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Child defilement: A silent epidemic

The girl-child is fast becoming an endangered species as abuse of infants enjoys an uncanny boom around the country in recent times. It is not only thriving but deepening its roots by the day in Nigerian society. The act, according to Isioma Madike in this report, knows no boundaries of geography, age, culture, education and economic status. It involves people whose parents know, love and trust. The menace, which has become endemic, also has a myriad of health concerns

This is an unusual time as the spine-tingling menace has become an almost daily occurrence in Nigeria. Sexual assault on infants is seemingly on the increase around the country, with a number of cases hugging headlines in the media on a daily basis. One of such weird happenings occurred on February 27, when a 27-yearold man allegedly raped his 11-monthsold niece in his care. He was arrested by the police in Ogun State. The man, identified simply as Ibrahim, left the infant bleeding profusely after the cruel act.

According to Total Media, which reported the incident, the abominable deed happened in the Ijebu Igbo area of the state while the mother of the baby was away in the market to buy some foodstuffs for the family. It was gathered that Ibrahim, seizing the opportunity of being left alone with the infant, first used his fingers to defile her before trying to penetrate her with his manhood. It was the cries of pain by the baby, the report said, that attracted neighbours who rushed to the scene only to find the suspect on top of the child. He was promptly arrested and handed over to the police.

An eyewitness, who narrated how the suspect was caught, said: “We heard the usually quiet girl crying in pain and a neighbour went to see why she was crying at the top of her voice. “That was when Ibrahim was caught trying to force his manhood into the baby who is his niece. It was at this point that we shouted and that attracted the attention of other neighbours and he was arrested before he could escape.”

The Ibrahim’s incident, though tragic, is not an isolated one. There have been more disturbing cases. In what looked like a repeat performance, detectives from Owutu Division of the Lagos State Police Command, also arrested a 47-year-old Emmanuel Magbatie, for allegedly defiling an 18-month-old baby.

The suspect lives on the same street with the parents of the infant. According to the mother of the victim, who narrated the incident to the police, it happened on August 5. Her daughter, she said, went to play in the suspect’s room as usual, but was shocked to see the suspect fingering the infant when she went to pick her up.

“The suspect, who blamed his action on the devil, has since been charged to court,” the police said. Another eight-month-old baby, name withheld, was also abused sexually by her father. Her mother, in her confusion attracted attention of her neighbours when she discovered that her husband had repeatedly raped their baby. She had observed that her husband often had an erection when he carried their daughter on his laps. He would also intentionally send her out of the house just to be alone with their daughter to carry out his evil deeds without suspicion. But the infant would let out shrieks of pain when alone with her father.

Her suspicions were heightened when her daughter screamed out after her father told her to go get him water. When she confronted him, he denied any wrongdoing and explained that he just scared her with a scary face, but the mother checked her child only to see semen dripping from her privates and raised the alarm. Another paedophile, Daniel Paul, 26, from Akwa Ibom State, reportedly did the unthinkable by raping a one-anda- half-year-old girl living in the same compound with him. He was arrested in Benin, the Edo State capital, for his misconduct. According to reports, Paul lured her into his room, and turned up the volume of the music to muffle the baby’s cries.

He then proceeded to sexually assault the girl. After he let the girl go, her mother, who was selling outside the compound, noticed her child crying in anguish when she wanted to pass urine. When the mother noticed blood around her child’s private part, she called the police and arrested Paul after which he confessed to the crime. The doctor, who confirmed that the little girl had been molested, also said her hymen was broken. “There were bruises and bleeding around her private part.”

Paul, who later admitted the crime, said: “I sleep with am.” When police asked him how he slept with the girl, he said: “I put my thing. As my thing no enter, I want to push am e no fit enter, I come use hand. My hand enter.” Similarly, two brothers who are children of a pastor in Ebonyi State were arrested for raping two sisters, Favour and Uloma, aged seven and nine respectively. The brothers allegedly enticed the unsuspecting sisters to a corner in their father’s church and forcefully had carnal knowledge of them. Apart from the desecration of a holy place where the act of criminality took place, many see it as an indictment on the boy’s father. There are many more of the rising cases of sexual violence against minors in the country.

