Stop Child Violence!
Child upbringing is not managing a child, but reassuring and supporting the child, and setting up limits. This is the beginning of a healthy relationship in the family and the society as a whole. The United Nation’s Universal Children’s Day was established in 1954 and is celebrated on November 20th each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.
The theme for this year event is Stop Violence Against Children! According to UNICEF, every year millions of children around the world become victims of untold violence. Children in every country, every culture and at every social level face various forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence. The abuse takes place at home, in school, in institutions, at work and in the community. Growing up with violence and abuse seriously affects a child’s development and dignity.
Children have suffered different forms of violence ranging from physical, sexual, emotional, neglect, spiritual, cultural and even death all over the world, such as the October 2012 shooting of then 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, the fatal shooting of 26 pupils and teachers in Newtown, in the United States in December, and gang rapes of girls in India and in South Africa this year and also the 276 kidnapped Chibok school girls in Nigeria on April 14th this year (2014) by Boko Haram Islamic group.
Six months after the Chibok school girls are still in captivity, the released video shows that the girls were forced to convert to lslam, the leader of the sect Abubakar Shekau also refers to them as slaves and threatened to sell them in the market and to marry them off. Some of the escape victims said that the girls were being subjected to physical torture, rape, forced marriage and forced labour into being recruited to carrying ammunitions for insurgents. More than 500 girls and women are said to have been kidnapped by the group since 2009. Although there were alleged negotiations going on between the federal government and the insurgents for the release of the girls in exchange with some captured Boko Haram members that are in prison but till date no meaningful result has been achieved. Even now, more children, girls, women and boys are still being kidnapped by the insurgents.
This is just a bigger picture of what most Nigerian children suffered in the community and in their homes. Physical violence of children is seen as normal punishment in most homes in Nigeria in correcting a child especially when the child has done something bad and the parents or caregivers after being stressed from life daily challenges or in some cases, one of the parent is drug addict or an alcoholic or has suffer from a mental problem, they become angry with their kids and what happen next is slapping, whipping, kicking, biting, pulling hair which is done in an offensive way and in some worst cases when the child is just an housemaid or from a relative, or is step son or daughter, it can result in burning part of the child body, stabbing and shooting, many of such cases had been reported in the media.
Psychological violence is another common thing in this part of the world and most parents does not see it as anything mainly because it has no physical scar on the child. Often times you hear parents/ guardians yelling, cursing, mocking, comparing kids negatively to others, giving children public and private humiliation and intentionally withholding love and affection from their children as punishment. In Nigeria you can hear a parent or guardian calling a child “coconut head” “good for nothing” “stupid boy” “goat” and the likes, and they don’t see anything wrong with it, even when they are told its wrong, they just laugh and say it does not mean anything ,while others will say it won’t hurt the child. But this is extremely harmful to kids, because their self-esteem is destroyed, possibly throughout their adulthood.
Sexual violence on a child is the exploitation of a child in sexual activities with an adult or with a person who is older than a child; it is a child becoming a sexual partner for an adult. Children are most often sexually abused by someone they know well (family members, family friends, neighbors, teachers or other adults that play a role in a child’s life).
Sexual abuse has become a common phenomenon in our news today. Cases of rape have become so prevalent in the country that one wonders if it is a “sign of end time” or if the rapists derive joy in this barbaric act.
You hear of cases of a 65years old man raping 2years old, (this is high level of defilement) school children being rape by their teachers, father raping their children, neighbor raping their neighbor‘s children, this is common in “face me I face you” houses and now recently mothers sleeping with their male children, no place is safe for children anymore. Many male adults lured young female hawkers by buying up all their wares and giving them money in addition to this or they may pay them to run errand, or show them pornography films. This is so rampant because of the large number of female “working” children on the street, they must support their family income due to poverty.
So many of them have fallen victims to rapist. Other children that suffered from sexual violence are housemaids. There was case of one Mr. Edwards a teacher who was alleged to have defiled eleven (11) students of the school this year May in Benin city, the case was filed by child protection network. This is just one of many cases of rape although some are not reported. For instance, a WHO study estimated that the lifetime impact of child sexual abuse accounts for approximately 6% of cases of depression, 6% of alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, 8% of suicide attempts, 10% of panic disorders and 27% of post-traumatic stress disorders.
