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HOME / Column / SATURDAY COVER
National Outrage As Child Molestation Rises Steeply
Published Feb 18, 2023 IN Column, SATURDAY COVER,
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BY RITA ISIOMA OYIBOKA

The issue of child molestation has once again been publicly brought to the fore with the recent death of 47-year-old Frederick, who was reported to have died in a fight with a school bus driver who was accused of sexually abusing his 7-year-old daughter. Although it rarely makes newspaper headlines, the hard truth is that incidences of child molestation and sexual abuse are as common in Nigeria as many other social vices such as armed robbery, murder and the like.

Section 277 of the Nigerian Child Rights Act, 2003 defines a child as a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years. Child abuse is also seen as physical, sexual, and psychological neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or caregiver. Child abuse may include any act or failure to act by a parent or caregiver that results in actual or potential harm to a child and can occur in a child’s home, or in the organization, schools, or communities the child interacts with. Child molestation/Child sexual abuse can also come in the form of child abuse where an adult or an older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child (whether by asking or pressuring or by any other means), indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipple, etc.), child grooming, and child sexual exploitation, including using a child to produce child pornography. Child abuse and molestation are diverse in all aspects, especially as molestation of a child forms a major and the most popular aspect of child abuse

Child molestation is the crime of sexual acts with minors, including touching of private parts, exposure of genitalia, taking of pornographic pictures, rape, inducement of sexual acts with the molester or with other children, and variations of these acts.

According to a 2015 United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) report, six out of 10 children in the country are made to experience molestation before the age of 18.

Corroborating that fact is the Positive Action for Treatment Access’s report that more than 31 percent of girls had their first sexual encounter through rape and to make matters worse, sex remains a subject discussed in hush tones at many homes, leaving ignorant kids potential and vulnerable preys of sexual predators at home and in school.

A lawyer and Child rights activist of Rivers State University, Ms. Divine Gift Nkereuwem, stated that child molestation (also child abuse) can take the form of assault, battery or sexual abuse.

She explained: “Assault means putting someone in the apprehension of fear while battery implies inflicting physical/ bodily injury. The impact of sexual abuse is that the victim would carry that feeling of shame because of the way society views them thus leading to a loss of confidence. Some of these victims stutter, fail academically, and are unable to make rational decisions as a result of the trauma. Bodily injuries and scars are also consequences, not to mention that they are prone to STIs and unwanted pregnancies, for females who experienced early puberty.”

The Child Rights activist while maintaining that child molestation was inexcusable pointed out certain social determinants that could condition an individual into a child molester.

“When a child grows up in a family where there is constant mental, verbal, or even sexual abuse, some may grow up to advocate against it while others imbibe such habits. The same goes for those who grow up in communities where laws aren’t strict enough to curb these vices. Also, the content people feed their minds with matters. I once went through someone’s phone, and in their search history was “how to get away with murder”. The more we entertain these vices, the higher the likelihood of practicing them,” she said.

According to her, there were existing laws against Child molestation as well as rape such as the Human rights laws contained in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provides fundamental human rights to every Nigerian citizen as well as the Child Rights Act 2003 which contains twelve rights of a child and aims at protecting the child from all forms of abuse, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which protects citizens from molestation as well other International/United Nations Acts.

“The government has provided hotlines for victims even on popular TV stations like NTA and there are competent Child/ Girls rights activists, doctors, and lawyers working with NGOs that victims can contact for emotional, psychological, medical, and legal aid but more needs to be done.

“Sex education and good morals should be adequately taught in schools. Some parents are scared of properly informing their children about signs that precede molestation and how they can protect themselves because they feel such information is exposing them to moral decadence but it has only made molestation more rampant,” she asserted.

Ms. Nkereuwem posited that the laws placed against molestation were not strict enough and that if sanctions against rape were as strict as that for murder, more people would be deterred from the act.

Oftentimes, parents would scream, “Not my portion,” in the Nigerian ostrich-playing style. Agreed, so whose portion is it now? Whose child deserves to be sexually molested? And can prayers alone stop this menace? Of course not.

According to our culture, parents tend to quickly dismiss the victim’s claims as ridiculous and even to want to hide the fact when they learn that such absurd acts did occur because they fear the stigma that will befall their child if they address the situation appropriately and they often silently close the chapter while allowing a pedophile to carry on with his misdeeds.

The abuser is known to about 93% of children who have been molested and less than 10% of sexually abused children are victimized by a nameless stranger, but some parents and guardians don’t seem to be willing to admit that close relatives, family members, and friends—rather than the ostensible stranger—are more likely to abuse their children sexually.

A News Reporter, Mrs. Chidinma shared with our correspondent her experience with a molester. She revealed that her mother, a victim of molestation at the young age of twelve at the hands of the landlord’s son, painstakingly orientated her daughters on the signs of a sexual predator.

She revealed: “As early as six years old, my mother would sit us down, pray and then teach us about our bodies and how to be wiser than the predator. She never hid anything from us or used silly illustrations or warnings. Those afternoon lectures were what saved me from being molested by a male family friend and even my older cousin. I wasn’t too naive to denote that a man’s hand should not be inside my shirt or too scared to report either.”

