Abuja — Children are blessings from God, so they need to be loved, guided and protected by all. Unfortunately, in today's society, parents, guardians and caregivers who are charged with the responsibility of protecting children hardly have time for them, which makes the underaged vulnerable to harmful experiences.
Sexual abuse is one of such experiences, and it is on the increase day-by-day.
Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse is a form of molestation is in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation.
Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child (whether by asking or pressuring, or by other means), indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipples, etc.), child grooming, and child sexual exploitation, including using a child to produce child pornography.
These assaults are usually targeted at children who are aged 15 years and below. Innocent and vulnerable, such children are violated sexually by neighbours, relatives, school teachers, and sometimes strangers who take undue advantage of them.
Child sexual abuse in Nigeria is an offence under sections 216 and 218 of chapter 21 of the country's criminal code. The age of sexual consent is 18 for both sexes.
But girls are more likely to experience both sexual and physical violence than other combinations of violence.
UNICEF reported in 2015 that one in four girls and one in ten boys in Nigeria had experienced sexual violence before the age of 18.
According to the UN child rights agency, this year (2020) saw an alarming four-fold increase in multiple forms of violence against women and girls.
This underscored the need to continue to fund, respond to, prevent the occurrence and collect robust evidence of violence against them.
Tackling Sexual Violence Against Women, Girls
That is why at a webinar hosted on 23 November 2020 by The Spotlight Initiative in Nigeria, in collaboration with the Ministry of Women Affairs; Senior media practitioners from the public, private and civil society sectors came together to dialogue on the role of the media in promoting accountability to end violence against women and girls in Nigeria.
The webinar highlighted the facts and realities of gender-based violence and explored the need for media's increased participation in policy advocacy, negative social norms change and intensified engagement and action on social media to support ending violence against women and children in Nigeria.
"The media as change agents are critical both in terms of how violence against women and girls is reported, and how communities and governments are supported to raise awareness and implement programmes to end violence against women and girls," said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative.
The outcome of discussions formed the basis for a 'deeper dive' into specific roles the media can play in ending violence against women and girls in Nigeria during a lineup of media dialogues that will be implemented across the five + 1 intervention states of Adamawa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Lagos, Sokoto and the FCT.
Speaking at the webinar, the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Fallen, said: "It is important to highlight that everyone in society has an important role to play in ending violence against women and girls and we all must work together across sectors to address the various aspects of violence against women and girls,"
The webinar came in the run-up to the annual, global '16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence,' which this year focused on the role of the media in promoting accountability to end violence against women and girls.
The Spotlight Initiative is a global partnership between the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, in support of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.
In Nigeria, the initiative envisions a Nigeria where all women and girls are free from violence and harmful practices.
This also aligns with the third Transformative Results of the UNFPA to pursue an end to Gender-Based Violence and other harmful practices in Nigeria by 2030.
Role of Security Agencies
Meanwhile, security agencies and experts are also worried by the alarming rate of sexual abuse, particularly against children, and have stepped up efforts to seriously deal with the ugly scenario.
They, however, blamed socio-cultural stigmatization for the large number of unreported cases.
In an interview, AIG Wilson Inalegwu, an Assistant Inspector-General of Police, in-charge of Zone 9, who retired recently, said: "While some of the cases of child sexual abuse are reported to the appropriate authorities, a large majority of the real life cases are believed to have been swept under the carpet or covered up for fear of being stigmatized.
"Some parents say they have reached a settlement with suspects. That is serious! People need to know that we cannot stop this crime, if we continue to compromise and cover-up.
"Those who are violated should feel free to come and report. The Nigerian Police Force has promised them privacy to avoid stigmatization.
"The police, usually, would investigate and prosecute suspected offenders. But except somebody comes forward to make a report, the security agencies cannot fully participate in ridding the society of this menace."
Experts Proffer Solution
Considering the impact of child sexual abuse on the victims which include health hazard, depression, suicide, drug abuse and school drop-out scenarios, some experts have blamed the culture of silence, ignorance, and lack of moral values and godly principles for the menace.
