Monday, 11 April 2016

Advocacy Against Wanton Abuse of Women, Children In Nigeria



Written by: Don Okereke (Twitter: @donokereke)

Wanton Abduction of Women, Children By Boko Haram Militants

On the night of April 14-15, 2014, Boko Haram militants brazenly abducted plausibly 276 school girls in one swoop from Government Secondary School Chibok, Borno State. A handful of the girls supposedly wriggled free while a chunk of them are still under Boko Haram’s captivity. Thanks to Social media and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, this atrocious incident generated global awareness and outrage. Nearly two years down the line, the Chibok girls’ abduction has defied the dragnet of Nigeria’s security, intelligence agencies and that of other advanced countries.
Apart from the Chibok School girls abduction, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) asserts that ‘’about 400 women and children, including at least 300 elementary school students were also abducted by Boko Haram militants from the town of Damasak in Borno State between March 13 and 15, 2015’’. HRW recounts that the Damasak abduction is the largest documented school abduction by Boko Haram militants even though it drew less public attention and outrage than that of the Chibok girls. The Nigerian government is obligated by domestic as well as international human rights law to adopt measures to protect vulnerable persons - especially children, women from child and human rights abuses. As the #BringBackOurGirls campaign approaches two years, the best succor the Nigerian government will give to the parents of the abducted Chibok school girls and those abducted from Damask, is to secure their release. No stone must be left unturned in ensuring the release of Nigerians in Boko Haram’s captivity.

Global Perspective: Violence Against Women Could Cost the United States $500 Billion Annually

Violence against women is not synonymous with Nigeria. According to a new study released by the McKinsey Global Institute, ‘’violence is one of the principal factors holding American women back’’. McKinsey researchers found that ‘’1 out every 2 women in the United States has been a victim of sexual violence while 1 in every 3 has experienced violence from an intimate partner’’. The latter figure is consistent with the average in 95 other countries McKinsey studied. Apart from its emotional impact on women, McKinsey says violence against women takes enormous financial toll on the United States. ‘’In total, violence against women costs about $4.9 billion in direct costs including medical costs (70% of the total), lost productivity (15%), and lost earnings over women’s lifetimes (15%)’’. Kweilin Ellingrud, lead author of the McKinsey report says, ‘’if you take into account intangible factors like pain, suffering, and worsened quality of life, the total cost to the United States could be closer to $500 billion’’.

Cases In Nigeria: Ose Oruru And Ifeasinachi Ani Abduction Angle

Sometime in 2015, one Yunusa Dahiru (alias Yellow) reportedly abducted 13 year old Miss Ese Oruru from Bayelsa state (South-South) and took her to Kano state (North-West) Nigeria, a journey that spans 824 Kilometres. It took the intervention of activists and the social media to bring this incident to the front burner by which time Miss Ese, now 14, was said to be pregnant and converted to Islam. At about the same time, a tragic tale emerged of how a 14 year old Igbo girl, Miss Ifesinachi Ani was also abducted from Abuja and taken to Maiduguri and subsequently to Zaria (Kaduna State) where she was purportedly converted to Islam and married off. The aforementioned scenarios which are a tip of the iceberg reawakened the entrenched but subtle practice of random abduction, proselytization and forceful marriage of underage girls in Nigeria. Recall that prior to the above incidents, one Miss Charity Uzoechina, daughter of a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) was a couple of years ago, proselytized, snatched up from her school - Federal Polytechnic Bida, Niger State and allegedly ensconced at the palace of an Emir - Etsu Nupe. 

Child Abuse, Life Expectancy And Plight of The Nigerian Child

According to the World Bank, Nigeria’s life expectancy is tenably 52.11 years. To a large extent this dwindling life expectancy is a function of hurdles such as unrelenting child abuse, abduction, trafficking, exploitation, sexploitation, female genital mutilation, child marriages, child labour, malnutrition, communicable diseases amongst others confronting and stifling the Nigerian child. While many children in parts of the country are increasingly deployed as suicide bombers scores are out of school not because they are academically deficient but because they have to eke out their parents’ income. The ramifications, statistics of child abuse in Nigeria is mind-boggling: A recent report submitted to the African Union (AU) on the rights and welfare of the Nigerian child revealed that about 6,000 children are in prison and various detention centres across Nigeria. The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reckons that as at September, 2015, about 1.4 million children were displaced by the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in North-East Nigeria. Also in 2015, about 450 children reportedly died of malnutrition in 28 Internally Displaced Persons’ camps in Borno state in 2015. In what was tagged Nigeria’s silent crises, ‘’each year, no fewer than one million Nigerian children die before their fifth birthday’’; malnutrition is said to contribute to nearly half of these deaths. Similarly, the Country Director of UNICEF in Nigeria, Ms. Jean Gough sounds off that ‘’no fewer than 10.5 million Nigerian children are out of school’’. In another report, the UNICEF paints a grim picture of children’s lives in Nigeria. It says that 6 out of 10 children experience some form of violence before they turn 18, with half of them experiencing physical violence. Also prevalent in Nigeria, is a widespread phenomenon of trafficking of children and women for the purpose of domestic service, prostitution and other forms of exploitative labour. Nigeria also featured prominently amongst the top ten worst countries for child labour while Year 2000 report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) asserts that more than 15 million Nigerian children are victims of child labour. If the aforementioned information is anything to go by, it is obvious that the Nigerian child is endangered. Some analysts say this is not the best of time to be born in Nigeria? 

