By Chioma Obinna
Before now, divorce was a topic hardly discussed in public. Aside the religious circles where divorce was a no-go area, in some parts of the country, it was traditionally a source of stigma.
Couples struggled to remain in marriage even when there were troubles merely because divorce was seen as a taboo. But today divorce is commonplace. According to official statistics, in 2018, separation rates in Nigeria recorded 14 percent increase. Sunday Vanguard reports that the upsurge in broken homes is not only devastating for the child but also places a burden on his health development and education as well as the attainment of the provisions of the Child Rights Act.
Five years ago at age seven, if anyone had told James or any close family members that there would be a time he will long for parental love and he would not get it, they would never believe it. But, today, 12-year-old James lacks parental love, no thanks to the fact that his parents are separated.
James’ parents separated when he was eight over domestic issues. His father married another woman two years later. And since then, life has not been easy for the boy.
When the stepmother gave birth to a child, she demanded that James drop out of school to take care of the child to enable her (stepmother) concentrate on her business. James begged his father not to allow that to happen but his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Consequently, James was denied the right to education as enshrined in the Child Rights Act and also became one of the 10.01 million Nigeria’s out-of-school children.
James is not alone
Some days ago, the picture of a young boy, Ezekiel Kuti, went viral on the social media following the marks left on his face courtesy of the beating she received from his stepmother.
Another victim is 17-year-old Sadiya who reportedly killed herself because her father threatened to divorce his mother.
Reports say the father had threatened to leave the mother over a disagreement that broke out between him and his wife.
In the case of Ijeoma, she was forced into marriage at 15 following the father’s inability to continue to sponsor her education after her mother abandoned the marriage.
According to Ijeoma,16, who is now a mother of a child, her mother abandoned his father when he lost his job.
“We were living happily until my father lost his job and was not able to provide for the family. My mother could not endure the hardship and left,” she said.
“I and my three siblings then continued to manage with our father. Unfortunately, my father could no longer cope with my education. So he advised me to marry. I was not ready then but some of our relations encouraged me to do it for my siblings.”
“I am not happy having children when my mates are in school. My dream to become a lawyer has been aborted. I am appealing to mothers to stay with their children; if my mother had stayed back, maybe I would still be in school”.
James, Ezekiel, Sadiya and Ijeoma are among millions of Nigerian children enduring emotional and physical injuries on daily basis despite the fact that Nigeria was party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC, 30 years ago.
The CRC was designed to improve the child’s dignity and ensure respect for his inalienable rights.
There is no gainsaying that a broken family can negatively affect the child’s development
According to the Coordinator, Child to Child Network, Mrs. Ngozi Ekwerike – Okoro, the upsurge in broken homes in the country has become a public health concern as it is swelling up the number of street children, popularly called area boys and girls.
Ekwerike – Okoro said: “Broken homes affect children’s rights in the areas of education, health, development and parental love and care. If the home is not safe for them, how will they get the other rights?
“The issue of broken homes has pushed so many children to the streets. Many of the children doing house help, hawking and other odd jobs are children from broken homes. “Many of them left their aunties and grandparents homes. Recently, you must have read about a child who committed suicide because of the fear of a broken home. That is a typical example of what happens to victims of these homes”.
She explained that most children that are into drugs are from broken homes.
“In the course of my social work, I found out that parents are only interested in having their comfort and not the children they brought into this world. Many of these children have taken to drugs among other vices”, the social worker said.
To make the rights of children count, she called for the review of the Child Rights Act that would introduce a penalty for parents who fail to take care of their children even after separation.
Her words, “Nigeria should review the Child Rights Act. Since 2003 Nigeria has not reviewed it. There is a need for the government to introduce a penalty for parents who do not take care of their children. There is no penalty at the moment”.
Reliving her experience in the course of rescuing children from the streets, Ekwerike- Okoro narrated how parents’ trade blames when there are issues with their children.
“When there is a problem they will start fighting over the custody of the children and that destabilizes the children. In the life of every child, there is the need for a father and mother figure.
“There is a case of a child who was initially living with the father. But when the father got tired, he pushed the child to the mother. Now the girl is pregnant and infected with HIV and no member of the family wants her around. The aunt she was staying with has sworn not to see her. The mother does not have anything to do with her; the father said they should ask the mother who is the father. The girl was exposed to the streets. That is the result of a broken home”.
To address the situation, the social worker appealed to parents to hide their problems from their children.
“While no one will force anyone to remain in a marriage, there is the need for parents to explain to their children why they will no longer live together”, she stressed.
“Parents should maintain peace while they are in front of the children. Even though they are separated, they should find time to visit them and there should not be quarrel during any visit.
“Government should also introduce psychosocial support for children in school to help children from broken homes.”
A Clinical Psychologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Dr Juliet Ottoh, who lamented the effect of broken homes on children’s health, explained that most children from such homes suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.
“This can lead to depression and possibly suicide. These children can also suffer borderline personality when they are attached to either parent and there is a separation. Such children are prone to self-harm”, Ottoh said.
On his part, a Child Protection expert, Dr Sharon Oladiji, said poverty, community disintegration, family dysfunction and child vulnerability impede the realization of the provisions of the Child Rights Act in Nigeria.
According to Oladiji who works with the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, lack of access to the developmental needs of the children is detrimental to the rights of the Nigerian child.
“Investing in a child is paramount for Nigeria and Africa as a whole to realize the right of the burgeoning child population and healthy development of a child is crucial to the future well-being of any nation”, she added.
“Special attention is required for Nigeria which is the country with the largest increase in absolute numbers of both birth and child population, it is time that we acknowledge our shared responsibility and address this issue”.