It is becoming scarier as some fathers continuously abuse their infants these days. Since January, about 13 victims were reportedly treated at a hospital in Katsina State. The hospital’s medical director, who craved anonymity, said: “Most of the cases were severe with victims requiring surgery in the hospital.” The doctor lamented that the rising cases of sexual abuse of minors’ shows the magnitude of the problem in Nigeria. He said it is important for all stakeholders to intensify efforts to address the menace. According to him, all the victims were below the age of 13 and mostly from less privileged families. In Enugu State, the Women Aid Collective (WACOL) expressed concern over the increasing cases of sexual attacks in the state. The organisation said that 32 cases are in court, out of which one conviction was recorded.

“The victims were mainly minors. They are either raped by one person or a gang. Some of them became HIV positive. On January 18, a Yaba Chief Magistrate’s Court, Lagos State, arraigned a 35-year-old man, identified only as Oladele, who allegedly inserted his fingers into the private part of a three-month-old baby at his residence. Oladele was said to be briefly in contact with the infant when he committed the offence.

A medical doctor, who examined the baby, confirmed that she was defiled. Also on Friday, December 23, 2021, a 25-year-old bricklayer, identified simply as Saliu, allegedly had carnal knowledge of another three-year-old girl, identified only as Hummi in Minna, Niger State. Her parents lived next door to Salisu at Angwan Daji, Chanchaga Local Government Area of the state. The suspect was said to have lured the little girl into the premises of Nuru Islam Primary School in the neighbourhood, tore her pants and forced his way into her.

It was the loud painful cries of the girl that attracted the attention of passersby, who stormed the hideout to rescue the girl and handed the culprit over to the police. The Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, is not left out of this as a two-yearold girl in the city suburb at Karu Town, was reportedly abused by a tenant in the house where her father was a security guard. The rapist allegedly defiled the toddler after offering to buy her sweets. And in Gombe State, a man reportedly had carnal knowledge of his two daughters. He is said to be a habitual incestuous rapist.

The two young women later escaped and reported their plight to neighbours. In Ado-Ekiti, it was a church Pastor, named Gabriel, who was remanded in prison custody for allegedly defiling a five-year-old girl. He was said to have committed the offence on December 23, 2021, at Ifishin-Ekiti. Gabriel, 53, on the said date petted her to sit on his lap. Yet, in Bayelsa State, a 38-year-old pastor and six others were paraded by the Police for alleged rape of an 11-year-old girl and defilement of two minors aged eight. The cleric was identified as Jerry. A 12-year-old girl, who was allegedly raped by a man identified as Alo at Koloba area of Ayobo in Ipaja, Lagos State, said: “He forced me to pull off my panties and licked my private part while he slept with my friend and defiled her too. He subsequently gave us N200 and threatened to kill us if we reported the matter.” Long before now, sexual violence on minors was almost alien in this clime, so also were anti-social behaviours. But not anymore! Within the last few years, Nigerians have been confronted by gory stories of infant abuses.

In some cases, even headmasters were accused of abusing the pupils in their schools. Day in, day out, newspapers are filled with reports of these detestable acts. Salama Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Gambo Sawaba General Hospital, Zaria in Kaduna State, recorded 652 rape cases where children below 17 years were the victims between February 2019 and August 2021. Hajiya Amina Ladan, the head of the centre, disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Zaria. According to Ladan, the Centre which was established on February 7, 2019, recorded 135 cases in 2019; 346 cases in 2020 and 171 cases between January and August 2021.

