By Esther Onyegbula
“I don’t like what my husband is doing to our six-year-old daughter; I have caught him molesting her twice, but I love my husband and I don’t want to destroy my marriage.”
These were the exact words of a mother of three who recently caught her husband sexually assaulting their biological daughter.
According to mummy Peculiar, a petty trader who lives at Iba new site in Ojo area of Lagos: “This is the second time I have caught my husband molesting our daughter. The first time was when I returned from where I went to buy something. I entered the house without knocking on the door. Behold, I found my little daughter being sexually molested.
To say I was shocked was an understatement. So I raised alarm and alerted the neighbours. My husband denied it. My daughter was scared so she didn’t say anything when I questioned her. In fact, neighbours believed him as they felt I had gone insane, so I had to keep quiet since I had no proof.
“Last week was the second time it happened again. This time I met my husband wrapping towel on his waist when I returned from the clinic where I had gone for our baby’s immunization. Immediately, my daughter ran to where he was sitting, raised his towel, not minding my presence. Still my husband denied it. I am devastated, by what he is doing to our daughter but I love my husband.
“These days I take my daughters with me everywhere as I am afraid of leaving them at home when their father, who works as a clearing and forwarding agent, is at home,” she added.
This six-year-old minor is one of the many victims whose mothers chose to protect their husbands over them. Few months ago, the mother of a 13-year-old victim who was constantly being sexually molested by her stepfather in Abuja, blamed the devil.
According to Abike, the mother of another victim who knew about the molestation her daughter was going through in the hands of her pedophile husband: “I don’t want my husband to throw us out.”
It took the intervention of an Abuja-based NGO to rescue the victim from the claws of her stepfather.
Families do nothing
The few women who summon courage to confront their wayward spouses are subjected to violence and attacks. According to Onyinyechi Nwosu, Executive Director, Vivacious Development Initiative, the shameful act of women hiding the shameful acts of their perverted husbands has become a common occurrence. Sadly, this attitude of theirs is giving a boost to the sexual abuse of children.
Nwosu said a woman may choose to “protect” her molester husband for any of the following reasons: fear of stigmatization; economic dependence on the man, family pressure, religious interference and ignorance.
Recounting her disappointment, a mother of the four victims, Grace Michael, who reported her husband to his family members when she noticed he was defiling their four daughters who were between the ages of two and 17 said: “I was sad after I reported to my husband’s family. No serious action was taken, meanwhile my 41-year-old husband, Michael Akpan Isaiah continued to threaten and beat up any of our four children who complained.”
Eventually, with the help of FIDA, Michael Akpan Isaiah was arraigned before a Magistrate’s court sitting in Port Harcourt.
Like Mummy Peculiar, when Tope Onifade, a mother of two girls discovered and confronted her 48-year-old husband, Femi who was defiling their daughters two years ago, he lied that it was dysentery that was in the children’s private parts after they were defiled. “My husband told me it was dysentery that was in our daughters’ private parts when I raised the alarm on what l saw”.
Tope claimed the children told her that their father inserted something into their private parts and also put his mouth into them. The day we had a quarrel, my husband did not allow me to sleep in the house. I asked neighbours to beg him for me but my husband said I should go”, the mother narrated.
“He did not allow me take any of my daughters. I had to find somewhere to sleep. The next day, the neighbours called me to say one of our daughters cried all through the night. I came back and in the night, I noticed something in one of the children’s private part. I asked my husband and he told me it was dysentery.
“I woke up the older daughter and asked her what was inside her sister’s private part. I insisted on what exactly was being put inside their private parts and the children said their father threatened to beat them.”
Although, Tope Onifade vowed that nothing will make her return to the marriage, she said she would not want her husband jailed. “I am not happy with what happened because of the future of the children”, she added.
The couple had been married for 11 years when the incident occurred at their residence in Ondo State.
Highlighting some of the reasons why women protect their paedophile husbands over their daughters or wards, Bertha Ogbimi, Program Officer, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center, CISLAC, notes that it is because we live in a patriarchal society.