Statistics of Child Rape, Sexual Abuse in Nigeria

According to http://www.kidsfirstinc.org/preventing-abuse, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys in the United States would have been sexually abused by their eighteenth birthday and only 1 in 10 children report the abuse themselves. The website went further to say that, ‘’child abusers are very often "experts" at emotional manipulation of children, gaining their trust well in advance of the actual abuse’’. In Nigeria, there’s no coherent or clear-cut statistics of child sexual abuse or rape. Due to under-reportage and lasting stigma, accounted incidents of child sexual abuse in Nigeria are only a tip of the iceberg. However to give us an idea, a snap poll conducted by the NOIPolls Limited in partnership with Stand To End Rape Initiative, STER, exposed the heightened prevalence of child rape, sexual abuse in Nigeria. The poll revealed that almost 7 in 10 adult Nigerians, representing 67 percent, think there is a high prevalence of child rape in the country, while 3 in 10, i.e. 31percent, personally know of a victim of child rape in their neighborhood. The Executive Director of Women Aid Collective, Mrs. R. Ezeilo, said 51 minors were sexually abused or raped in Enugu State between April 2014 and August 2014. According to her, the cases include 30 rape cases, four attempted rapes, 10 sexual assaults, 37 defilements and 15 other cases of domestic violence, adding that the cases emanated from 14 local government areas of the state. Similarly, in 2013, a pathologist, Dr. Jude Uchendu of the Central Hospital, Benin, in Edo State, said the hospital recorded no fewer than 80 cases of rape between March and mid-October. In the Niger Delta, one in ten women surveyed by CLEEN Foundation said she was either raped or survived a rape attempt in 2012. This means that more women were raped in the Niger Delta than any other part of the Nigeria in the same year. 

Prevalence of Child Marriages in Nigeria

What Is Child Marriage? The International Women's Health Coalition defines Child marriage as marriages that take place before age 18. In 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women submitted that child marriage is illegal. Similarly, ‘’the United Nations and other international agencies declared that child marriage violates human rights and children’s rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that individuals must enter marriage freely with full consent and must be at full age’’. More often than not, child marriage is a function of poverty, tradition, ignorance, religion and religion. Interestingly, child marriage is not just a Nigerian problem but a global issue.  According to the United Nations, about 39,000 girls under the age of 18 are married each day. The United Nations estimates that, plausibly 140 million girls will marry between 2011 and 2020. According to Michelle Bachelet, M.D, Executive Director of UN Women, “no girl should be robbed of her childhood, her education and health, and her aspirations. Yet today millions of girls are denied their rights each year when they are married as child brides”. 

Nigeria’s Child Rights Act, a Paper-Tiger?

Whereas the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) happed in 1989, Nigeria became a signatory to the Convention in 1991. A draft Child’s Right Bill was passed by Nigeria’s National Assembly in 2003 which subsequently became the Child’s Rights Act (CRA) 2003 after erstwhile President Obasanjo assented to it. The Child Rights Act codified all national and international laws pertaining to children into a single piece of legislation which stipulates inter alia: the rights and responsibilities of children and duties, obligations of parents, governments and institutions.  According to the Child Rights Act (CRA), a child is someone who has not attained the age of 18 years. The CRA categorically asserts that a child’s best interest shall be paramount in all considerations. According to Geoffrey Njoku, UNICEF Communication Specialist in Nigeria, ‘’Children’s issues are rights issues which are covered by body of laws to protect children and ensure that their rights are realized’’. Mr. Njoku went further to assert that, ‘’domestication of the Child Right Act (CRA) is key to our development and it is key to our existence because without children, we will not have children in 50 years’ time’’. The Nigerian government is urged to adhere to Sections 18 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria which declares that government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. Similarly, section 18 (3) of the Constitution submits that government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy, and to this end government shall as and when practicable provide (a) free compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c) free university education.

Why We Must STOP Child Marriages, Sexploitation 

Ending child marriages meshes with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's ‘’Every Woman Every Child Initiative’’ and efforts to attain Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 3, 4 and 5 to promote gender equality, to reduce child mortality and to improve maternal health. The campaign against child marriages is reasonable since child marriage preserves the cycles of abject poverty, poor health, illiteracy, violence and impinges on the child prides’ overall progress and prospect. Globally, child marriage is increasingly acknowledged as a violation of the rights of the girl child because in addition to the foregoing:

v  It increases their risk of exposure to domestic and sexual violence, medical conditions such as obstetric fistula (otherwise called vaginal fistula), STI’s such as HIV amongst others 

v  It exposes the girl child to the risks of too-early pregnancy, child bearing, and motherhood before they are physically and emotionally prepared

v  Child marriage effectively hinders education of the girl child

v  It prevents or limits their chances of acquiring vocational and life skills

Recommendations: How To Stop Child Abuse, Exploitation in Nigeria

1.     Couples must be guarded on the number of children they bear and must not expect children aged 12 to 17 to fend, provide for themselves and their parent.