Sexually abused children tend to have a strong feeling of guilt; perpetrators do everything possible that abused children would not be noticed. They tell the child the abuse is their own secret and that something bad will happen to a child or people they love if they tell anyone about it. Every child can be a victim of sexual abuse, it is the responsibility of all adults to respect and protect the sexual integrity of children. Adults need to create a safe place for children to be able to speak about things, they are afraid to talk about. It is also the duty of parents/ guardians to teach their kids about sex education.
Neglect and abandonment is another form of child violence, it is the deliberate refusal and failure of parents/guardians to provide their children with adequate food, appropriate clothing, shelter, guidance and supervision, inadequate hygiene, and the proper medical and dental health care. 70% of the approximately 11 million child deaths every year are attributable to six potentially preventable causes: diarrhoea, malaria, neonatal infection, pneumonia, preterm delivery, or lack of oxygen at birth. These deaths occur mainly in the developing world. The maincause of neglect in Nigeria can be attributed to poverty.
Most parents are poor, low income earners, and as a result cannot provide adequately for the basic need of the child. While others do not create time for their children because they are busy with their jobs or business. Other factor can be attributed to illiteracy because most poor parents like to have many children with the belief that God will provide or if they grow up they will take care of themselves and some have made up their minds to send them out as housemaids to their relatives or neighbors. A 1975 study (Izuora and Ebigbo1975) which examined house-helps, found them to be of below-average intelligence and of lower intelligence than the children they looked after.
These are what prompt them to have many children and as result the children are abandoned and neglected. Some become street hawkers, housemaids, beggars, conductors, pick pocket on the street, touts, while some are abandoned in orphanage homes. This undermines a child’s spirit and psychological and social development.
Spiritual violence against a child occurs when someone uses a child’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate, or control them. Some examples of spiritual violence in Nigeria include: the recent use of force on the kidnapped Chibok school girls to convert to lslam which is against their spiritual belief, Some children in this country, especially in Akwa Ibom have been referred to as witches and wizards, possessed by an evil spirit, and as a result they have been abandoned on the street to fend for themselves while some have been killed.
Cultural violence is another type of violence in this country that has made children vulnerable to different form of abuses. This includes child rape (early marriage especially in the northern part of the country, which has been infused into the religion and culture of the people) and female genital mutilation/circumcision. Despite the large publicity against female genital mutilation, most parents’ even educated parents still circumcise their female children because they want to uphold some of their cultural beliefs. Consequences of this practice include infibulations, shock due to severe bleeding, intense pain due to traditional methods, risk of HIV/AIDS and death in some cases
Death is the worst form of child violence. As a result of physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural and neglect and abandonment, most children have lost their lives. Reliable data on violence against children in Nigeria is scarce because violence is often not reported as it occurs mostly within the context where it is regarded as ‘normal’ such as within the family circle or behind the privacy of homes. The predominant cultural belief is that children must be submissive to elders therefore behavior not in conformity with this is punished.
Violence inflicts not only physical wounds but leaves mental scars on children, affecting their physical and mental health and compromising their ability to learn and socialize. Children are completely dependent on adults for all their needs and rights. However, this has nothing to do with the tendency of adults to abuse their power over children as a shortcut to achieve certain objectives when raising a child; with violence they are mostly doing damage to a child.
Hence, violence against children must stop, It is equally important for parents to develop their intelligence and communication skills in raising up children. Culture is dynamic, so there is need to do away with some harmful cultural beliefs in the upbringing of children and also bridge the gap for effective relationship between parent/ guardian and child relationship. We must put into consideration the emotional need of the child. The government needs to further strengthen the policies of good family planning. Although civil societies, social workers and government have done a lot in the past few years, especially civil society taking up issues of child sexual abuse but a lot still need to be done to discourage any form of child violence and provide training for parents on child development. Government should also strengthen the judicial and criminal systems. Enlightment programmes should be giving to school children.
Lastly, it is the responsibility of every parents, guardians and adults to respect the rights of a child. Discipline must be done in love, the family is the first place of learning for children and so parents must teach their children how to recognize and express their own feelings, needs and desires without hurting others or themselves. This is the first step to stop the spread of violence because it is often said that violence begets violence.
• Sandra Eguagie is the Programme Assistant, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Benin city, Nigeria.