women are objectified and seen as good for her reproductive capacity and sexual allure.

“Overwhelmingly, our culture is very derogatory and condescending, very discriminatory, very belittling of girls and women. This culture of looking down on the woman and objectifying her as a sex object contributes.

The poverty question

“Another reason which is so obvious is poverty. We have seen some cases where parents are induced to keep quiet because they were given financial incentives. They were told, ‘Okay, I am going to give you this money, don’t tell of what I did’ and many of the parents being poor will say, well let us take this money and see how we can help our daughter. A lot of girls also make themselves vulnerable for men to exploit them because they are looking for money. I remember a girl who I heard went to military checkpoint and told a soldier, please just do anything you want with me but just give me lunch.

“Recently, there was a little girl who was hawking groundnut in Abuja and a man came down from a Keke(tricycle) and said come, my oga is calling you, he wants to buy groundnut. Initially she did not want to go but the man asked don’t you want to sell your groundnut and she went. Both the man and his partner raped the girl. She went to the police station but a policeman told her she was a fool to have followed the man. The victim ended up getting blamed and nobody asked who these men were and how to arrest and prosecute them.

Difficult prosecuting rapists

“The laws do not protect the woman, when we started investigating rape; we were shocked to discover how difficult it is to prosecute rape. According to law, a woman or girl or whoever is raped has to have a medical report from a public not even a private hospital; she has to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that she was actually raped. For so many people who have been raped, the last thing on their mind is taking themselves to hospital; they just go and hide in shame; there are no awareness, people don’t even know that they have to go and get tested immediately, it is really sad.”

An Investigative Officer of Child’s Rights Brigade International, CRiB, Dahot Yusuf said counselling of victims could reduce the trauma but many parents of minor always frustrate investigations processes because they don’t want to face what they call shame.

According to him: “Most times, evidences are not just enough to prosecute suspects because of lack of proper awareness. Parents should know that when something like that happens, they are not to bathe the children but get to a General Hospital for report and verification before the evidences are lost.

“Another issue that hinders prosecution of suspects is when the suspect and victim are from different religion and culture. Recently in Kantoma, Mangu local government area, because of the differences in languages and culture, relatives and friends of the suspect ganged up against the victim who is from a different tribe.

“Medical personnel should also be sensitized because they sometimes feel reluctant giving out the report because they don’t want to appear in court to testify. Men mostly don’t sympathise with victims of rape but either blame them or become indifferent.”

Meanwhile the Acting Chairman of Qua’an Pan Traditional Council who is also the Long Kwa, Miskagam Ignatius Didel told VF: “In Qua’an Pan, the case is not wide spread, but we only record it around Namu area because of the Fulani who migrated from Nassarawa State to stay with us there. They seize things belonging to farmers, kill them and rape girls and women. We are trying to arrest the situation but such incident is not commonly heard among the natives.”

Dr. Patrick Daru of the Jos University Teaching Hospital, JUTH stated: “The rising cases of violation of children by adults, called paedophilia, deserve strong measures to address as a significant number of patients (minors) have been examined in the hospital and confirmed to have been raped but the recent strike action by health workers might have discouraged people from coming to the hospital as no recent case is registered in large number.”

Enlightenment, parental care to the rescue

To stem the menace, the state Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development said it has embarked on enlightenment campaigns to alert parents and their children to this crime and how to avoid being violated. Yusuf said: “Parents also have to spend more time with their children, be closer to them and teach them about sex education early in life and have interest in who their children’s friends are and get the children positively engaged to avoid idleness.”

Furthermore, Prof. Para-Mallam advocated that: “Adequate laws should be put in place to protect girls. Doctors, teachers, religious leaders, parents should be compelled by law to speak out but whoever covers up rape, especially of minor, should be punished by law.

“Police should be trained not to re-victimize the victims and since Plateau State has domesticated the Child Rights Law, it should be applied where appropriate to protect girl children and the pride of womanhood.”

 

 

 

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