30th April, 2013
By Akunna Ejim
A seven-year-old child, living with her aunt in Delta state, was repeatedly molested and raped by a neighbour several times. She became quite sick after the attacks, and was taken to a clinic. A pelvic scan was part of the procedure to diagnose her ailment, and shockingly, it was discovered that she was pregnant. This may sound unbelievable, but is indeed reality, part of a disgusting menace that is increasing with each passing say. Child molestation and rape, especially of the girl-child, is alarmingly common in Africa, and Nigeria is no exception. According to recent statistics, the country with the highest record of rape in the world is South Africa, with a rape occurring every 26 seconds, including child and baby rapes. The trend toward the rape of babies, some as young as two-weeks-old, is directly related to the high rate of HIV-positive people there. Somehow, most of the HIV-positive individuals, who are mostly from the underprivileged part of the country, believe that having carnal knowledge of a virgin will rid them of the scourge. As such, from 2000, the incidence of baby and child rape, usually of girls under 10, replaced that of adult rape with a current statistic of up to 70 percent child rape out of the total rape in the country.
Children, obviously, are very vulnerable targets for pedophiles and others with a depraved constitution. No one, it seems, can be trusted, not even fathers who ordinarily should protect their families to the best of their abilities. This is because, a significant percentage of the rapes on children are by fathers on their own girl children. Last month, the story broke of a Nigerian father who had made it a habit to have carnal knowledge of his daughters, even to the extent that he also extended the practice to the next generation, his granddaughter. As a child, what do you do when your own father is the monster that you have to deal with? How do you live through something like that, and also, how do you function normally for the rest of your life, when the very foundation of everything that is normal has been pulled out from under your feet by the act of defilement by the one man whom you should ordinarily trust? Other relatives, close family friends, and neighbours are the next set of culprits who take advantage of their proximity to families to prey upon their vulnerable children.
Child molestation and rape in Nigeria is a sad reality that must be nipped in the bud before it destroys the society. “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” A so-called “pastor,” Alasco Sobowale, raped a 12-year-old girl in Epe, Lagos state –an abuse of a position of trust or authority. He lured the girl into a toilet at night and defiled her. The most baffling and shocking part is that, rather than allow him take full responsibility for his actions, his church members shifted the blame to a six-year-old girl whom they, in their all-knowing wisdom, accused of bewitching Sobowale. Allegedly, they flogged the child and paraded her through the town. As usual, the rapist was arrested and released by the police on bail because they claimed the courts were not in session. The police, everyone knows, have the habit of treating rape victims as if they are the offenders. They often ask them humiliating and pointless questions that lead nowhere, except to make the victim feel thoroughly ashamed, and to regret ever speaking up about the rape. This is in addition to the physiological trauma that the victim already faces from the rape itself.
The reason why it seems that rapists, and child rapists in Nigeria, go about their business with impunity is not unconnected with the lax rape laws in the country. Section 358 of the Criminal Code Act, CAP C38, LFN, 2004, makes it clear that anyone who commits the offence of rape is liable to life imprisonment. The same thing goes for the attempt to commit rape, a felony that carries up to 14 years’ imprisonment, with or without caning. This sounds interesting on paper, but the translation from theory to practice is definitely lacking. Rape victims live with shame and guilt from their ordeal that they have to deal with for the rest of their lives. Adult rape victims find it hard enough to process and sort out their experience, and child victims simply do not have the facility to do so. To make matters worse, the social stigma attached to rape makes it hard for those who have suffered the ordeal to come out publicly and denounce their rapists. Even the families of children raped might prefer to keep the whole sordid mess under wraps in order to keep the stigma away from their child and family. As a consequence, only a very tiny fraction of rape, less than 15 percent, is ever reported, and the treatment the victims and family of the victims face from law enforcement and government officials make it even harder for other rape victims to come forward. Last year, I wrote a candid piece about the gang-rape of the young girl in Abia State that occurred on August 2011. The baffling aspect of that crime is that the culprits recorded the incident, were clearly identified, and the girl even called the names of some of them during her attack at the hands of the beasts. Still, none of the rapists has been convicted; none of them has paid the price for the condemnable actions against another human being, even though the law clearly lays out a procedure to follow in such cases. Why?
As press people, we owe it to the society to shine a light on issues like this, with the understanding that we are all interconnected somehow, and anything that diminishes any one member of the society, also diminishes the rest of us. The harm done by these actions is not just the problem of the individual, but that of the community as a whole. Where we fail to address these issues, we will be left with a coming generation of angry and traumatised individuals, with the attendant unsavoury consequences.