The recent reported brutality meted out to a 10-year-old girl by her guardians in Enugu has further exposed the plight of many children in Nigeria. According to reports, a couple, Mr. Jude and Mrs. Ifeoma Ozougwu, not only burnt Nneoma Nnadi’s belly, back, and buttocks with hot electric iron, they also allegedly drilled a six-inch nail into her head. They were also said to have inserted hot red pepper into her private part and locked her in the toilet. Nneoma was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit of the Enugu State University of Technology Teaching Hospital for treatment.
The public outcry that trailed her misfortune serves as a wake-up call on well-meaning Nigerians to frontally tackle the menace of child abuse. The police in Ogun State similarly arrested a 24-year-old man, Badmus Folarin, for allegedly burning the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy, Sunday David, recently. The boy was accused of licking the content of a tin of beverages belonging to Folarin’s mother.
Last September, the police in Kaduna rescued over 300 boys who were dehumanised with many of them chained in a building purported to be an Islamic school. Some of the boys were as young as five years and bore scars from serious beatings. In 2014, the Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno State. Though many of them have been released, some are still in the sect’s captivity.
Child abuse comes in different forms. It can be sexual exploitation, torture, child labour, trafficking, abduction and child marriage. In Central and West Africa, it is estimated that about 35 per cent of children are engaged in child labour. United Nations estimate that about 15 million Nigerian children under the age of 14 are working.
The current worldwide lockdown occasioned by coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation. Some frustrated adults, locked at home with children, vent their anger and frustrations on these innocent ones. Early July, there was a reported spike in child abuse in a major London children’s hospital during this period. Between March 23 and April 23 this year, 10 infants between the ages of two weeks and 13 months were reportedly diagnosed of “abusive head trauma” at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. The hospital was said to have reported an average of only 0.67 such cases over the same period in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Economic downturn in many families is another factor that can lead to child abuse. Many poor parents who are unable to cater for their children end up giving some of them out as housemaids or houseboys. Nneoma’s case exemplifies this assertion. Her mother, a widow with four children, gave her out to the Ozougwus who subjected her to degrading treatment.
Some of these abused children come from polygamous and large families where their welfare is not a priority. This is more prevalent in northern part of the country. Some of them drop out of school. Some end up in the streets as hawkers or beggars.
Unfortunately, child abuse persists despite the laws that are meant to protect children from it. Such laws include the Criminal Code, the Penal Code, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, and the Child Rights Act 2003. Nigeria is also a signatory to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Sadly, many of these abused children have nobody to speak for them. Some of their parents are too poor and ignorant to access justice. Sometimes, the judicial processes may be too slow and inefficient. Moreover, some states are yet to domesticate the Child Right Act.
Apart from being denied justice, some abused children suffer psychological problems. Some of them perform poorly in school and may have post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, poor relationships and suicidal tendencies.
There is need for enlightenment campaign against child abuse in Nigeria. Government agencies, non-governmental organisations, civil society groups and religious bodies should help to save the Nigerian child. We urge the states that are yet to domesticate the Child Right Act to do so without delay. Government must step up efforts to ensure that all Nigerian children are educated up to the basic school level. The over 13 million Nigerian children who are out of the school system must be enrolled forthwith.
Parents are advised to have the number of children they can cater for. The law enforcement agencies and social welfare departments should monitor how people treat their domestic servants. Those who abuse children should be apprehended and prosecuted.