30th April, 2013
Mrs Josephine Effah-Chukwuma tells NEHRU ODEH why child molestation is on the rise and what can be done to stem the scourge
What is child sexual abuse?
Child molestation or abuse is the physical, sexual or psychological abuse of a child, who according to the Child Rights Act, is anyone below the age of eighteen (18). Child sexual abuse on the other hand, specifically is sexual assault of a girl or boy below the age of 18. These include acts such as indecent exposure of private body parts to a child, indecent assault (making a child to touch, caress or suck your private part); rape, incest, defilement etc.
What are the different categories of child sexual abuse?
Like I said earlier, child molestation or abuse, can be physical, sexual and psychological. A male or female child can be molested.
Under what age bracket do sexually abused children fa into?
Children of all ages from months old to 18 years, can be molested sexually. In fact we are witnessing more cases of younger children under age ten, being molested sexually.
Do you think child sexual abuse is on the increase? Why is it so?
Yes there seems to be an increase in child sexual abuse/molestation in Nigeria. Almost as if we have an epidemic on our hands, as hardly a day goes by, that there wouldn’t be one reported case of rape or the other in either the print or electronic media. The seeming increase could also very well be due to increased reporting, as a result of public awareness of the issue, and the need to take action to end it. Silence aids its continued perpetration.
Why do adults abuse under-age children?
There are really no reasons for adults sexual abuse of children, who in most cases, know, love, and trust these adults to protect them. What reason can an adult give for sexually molesting a child? Is it indecent dressing, seduction or what? Paedophiles are just psychopaths and social deviants.
Why is it that child abuse continues unabated despite public spirited campaigns against it?
Sexual offences, especially rape, incest and defilement of children, seem to be continuing unabated, because of poor response to reported cases by our law enforcement officials, (lack of diligence in investigation and prosecution) and delays in the judiciary. If investigations by the police are to be diligently carried out, prosecuted, and suspects given maximum sentencing, it would serve as a deterrent to others.
Furthermore, there is need for aggressive mass sensitisation programmes on how sexual abuse of children especially can be prevented. The key things to ensure in preventing sexual abuse of children, are ACCESS and OPPORTUNITY. Sexual abuse of a child can only occur, if a predator has both access and opportunity to a child. So the question is, who has access to our children?
As a gender rights activist what has your experience been like, as regards handling cases of child sexual abuse?
As a gender rights activist, my experience of sexual abuse of children has been quite disheartening and very challenging. Challenging in the sense that the first response by members of the public, including family members to a child’s allegation, is DISBELIEF.Moreso, if the adult in question is seen to be “a publicly respectable person, or a father figure”. BIG MISTAKE this is, as according to Shakespeare, you can not read the mind’s construction on the face. You can not know a criminal by mere looking at him or her.
What has been the most intriguing case of child sexual abuse you have handled so far?
.There has been two most intriguing cases I have handled in the last 4 years. One was one of a father sexually abusing his eldest daughter, and threatening her that if she runs away, he would move to the two younger ones (he had 3 girls); the second is the recent one of two girls in an orphanage alleging that the owner of the orphanage is sexually abusing them and other girls in the home, and that it has been going on for a while.
Are there any national statistics to show frequency of occurrence in society?
There are really no national statistics. On rape and other sexual offences in Nigeria, which is unfortunate, as without such statistics, a national response to this seeming epidemic, is not possible.
Some fathers sexually abusing their daughters. What is responsible for that?
I really don’t know, or can’t understand why a father would sexually abuse his. Own biological daughter, other than such a father is MAD and should be put away in an asylum. It is wicked an sickening, and is a SIN before God and man.
Does Sophie House, your shelter, also a have a space for children that have been sexually abused?
Our shelter for abused women and young girls, known as Sophia’s Place does offer temporary refuge for girls who have been sexually abused. Common sense dictates that a child who is alleging sexual abuse in the home by a family member or guardian, needs to be immediately taken away from that environment. We come in there. If the government does not have a home to keep such a child, while investigations are going on, we can offer that service. But we expect that the child’s mother would accompany the child to the shelter, in order to care for her child.
There is a story about a woman who severed the penis of a man who sexually abused her relation? What is your reaction? And why do you think the woman took that action
That was an extreme action I must say, by the child’s mother, but I must confess that I am not sure I would do differently if I were in her shoes. Imagine you walking in to see your daughter being defiled. Temporary insanity will engulf you. Furthermore, the Criminal Justice System, starting with the police, is not sensitive to the plight of rape victims and their families/friends both in the way they respond and investigate these crimes. There is also the issue of delay in the courts.
Are there laws in the Nigerian criminal code against child sexual abuse? Do you think that law is enough deterrent?
There are laws in both the criminal and penal codes of both southern and northern Nigeria, on child sexual abuse, but in my opinion, they are not stringent enough. I believe the penalty for sexually abusing a child should be as severe or more severe than armed robbery. This is because, it is abuse of innocence. The Nigerian Child Rights Act, which has not been enacted by all states of the federation, has tried to address the issue.
How do you rate the performance of law enforcement agents, especially the police with regards to child sexual abuse?
The police have been trying their best, but are greatly hampered by lack of training and poor logistics for quick response. Most of them, do not know what to do and how to handle cases of sexual violence. Policing and responding to sexual crimes requires a high level of sensitivity, and specialised skills in investigating and prosecuting. This, unfortunately, is lacking in the Nigeria Police. However, with training and logistics support, they can do much better.
Why are cases of child molestation not taken seriously in our society?
Cases of child molestation especially sexual molestation are often not taken seriously because people just don’t understand that SEX is different from RAPE. Some people believe it’s not a big deal, and besides, according to them “the child will grow up and forget”. VERY WRONG. The child will not grow and forget it. Instead she will grow up having several questions to ask about what happened to her.
In some African countries, minors are sexually abused because of the belief that sexual intercourse with a virgin cures HIV. Has child molestation decreased in those countries?
The believe that sex with a child cures HIV (infact infants), which triggered an increase in sexual abuse of children in South Africa, is all a myth. It hasn’t been scientifically proven. In response to that epidemic, the government of Thabo Mbeki at the time carried out aggressive sensitisation programmes, and set up one stop Medico-Legal centres, where victims could receive all the support services they needed – counselling, medical assistance, legal advice, and police statement. I remember at that time, hardly would you walk past any street, and not see a billboard or posters in English and native dialects on sexual abuse. I think it has gone down significantly.
How can sexual molestation be reduced or stopped in Nigeria?
Child sexual molestation can be significantly reduced through aggressive mass sensitisation programmes at all levels, targeting various stakeholders. While this is being done as a preventive measure, perpetrators should be punished to the limits of the law, to serve as a deterrent to others. Parents/guardians (especially mothers) should be careful about who they leave their children with. As I said earlier, access and opportunity are the two factors that make sexual abuse of children possible.