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CHILD ABUSE: Signs of a dysfunctional society

By Victoria Ojeme

THE recent spate of child  abuse in the country is a sad reminder of the abysmal state of societal regard and respect for the rights of the Nigerian child. It is sad to observe that the Nigerian child is not safe as he is exposed to danger, sexual abuse, exploitation, stigmatization, domestic abuse and lots more.

Unfortunately, some of these children are abused by their parents, step-parents and family members, who are meant to be the first line of protection for them. Child abuse is the physical, mental or sexual assault of a child by the parents or any other adult. It is the violation of the right of the child.

Recently, there has been a rise in the degree of mental and physical abuse of children – a father raping his daughter as well as a step-father raping his step-daughter without the knowledge of the mother

The recent incident in Ikorodu area of Lagos, of the private part of an 11-year-old girl burnt with hot pressing iron by her mother for coming home late from school is a case in point.

These are signs of a dysfunctional society where homes are no longer a safe haven of love, protection and care. It appears that people can no longer differentiate between punishment, correction and total disregard for a child’s right. It is sad to note that the rate of these forms of abuse is increasing on a daily basis with new cases blazing the front pages of newspapers every day.

Corporal punishment, which is described as “punishment of a physical nature such as caning”, is another form of child abuse that is rampant in our society. Though the term mainly relates to children being punished at school, it also refers to children being punished at home.

It is necessary to draw a line between abuse and corporal punishment. Thousands of children are abused daily under the guise of punishment. Some children have lost their lives in the process while some have been maimed for life. Any punishment or correction that threatens the life, health or well-being of a child is an abuse.

These forms of punishments are unacceptable, illegal and punishable under the law. Punishment that inflicts pain, emotional and mental torture as well as physical abuse is criminal.

Hence, it is pertinent to observe that there are no strong guidelines or laid down policies, regarding corporal punishment and children, like it is done in developed countries. Thus, the flagrant abuse of children in African traditional societies.

It is also important to note that this form of abuse has become widespread in schools, primary and secondary schools especially. It is, indeed, disheartening, because it is happening in an informed environment where it is believed that, as educationists, they should know better.

A situation where a child was slapped several times by different teachers in the spate of minutes for an altercation with other students is abnormal. To compound the case, the child was reportedly thoroughly beaten up by teachers with marks all over her body.

Female teachers raping their male students as well as male teachers raping their female students in the name of increasing their marks during examination is a new dimension to the rising cases of child abuse.

Often, teachers don’t only violate pupils’ right but also encourage senior students to prey on younger and weaker students, victimizing them in the process, thereby building and encouraging the culture of violence as senior students are empowered to get physical and discipline their junior ones by engaging in corporal punishment.

A school is a formal learning environment where manners, etiquette, social and interpersonal relationship skills are learnt and built hence students should be taught these skills and it should begin with teachers who are role models. But it is unfortunate to observe that some teachers are not really educationists, as they know quite a little about child psychology and the principles of teaching and learning since they branched into the teaching line just to make ends meet.

Vindictive punishments

These weird and vindictive punishments meted out by parents, guardians and teachers on children are outrageous and need urgent attention by all tiers of governments, religious organizations, child rights activists and other stakeholders.   It has been argued that hitting children in the bid to correct them is counterproductive in the long run as such punishments do not have to be physical before they become correctional. The Child Rights Acts clearly forbids battery, physical assault and abuse in any form.

According to available data, as of 2008, corporal punishment has been banned in 24 countries. This is an indication that, this form of approach to child training is on the decline, and not in sync with modern day realities, with more countries debating whether to ban corporal punishment.

To entrench respect for the rights of the Nigerian child in the consciousness of society and promote the culture of patience and tolerance for children, government should intensify efforts to ensure that policies on child rights protection are implemented. Religious institutions should also assist government by building a strong foundation for the protection of the rights of children in homes and the society through their programmes and activities.

Although child abuse occurs in Nigeria, it has received little attention. A possible reason is the general assumption that in every African society the extended family system always provides love, care and protection to all children. Yet there are traditional child rearing practices which adversely affect some children, such as purposeful neglect or abandonment of severely handicapped children, and twins or triplets in some rural areas.

With the alteration of society by rapid socioeconomic and political changes, various forms of child abuse have been identified, particularly in the urban areas.

These may be considered the outcome of abnormal interactions of the child, parents/guardians and society. They include abandonment of normal infants by unmarried or very poor mothers in cities, increased child labour and exploitation of children from rural areas in urban elite families, and abuse of children in urban nuclear families by childminders.

Preventive measures include provision of infrastructural facilities and employment opportunities in the rural areas in order to prevent drift of the young population to the cities. This would sustain the supportive role of the extended family system which is rapidly being eroded.. There is need for more effective legal protection for the handicapped child, and greater awareness of the existence of child abuse in the community by health and social workers.

For those children who live on the streets, the only language they understand is survival. And they do that by earning a living on the streets, speaking street language, dealing with others as they see their mates on the street do. Many of them end up joining street gangs, the wrong crowd, and do wrong things just to survive.

Victims: Sixteen-year-old Ogechi lives with her madam and family in Federal Housing Authority, Lugbe, Abuja. She wakes up very early at  4am  every morning to attend to house chores and sleeps very late, as late as  1.am, no matter how tired she feels.

Ogechi works as a domestic help to the family she resides with, yet there is no respite for her. She cleans, cooks, washes, irons and even fetches water from a nearby tap. But she dares not use both the toilet and the bathroom.

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