Monday, June 21, 2010

Preying on Lagos children

Lagos residents woke, on June 7, to the startling news report of a 45-year-old man, Sunday Jacob, who was arrested for allegedly having illicit sex with a 7-year-old girl. The next morning, a similar, but more bizarre story broke. Philip Benson, 37, was arrested for impregnating his 12-year-old daughter.

In the past couple of months, Lagos residents have been startled by scores of reported cases of paedophilia across the metropolis. Suddenly what previously used to be viewed as an alien occurrence associated with the western world has jarringly and repeatedly happened closer to home, and parents are getting worried.

Unreported cases

Parents have every cause to worry, going by the fact that experts believe that majority of such acts go unreported for fear of stigma, or for financial gains.

“That is just the ugly fact,” said Ikechukwu Onyekwere, a public affairs analyst. “Most times, parents do not get to find out about such acts, and the children just live with it throughout their lives without ever revealing the abuse to anybody. And it’s not just girls, I know a friend who was sexually abused when he was 11 by a housemaid, and of course he never told his parents.”

Anthony Okoye, the chairman of residents of a public building in Ijesha, Lagos, had invited the police to arrest a 30-year-old tenant who was accused of defiling a 15-year-old daughter of his neighbour, and was jolted by the reaction of the girl’s mother.
To my utmost surprise, they came and started insulting me for taking the man to the police,” he said. “They said I was too rash. What else should I have done when the man confessed to rape? The eventually settled the case when he agreed to pay N60, 000 to the girl’s mother

Affecting our culture

A snap survey revealed that parents, especially among the high and middle-income groups, have begun to take protective measures as regards who their children are exposed to, a fact that sociologists say is alien and threatens the fabrics of African culture.

“The truth is that the whole thing has made me begin to distrust anybody that is not a close friend or relative around my daughters,” said Ifeoma Akanwa, a banker and mother of three. “I used to have a house boy, and since he left last year, I have been reluctant to get another help, despite that my youngest child is just a year old. I prefer taking her to a crèche, or even locking her up with my eldest child (aged 10) at home at times.”

Uwadiegwu Otisi, a sociologist holds the opinion that this portends a dangerous trend, and might fracture the fabrics of Africa’s familial culture if left unchecked.

“The unfortunate fact is that people have started distrusting everybody that comes around their children,” he said. “I know a case where a woman even avoids leaving her small daughter alone with the girl’s step brothers living in the same house. It has become that bad! And the implication is that these children will grow up disconnected with people that ought to help shape their lives. And then what happens to the proverb, ‘One person does not train a child?’”

Assisting the victims

Experts state that children who suffer abuse are likely to have serious psychological hang ups later in life, if not counselled properly. They also advice efforts should be made to avoid publicity when such events occur, although not at the risk of letting the perpetuators go scot free.

For us at Project Alert, we are primarily concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of these little girls,” said Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, the executive director of Project Alert, a Lagos-based nongovernmental organization that promotes and protects the rights of women and young girls. “First is taking them away from the environment where the abuse occurred, and taking then to a safe place; appropriate medical care and counselling for them. Also of immediate concern side by side with this, is prompt arrest and prosecution of the victims.

While the details of the young victim should be kept secret, so as to protect them as they grow up, that of the rapists, should be made public, and should remain throughout the period the case is in court until the time judgement is given. That way it will serve as a deterrent to others. The media has an important role to play in this.”

UNICEF Nigeria’s position

Geoffrey Njoku, a communication specialist at the Nigeria Country Office of UNICEF, said the organization would continue to work towards ensuring the protection of children from all forms of abuse.

“Over the years, UNICEF has supported the establishment of the appropriate legal framework/structures in parts of the country and capacity development of law enforcement agencies to handle all protection issues against children,” he said. “UNICEF would like to see a Nigeria where all rights are accorded to all children all the time.”

However, while parents hope for the day when Nigerian children enjoy the full repertoire of the rights accorded to them in the Child Rights’ Act, they gradually come to the realization that they need to take the protection of their children from predators such as Messrs Jacob and Benson into their own hands.

This article was previously published in NEXTonSunday