2.     The 36 State House of Assemblies in Nigeria are hereby implored to domesticate, ratify extant provisions of the Child Rights Act so as to make it effective, legally enforceable.

3.     Consistent with the recommendations of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, the 3 tiers of government in Nigeria must strive to eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl-child, eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls, promote and protect the rights of the girl-child.

4.     The Nigerian government must do away with all manner of discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training; eliminate the economic exploitation of child labour and protect young girls at work. 

5.     Government at the federal and state levels, corporate organizations and philanthropists should provide scholarship structures to encourage access to girl-child education. 

6.     The Nigerian Senate should revisit the recently shut out ‘’Gender Parity and Prohibition of Violence Against Women Bill’’ which seeks equal rights for women in marriage, education and employment gender equality in marriage.

7.     Girls who are already married should be encouraged to further their education, access to employment and life skills, sexual and reproductive health information and services such as HIV prevention. 

8.     The Miss Ese Oruru and Ifesinachi Ani abduction cases MUST not be swept under the carpet like the famed case of Yerima marrying a minor. Commensurate punishment must be meted out to serve as deterrence to would-be child abusers, paedophiles and exploiters. Explains why it is dangerous to set a precedence of impunity.

How To Protect Children From Sexual Assault

The following recommendations on ways to prevent or protect children from sexual assault are derived from the United States-based RAINN - Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website:

1.     Be involved in the child’s life: Being actively involved in a child’s life can make warning signs of child sexual abuse more obvious and help the child feel more comfortable coming to you if something isn’t right. Take action to protect your child if you suspect or hear causes for concer.

2.     Demonstrate interest in a child’s day-to-day lives. Ask children what they did during the day and who they did it with. Who did they sit with at lunchtime? What games did they play after school? Did they enjoy themselves?

3.     Get to know the people in your child’s life. Know who your child is spending time with, including other children and adults. Ask your child about the kids they go to school with, the parents of their friends, and other people they encounter daily.

4.     Pick caregivers, school carefully. Whether it’s a babysitter, a new school, or an afterschool activity, do some due diligence before selecting a caregiver, school for your ward.

5.     Talk about the media. Incidents of sexual violence are frequently covered by the news and portrayed in television shows. Ask your child questions about this coverage to start a conversation. Questions like, “Have you ever heard of this happening before?” or “What would you do if you were in this situation?” can signal to your child that these are important issues they need to talk with you. Learn more about talking to your kids about sexual assault.

6.     Know the silent, warning signs. Become familiar with the warning signs of child sexual abuse, and notice any changes with your child, no matter how small. Whether it’s happening to your child or a child you know, you have the potential to make a big difference in that person’s life by stepping in.

7.     Encourage children to speak up: When someone knows that their voice will be heard and taken seriously, it gives them the courage to speak up when something isn’t right. You can start having these conversations with your children as soon as they begin using words to talk about feelings or emotions.

8.     Teach your child about redlines: Let your child know that no one has the right to touch them or make them feel uncomfortable. It is important to let your child know that their body is their own. Just as importantly, remind your child that they do not have the right to touch someone else if that person does not want to be touched.

9.     Teach your child how to talk about their bodies: From an early age, teach your child the names of their body parts. Teaching a child these words gives them the ability to come to you when something is wrong. 

10.                         Spend time with your child: Set time aside to spend with your child where they have your undivided attention. Let your child know that they can come to you if they have questions or if someone is talking to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. 

11.                         Assure the child s/he won’t get in trouble: Many perpetrators use threats or cajoling to make children keep quiet about abuse. Remind your child frequently that they will not get in trouble for telling you things, no matter what they need to say. When they do come to you, follow through on this promise and avoid punishing them for speaking up.

Conclusion:

Having espoused the lifelong psychological and medical adverse effects of child abuse, forced early marriage, early pregnancy, obstetric fistula, female genital mutilation, rape, child trafficking, abduction, exploitation, gender based violence (GBV) amongst others, common sense and superior argument entails we jettison aforementioned practices in Nigeria. We must jettison archaic practices, cultural or religious belief systems that undermine the wellbeing of our children, women and humanity.

Written by: © Don Okereke
Follow Don on Twitter: @DonOkereke
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Bio:
Don Okereke is a proven security analyst/consultant passionate about writing, advocacy, humanity, mentoring, researching, gathering and disseminating information. He is innovative, information technology, Social media-savvy and has over 17 years combined Military (Air Force), Private Security, entrepreneurial, management skills/experience distilled from Nigeria and the United Kingdom.