She said that most of the cases were rapes and sodomy against children below 17 years and that the cases were reported to the centre by either the parents, security personnel or in some instances, by the traditional leaders. Ladan said : “Though, the centre covered the eight local governments of Kaduna North Senatorial District, about 70 per cent of the cases were from Zaria Local Government while a few cases were from the other local governments.’’ She said that the offenders were being prosecuted in courts of law.

The coordinator, however, said that some parents of the victims of rape did not want the cases to be prosecuted, and they gave the centre wrong telephone numbers and fake addresses to avoid a follow-up. “There was a mother whose one-yearand- six-months’ old first daughter was raped by her uncle, when the mother took the little baby to her parent for weaning. After the centre confirmed the rape, the father and mother of the victim refused to give support on how to arrest the suspect on the premise that their tradition encourages mothers to take their children out for weaning.

“Eventually, the case had to die; this is how frustrating it can be sometimes,’’ she said. Ladan, therefore, advised parents to watch the movements of their children carefully and appealed to the government and other key stakeholders to intensify efforts toward curbing the challenge. NAN reported that the centre was established to provide psycho-social counselling, medical treatment and optional legal services to victims of abuse. Disturbed by the rising cases of abuse in Kaduna State, Governor Nasir el-Rufai, in 2020 signed the State Penal Code (Amendment) Law 2020, which provides stiff penalties for rapists.

The law provides surgical castration and removal of fallopian tubes of male and female convicts respectively upon conviction of raping a child. The principal law, the Penal Code Law No. 5 of Kaduna State, 2017, as amended by substituting Section 258, now provides that: “Whoever commits rape of a child below the age of 14 years shall on conviction, be punished with surgical castration and death. HumAngle Media also reported that about 335 persons have experienced different forms of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in the first four months of 2022 across Nigeria. The 335 victims experience different types of violence: sexual abuse, physical abuse, and spousal abuse between January and April this year. Upset with the rampant cases of sexual assault involving infants in Nigeria, President Inter- Faith Ministers Network, Lagos, Bishop Steven Ogedengbe, canvassed stiffer punishment for offenders. Ogedengbe described the development as alarming. He pointed out that it was a major index of moral decadence in the society. He urged the government to prescribe at least life sentences for rapists, which he said is a heinous crime in the society.

The Nigeria Police Force has also enjoined parents and guardians to take seriously the safety of their girl-child following the upsurge in cases of sexual molestation against minors by some ungodly adult males, especially male family members or friends. Former Police Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), CP Frank Mba, advised parents against allowing their daughters to sit on the laps of male family members or family friends who often take undue advantage of the girls and abuse them sexually. Caution he also said must be exercised when placing the girl-child on Okada so that they do not sit on the bike directly facing the riders instead of backing them.

He stated that the majority of sexual molestation against children, especially the girl-child happens at homes and therefore urged parents to keep “an eye” on all male relatives and friends coming around to spend time with them during holidays, as well as domestic male servants.

Mba while calling on parents to cooperate with the Police by reporting all cases of sexual abuse against their girl-child as the Anti-Human Trafficking/Women and Children Protection Unit of the Force is specially trained to handle such cases. He reassured members of the public that the Nigeria Police Force is bent on ensuring justice at all times. He reiterated that keeping such cases away from authorities further encourages perpetrators to continue to commit this heinous crime. He therefore advised parents and guidance to guard against leaving their children at home with male house-helps or not too trusted male relatives or friends.

Mba said: “The terrains in most places are densely populated. The majority of the inhabitants are people from the middle to the very low-income earners. And the possibility of these crimes occurring in these areas is higher. “The reasons are obvious. The nature of the buildings in those areas makes it easier for people to intermingle, and experience has shown that most of the perpetrators are people who know the victims.

They are usually people they see around. They are people who ordinarily are known to the young girls. So, there is this confidence that the girls have when the perpetrators say, ‘come.’” In many homes, including those of the elite across the nation, the sad tales are replicated as the girl-child often undergo debasement and de-humanisation as victims of sexual abuse by their mistresses’ husbands or children.