“Parents, especially mothers should be approachable.

 Many children cannot open up because they are scared that by being molested, they have done something wrong and the most demoralizing feeling, only slightly worse than the molestation itself, is to carry the guilt of the offender,” she stated.

Sadly, our response to molestation has been a loud and brief backlash in our homes or on social media against the expanding pedophilia trend in Nigeria. Now, this tendency is only natural, and the newsworthiness of such stories amid the demands for justice is certainly welcome, but most people seem to be uninformed as they are not paying attention to how to help the survivors or use such cases to prevent more defenseless children from becoming victims.

If young children are to become tomorrow’s leaders, they should not have to experience the tragedy of molestation. So why watch as many of them go through this traumatic experience?

Schools and other educational institutions in Nigeria appear to have developed into a haven for molestation and a pedophile breeding ground. Parents and authorities seem helpless and unsure of what to do as the epidemic erodes the moral and social fabric of schoolchildren. If a case of molestation is reported to the police, it is frequently “settled” covertly in the same way as the abuse itself.

A pedophile who has been expelled from a school may still be hired by another school to teach pupils and students because there is no sex offenders’ register in Nigeria thus the statistics on schoolchildren being molested in Nigeria are alarming.

Mrs. Uchendu, a teacher at the Total Child School, advised school authorities to put up more measures that would discourage these predators.

“Even on the assembly ground, let the children know that they are to report if a teacher touches them indecently. I watched a video online where they turned it into an anthem accompanied by a demonstration where the kids touched the “off-limits” body parts. Why is it not like that in every school? Why are we too quick to cover evil? That’s why it continues to thrive because instead of making the offender suffer grossly, we are more focused on “covering the shame,” she stressed.

Ask any survivor or victim, it largely goes beyond the physical, leaving psychological scars on the abused who are not equipped to deal with it. Worse still is when these children are only seen but not heard, they are then forced to bear the trauma alone resulting in the creation of all kinds of devils needing much more beyond psychological help.

Most of the time the victims are groomed, and lines are crossed over time. Usually, there is not an assault, but instead, a subtle grooming process to disarm the victim and their family.

Psychologist and Behaviour Specialist, Mr. John Mark Nedum who spoke about how the mind of a molester works explained that frequently predators will willfully engage in grooming a child.

“It might begin by having a young child sit on their lap while the child’s parents are present. After some time, the predator will succeed in convincing the kid to sit on his or her lap secretly. The predator might give the child gifts or treats, or he or she may just show kindness to a neglected child.

“The youngster eventually becomes aware of the problem. But they are unable to express it. They are unsure of what is happening. They may feel guilty because they’ve come so far or because they’ve been touched, but they typically feel too overwhelmed by shame to tell anyone,” he illustrated.

Nedum exhorted parents to take charge of their children’s safety and to be more mindful of everyone who interacts with them, arguing that grooming is frequently so subtly done that parents are shocked to discover it took place right in front of them.

He stated: “The people who abuse children are typically not in dark alleys or uncompleted buildings but are present in the sitting room. Sexual predators frequently seek out opportunities to be near children and make an effort to be hospitable to them. You hardly ever hear them say, ‘I like kids and I’m going to figure out how to molest them”. They try to act normal to avoid being “that guy,” and they might have a family or even be a part of that family.”

Nedum further advised parents whose children come to them and confess to having been sexually abused: “You must consider the question, “Why would my child concoct this? “ You’d be surprised at how frequently a mother will decide to dismiss her child and support the molester, particularly in situations where a child was sexually abused by a stepfather or boyfriend.”

The Psychologist maintained that parents must pay attention to their kids, particularly if they express a strong aversion to being around an adult.

“Do not force your child to touch or hug someone if they don’t want to. The ability to set boundaries must be taught to your child. Since reporting what happened is risky, children who have experienced moleststion frequently don’t. They experience a serious conflict when it has already progressed so far, and their parents might never be cognizant,” he noted.

He concluded by stating that until the State governments begin exposing child sex offenders by publishing their names and images so that the public is aware of the potential risk of allowing such people to be around their children, molestation may never end.

In the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, “We cannot prevent children from being sold into slavery, but we can, however, reduce the number of children being sold into slavery. Now, molestation resembles slavery!

When our society accepts the many dangers and repercussions of child molestation, when it evaluates the very ways in which molestation can be best addressed by understanding the value of listening to their kids, letting them express themselves, and conversing with them about such things, and finally by exposing the predator primarily within to prevent other innocent kids from becoming victims, only then will we truly be able to stop child sexual assault.

More so, the nation would move progressively when as more people start speaking candidly about the issue, letting victims and survivors know it is okay to speak up and that they will be believed. There is also the need to keep holding perpetrators liable, as well as people and organizations that knowingly provide them with protection. Nigeria will accomplish all of this by being up-front about the problem—molestation—and by taking action as adults with a duty to keep kids safe.

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