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Child Edu: Combatting the menace of child abuse

The issue of child abuse and minor molestation spread across mostly all states in Nigeria.
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The issue of child abuse and minor molestation spread across mostly all states in Nigeria. This frustrates the nation’s commitment and effort to protect children, who are its most vulnerable citizens . In Nigeria, these issues persist as children continue to suffer physical, emotional, and psychological harm, often at the hands of those entrusted with their care.

Child abuse in Nigeria includes a wide range of behaviours and actions that can harm or endanger the welfare of children. Such acts include sexual, emotional, physical, and neglectful forms of mistreatment. According to data from the National Population Commission and UNICEF, approximately six out of every ten children in Nigeria experience some form of violence before the age of 18. This indicates how often this incident occurs. Child abuse occurs across different settings, such as schools, homes, communities, and other institutions. It also affects children of all genders, ages, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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Child abuse can be physical, emotional, and sexual. Physical abuse involves the infliction of bodily harm or injury on a child, often resulting in bruises, cuts, fractures, or other visible signs of trauma. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, encompasses behaviours such as verbal abuse, rejection, humiliation, and isolation, that destroy a child’s sense of security, confidence, and self-esteem. Sexual abuse involves any form of sexual exploitation or molestation of children, including rape, assault, incest, and exploitation through pornography or prostitution. Child abuse and molestation can also come in the form of neglect. This occurs when parents and caregivers fail to provide for children’s basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and supervision, thereby jeopardising their health, safety, and well-being.

In Kaduna, August 2016, a stepmother burst open the head of a four year old preschooler and broke the arms and legs of her two-year-old sibling in what can be described as one of the gravest cases of child brutality in 2016.

In 2022, the Commissioner of Justice for Lagos State said that from September 2021 to July 2023, the state recorded 113 cases of child abuse/physical assault, 194 defilement cases, 15 defilement/molestation by minor to minor, 105 child labour, abduction neglect, and 145 sexual harassment/molestation cases.

There are numerous factors contributing to the prevalence of child abuse and minor brutalization in Nigeria. Poverty and economic hardship, for instance, exacerbate vulnerabilities to abuse. Families who struggle to meet their basic needs may resort to coping mechanisms, such as child labour or exploitation for instance, to survive the the ajmajiri’s who are mostly Hausa boys from low income families, are being sent all over the country to beg and work in homes where they are often maltreated,.

Also, people living in rural areas with limited access to education and awareness about children’s rights usually fall victim to abuse and exploitation. Ignorance is another factor contributing to child molestation and abuse. Many families may not be aware of the negative consequences of sending children to live with relatives or employing them as domestic workers.

Furthermore, illiteracy and ignorance may prevent children from recognising and reporting abuse. Dysfunctional family dynamics, including domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues, can contribute to the mistreatment of children within the home environment. Children living in abusive households may be more susceptible to further exploitation and abuse outside the home. On July 23 of 2016 as well, a nine-year-old boy was chained by his father, a pastor, for weeks at a church, the Celestial Church of Christ, Key of Joy Parish, Ajiwo in Ogun State . The boy looked gaunt, depressed, and helpless.

Victims of abuse usually suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma, physical injury, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, affecting their relationships, self-esteem, and overall quality of life. Child abuse and exploitation often disrupt children’s access to education. It hinders their academic progress and future prospects. Children who are forced to work as domestic helpers or live with relatives may be unable to attend school regularly or may drop out altogether, thereby increasing the cycle of poverty. Victims of child abuse and exploitation may experience social stigma and ostracism from their communities. The fear of judgement and reprisal may prevent children from disclosing abuse or seeking help.

To battle child abuse and victimisation, Nigeria must enforce comprehensive child protection laws that criminalise child abuse, exploitation, and trafficking. These laws should prioritise the rights and welfare of children and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. Victims of child abuse and exploitation require access to comprehensive support services, including medical care counselling, legal assistance, and shelter. Government agencies and NGOs should establish and fund shelters and crisis centres where children can seek refuge and receive the support they need to recover from trauma and rebuild their lives For instance, Miss Happiness Nwafor, the Enugu-born minor, who was brutally abused by her Anambra-based guardian, Mrs Adachukwu Okafor in February 2024 was given full scholarship by the Enugu State government and her perpetrator has been arrested.

Government agencies, civil society organisations , and community leaders should work together to raise awareness about children’s rights, the consequences of abuse, and the importance of reporting incidents of abuse. Parents caregivers, and teachers should be the focus of such awareness.

Read also: Breaking the chains of gender stereotypes in Nigeria’s education

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