Ololade Hector-Fowobaje: Why Child Sexual Abuse is Thriving

A school administrator in Lagos sat back to view the school’s CCTV after school hours. By the time she checked the cameras that faced the car park, she was shocked to see a driver fondling a toddler’s private part in a car. They were obviously waiting to pick up the girl’s sister. She was able to trace the girl’s parents and the driver was arrested; but damage done already! A life would never remain the same!

Disheartening stories of child sexual abuse (CSA), a snowballing epidemic, bombard us on a daily basis and we wonder if it would ever stop. I was heartbroken when I heard on the news this morning that a 10-year-old girl had just died as a result of rape. Why is CSA thriving?

CSA has become an epidemic because of our silence on discussing sexuality. Our children are sexuality education deficient! Children need us to talk to them about it so that it can open up a forum for related discussions; they would be free to discuss anything sexual with us when we discuss it with them first. Most importantly, we need to prepare them for every new phase of their development. Basic sexuality education is necessary for young children and it focuses on body parts and how to say NO to a molester. It does not arouse any negative curiosity about sex. For pre-teens and teens, this phase of their life is sexuality centred; they need factual sexuality guidance as the media is mentoring them pervertedly.

The silence on the part of the victim due to threat, fear, loyalty and shame is also fuelling the epidemic. Tare was abused by his maternal aunt who threatened that if he told anyone, she would kill his parents. Of course, Tare was so scared and he didn’t report. As an adult, he is so cynical about everything and says he hates women. When the abuser is a relative or close friend, the child who knows and loves the abuser becomes trapped between affection or loyalty for that person and the sense that the sexual activities are terribly wrong. Also, when sexual abuse occurs within the family, the child may fear the anger or shame of other family members or be afraid the family will break up if the secret is told. Boys are also less likely to report an abuse. Only a tiny percentage of sexual abuse is reported by children, an estimate of just 10%. 90% goes unreported! As such, perpetrators are walking and are not being brought to book.

Also, the expected stigma on the child and family is a major reason why sexual assaults are kept a secret. Particularly in Africa, the family name is protected at the expense of the child and so molesters get away with the crime and continue defiling children. This unfortunately is the nitty-gritty of the whole issue of Child Sexual Abuse. If children do report and the parents do nothing, they give abusers the freedom to continue their evil.

Poverty and communal living conditions make abuse thrive as children compromise their body for everyday needs like sanitary pads, soap and food. Many also send their children to live with relatives or work for total strangers who end up abusing them and the cycle continues.

The nuisance of pornography is also a major reason why peer sexual abuse is on the increase. Porn is readily available everywhere and can even be accessed on mobile phones at the click of a button. Teenagers end up defiling their younger siblings, relatives and neighbours after visiting these porn sites.

The economy generally also has forced many mothers to take up jobs which keep them away from home for a long time in order to support the family. Some are co-breadwinners, while some have become the sole breadwinner. Many leave home at 5am and return at 8pm, thereby denying them adequate time to spend with their children. As a result, their children are seriously at risk of molestation. Many are traders in the large markets in the cities and leave their children with instructions on their breakfast, lunch and dinner as they leave in the wee hours of the morning. Yet some parents willingly ‘allow’ their children to be sexually abused in exchange for money and other favours. The most painful is that even when some parents report, they end up settling out of court after being bribed by the offender with unbelievable paltry sums.

Similarly, the secondary socializing agents such as schools have turned into dens of abuse. A significant number of children are sexually abused by their teachers and peers in school. Safety policies which should include CSA prevention (and even CSA crisis response) are non-existing in most schools.

Police compromise and unprofessionalism, validation and prosecution issues in Nigeria also give abusers the leeway to continue their molestation.  A girl was defiled by a landlord. When the matter got to the police station, everyone questioned the girl’s right from the gate. She had to recount the painful experience over and over again. One policewoman, while questioning the girl asked sheepishly, ‘Why did you allow him to do that to you? You enjoyed it, right?’  Just imagine that!

The child’s right act was enacted in 2003, which is good news and many states have passed it into law in Nigeria. The problem however is with its implementation and our lax and compromise-riddled law enforcement (police) and judicial system. Just like in the case of adult rape victims, the system is not victim-focused, as the burden of proof lies too heavily on the victim. At the end of the day, the victim loses out after the long traumatizing process. Crisis response therefore is hampered with all these problems. Consequently, molesters are getting away with the crime and reports are thinning out by the day.

We must address these factors and keep CSA prevention on the front burner in our communities, especially individual families, to curb this menace.

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