The Programme Manager, CLEEN Foundation, Mrs. Ruth Olofin said: "Yes, there is usually a culture of silence when it comes to child sexual abuse due to fear of stigmatisation. But, as stakeholders, we need to keep up with the sensitization to encourage victims to speak out."
In the same vein, Dr. Rafatu Abdulhamid, a lecturer in the Faculty of Arts Department of Philosophy and Religions
University of Abuja, said: "We need to make people aware of this issue of sexual violence, especially against the girl child, so that they can take necessary precautions.
"It's disheartening to note that this culture of silence is still persisting, and to my own view, it is one of the reasons children sexual abuse is increasing at an alarming rate.
"We need to speak out to the appropriate authorities, including religious leaders. The clerics could also play a major role in making sure that these menace os curved through their sermons and girly counsel," she added.
Role of Religious Leaders
Speaking also, Mrs. Mary Taiwo, the assistant pastor of Destiny Revival Evangelical Ministry International, Lugbe Abuja, told Our Correspondent: "Someone who is a genuine child of God would not sexually abuse a child.
"The church says 'No!' to all forms of gender-based violence, especially against children.
"Both Christian and Muslim leaders across the country are doing a lot to see to it that such things do not occur among our followers."
She however noted that to achieve success in reducing child sexual abuse, the responsibility should not be left solely in the hands of the authorities.
Rather, family members and other responsible Nigerians should know that they too have vital roles to play, including providing sexual education to children.
"Parents should watch those they bring to their homes, particularly the so-called aunties, uncles and family friends.
"They should also create the time to be with their kids and interact with them. That would help the children open-up when they have challenges or have suffered any form of sexual abuse," Taiwo advised.
Position of the Law
Meanwhile, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, which was signed into law on 23rd May, 2015, by former President Goodluck Jonathan, stated that once the crime of rape is proven, the offender must be sentenced to a minimum penalty of 12 years for rape.
However, the judge still has the discretion to sentence the offender to more than 12 years.
In addition, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Nkiru Obi Esq., said that psychological therapy for the victim of child sexual abuse was important to achieve success in prosecuting offenders.
To this end, the VAPP Act (2015) recognises the rights of the victim to financial compensation.
That is why financial compensation for victims is a welcome trend in Victim rights which looks to help them in rebuilding their life after an act of rape.
For example, the victim might need to go for therapy etc after being raped, and this would normally have been paid by the victim, now with victim compensation, the offender could be made to pay financial compensation to the victim which would cover these sorts of expenses.
The lawyer said, "When a case of child sexual abuse occurs, it is advisable to also introduce the victim to a psychotherapist as part of the first steps towards remedy.
"The psychotherapist will be able to connect with the mind of the child in order to draw out the facts clearly. This is because the child has suffered a certain degree of trauma and may not be able to give an accurate and coherent breakdown of every facts as they happened."
Other Reasons For Psychotherapy
Also speaking on measures that can be taken after a child suffered sexual abuse, Mr. Ifeanyi Okekearu, the Chief of Party for the SHOPS Plus project in Nigeria, said: "Sexual abuse is a crime that lives with the affected individual for life - nobody seems to forget them, especially when he or she was bullied, tricked, or cajoled into it.
"So, the first thing to do is for the family members to accept the child and work towards helping the child to get over it.
"Nothing is easy but it can be worked upon holistically so that the child does not feel it's her fault. Unfortunately, people tend to blame the child.
"These kinds of atrocities tend to hurt the person in their older years. So, the primary thing to do is for them to be noticed and discussed.
"The child needs to be counseled and given appropriate remedies on short, medium and long-term basis. These are the things the society needs to work together to support."
Some tips on how to keep children safe against sexual abuse include: teaching them the proper names for their body parts, building trust by regularly talking to them about their day to make them comfortable to report any issues, and educating them on sexual abuse and other related matters.
Experts also say knowing one's children's whereabouts, at all times, as well as who their friend are, understanding the signs of sexual abuse, and taking appropriate actions, if a case is suspected are other practical day-to-day tips for curbing the crime.'