”It is agreed that women are beginning to break even but patriarchy in our society still prevails. A lot of women are married off at tender ages to men who are old enough to be their fathers. And a lot of times these women are married as children, they are uneducated and lack exposure.
They are scared. You marry someone who is way older than you, you are subdued by that person believing that this person would do something terrible to you if you say anything that is contrary to his own opinion.
So you grow up being scared of your husband. You don’t want to do or say anything that will offend him and because you are such a child, the man tends to lord it over you. A lot of time, these women are abused, beaten and battered and that fear lives inside of them.
No matter what the man does, he is never wrong. And even when they perceive that the man is wrong, they do not have that guts or that effrontery to approach the man and accuse the man of anything. In situations like this, they try to console their daughters or wards.
That is the only thing they can do. They don’t have what it takes to fight back because all of what it takes to fight back has been stolen from them the moment they got married to men who subjected them to terror.”
Explaining further, Ogbimi notes the fact that they are being married off at very early age has deprived a lot them the opportunity to be educated and having proper exposure to be able to speak out, when the need arises.
“As an illiterate wife or mother, where will you go to, what will you say? And even if you dare want to say something, people would hush you. The community heads,and chiefs will ask you not to say that. People don’t want to listen to you because you are a woman. Even your family are protective of their name/reputation.
So it becomes an issue of let’s just hush hush and kill it within and nothing is done to the husband. It breeds and encourages impunity. When the husband feels that he is the lord and untouchable, crime thrives. It is only when a person is punished for his or her crime that such crimes will be reduced.”
Religion, culture and tradition
Also, child’s rights advocate, Jennifer Chioma Owolabi, founder, Jennichi Foundation, said one of the challenges we face in child’s rights advocacy (Child sexual molestation) is the menace of “cover-ups,” especially when it has to do with the sexual molestation of a minor.
For many years, we are faced with situations where women actually cover up for their husbands in such cases as when a man sexually molests their child or their ward. These women would go as far as blaming the child in a bid to cover up for their husbands, they will come up with reasons to put all the blame on how the child behaves or dresses or how the child is possessed by seduction spirit.
“It is a herculean task to get them to see reasons why a child cannot be blamed for the actions of an adult. They would choose their marriage and husband over their child or ward. They would rather keep that marriage than allow their husbands to face prosecution.
“It is worse if she is a single mother, single fathers are treated more nicely and many times, even in the workplace they are regarded with less respect than their married counterparts. A divorced woman has a lot of hurdles to surmount in our society. When a marriage ends in divorce, it is automatically believed that the woman is at fault.
In fact, women are blackmailed into accepting that whether a marriage succeeds or crumbles depends solely on the woman when in actual fact, it takes two to tango! Her eagerness to cover up a husband that is a paedophile comes down to protecting her marriage, period!
“Then religion plays a role too, divorce is regarded as a sin, they would rather forgive a husband who is a paedophile after mediation in church than allow him to face the law and jeopardize their marriage”.
Awareness and sensitisation
Ogbimi believes that awareness and sensitisation program particularly at community level, will help curb the ugly trend. Fair and equitable justice system; effective implementation of the Child Rights Act; women empowerment programs; effective implementation of international treaties/conventions which Nigeria is signatory to such as the UNSCR 1325 affirmative action of 35% representation of women in decision-making and Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and equitable representation of women in security institutions.
Similarly, the founder of Jennichi Foundation `believes that educating these women would go a long way to ensure that the child’s wellbeing comes first and no matter what, it is our collective duty to see that every child is protected against sexual molestation. Women need to be sensitised to the signs of sexual abuse in minors under their care. Protecting or saving a child is everybody’s business. The child comes first!
Oftentimes children are abused by people they know. To help curb this men.ce of child sexual molestation, we teach children the PANTS RULE which is a simple way to help keep children safe from abuse. It teaches children that their body belongs to them, they have the right to say no, and that they should tell an adult if they are being touched on certain parts of the body by an adult.