Even those who hawk wares on the streets also run the risk of being prey to those referred to as animals in human skin. The girl-child devourers prey on the ignorance and vulnerability as well as the innocence of victims who often end up nursing their sorrow in solitude. Stories abound of husbands raping house maids, their wives relations, and the daughters of neighbours while teachers take advantage of their female students, who, in normal societies are supposed to be under their care. Incidentally, the growing cases of sexual abuse of minors have been considered, in some quarters, as a consequence of parents’ neglect of their duty to their children. Many parents and guardians are believed to have abandoned their duty of imparting morality to their children and wards. They are so busy with their material pursuit with wives closing their eyes and ears to whatever their randy husbands do to their kids.

Though, documentation of the prevalence of sexual abuse has been very challenging, as a few attempts to capture it in surveys such as the annual National Crime Victimisation Survey (NCVS), being done by CLEEN Foundation, an NGO and Project Alert reflected ridiculously low rates.

The socio-economic cost of this malady in Nigeria is, according to experts, immeasurable. It is, perhaps, in this light that the executive director of Project Alert, Mrs. Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, said a national study on this silent epidemic is urgently needed, with a view to developing a national plan of action and intervention strategies. Not too long ago, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, also advocated the cutting off of genitals of infant-rapists. She had said: “Those involved shouldn’t be allowed the pleasure of using their organs anymore. That, to me, is the proper way to end this evil in society.”

In like manner, the Managing Partner at Partnership for Justice and Founder, Mirabel Centre, Mrs. Itoro Eze-Anaba, said that the situation had reached a stage that girls are no longer safe in their homes since fathers and uncles now abuse them. However, as NGOs in Nigeria are struggling to make sure these victims get justice and recover from their ordeals, their efforts are being thwarted by the families of the victims, who insist on shielding them from societal stigmatisation. “Nowhere is safe for the girl-child anymore.

The churches, schools and even homes are no longer a safe haven for these children whose innocence is being taken away on a regular basis. It is worrisome. And our justice system has not helped matters. It is not only sluggish, but out of reach of the victims,” Effah-Chukwuma said. According to UNICEF data, 1 in 4 Nigerian girls is sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Despite an increase in activism, it said, justice is rare. Nigeria, a country of over 200 million people, had just 32 rape convictions between 2019 and 2020, according to data from Nigeria’s National Anti-trafficking Agency.

The United Nations had also said that a total of 11,200 rape cases, including children, who were raped to death, were reported in Nigeria in 2020. Nonetheless, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that sexual violence is “any act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances against a person’s sexuality using coercion by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.” WHO noted that the health consequences of sexual assault are myriad.

In addition to the injuries that may be sustained as a result of the physical force that may have accompanied the assault, victims could sustain genital wounds and gynaecological complications such as bleeding, chronic pelvic pain and urinary tract infections. Other medical experts have also said the act could have a wide range of psychological and emotional impacts including shock, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Victims are fearful and anxious; experience disturbed sleep, have low self-esteem, sexual dysfunctions and behavioural disorders,” Dr. Chuks Onyembu, said. The doctor also said that victims are more likely to die by suicide and may replay the attack over and over in their minds.

“They may equally have problems with trust and be wary of becoming involved with others. For instance, they are more likely to smoke; abuse alcohol, use drugs, and engage in risky sexual activity.” Former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki- Moon, in one his messages in commemoration of International Day on Violence Against Women, had said: “Women and girls are afraid to speak out because of a culture of impunity.

We must fight the sense of fear and shame that punishes victims, who have already endured crime, and now face stigma. It is the perpetrators, who should feel disgraced, not their victims. All too often, culprits go unpunished.” In all lands and climes, rape is a social ill heavily frowned at. In the African cultural setting, it is particularly a great taboo. Nigeria is not an exception, even though it is presently facing a frightening situation in that direction.

 

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