By Chioma Umeha
Recently, Independent spotted a teenager, at 6:00 pm, with bruises all over her body even as blood dripped from her ears at Cardioso Street, close to popular Olodi-Apapa, Lagos.
Dolapo, as she simply identified herself struggled to respond to interrogation about her injury.
“I live with my Aunty at No. 10, Cardioso Street and she said; ‘I must find the money,’ she became mute in between talks, while trying to fight back tears.
A passerby who claimed to be a neigbour, told Independent that Dolapo assists her ‘Aunty,’ a petty trader to hawk ‘pure water.’’
“Maybe Dolapo misplaced some of the proceeds from the day’s sales. She has become an object of constant beating; this is not the first time. We always hear the woman shouting and beating the girl everyday. We heard her shouting around 4:00pm, ‘you must bring the whole money from the ‘pure water’ you sold,” the passerby added.
House helps are not the only victims of physical violence. Parents often mete out violence against their children in a bid to discipline them.
Still fresh in the memory of Nigerians is the case of Mr. Chris Elvis, computer accessories dealer, who allegedly beat his four-year-old son to death, padlocking his mouth to prevent him from shouting while the beating lasted.
He claimed that Godrich, his son, was an Ogbanje – evil child that dies and reincarnates repeatedly and beat him with an object that inflicted deep cuts all over his body until he died.
Many cases of this magnitude are happening on a daily basis across the country, but have been swept under the carpet, due to several factors. These include ignorance, family pressure, poverty, threats, religion, tradition, lack of laws and others.
For instance, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, recently said the state in the last one year handled 4,035 cases ranging from rape, child abuse, sexual assault, sexual abuse, defilement, divorce, matrimonial issues, child’s custody and maintenance.
Also, within the same period, the Gombe State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare said it handled 66 cases of child abuse in eight months.
Available data also shows that violence against children is on the increase in Nigeria. A survey conducted by the National Population Commission, (NPoPC), with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that millions of Nigerian children suffer violence every year.
The survey stated that approximately six out of every 10 children in the county experience one of these forms of violence before they reach 18.
The NPoPC, in its 2014 national survey on violence against children in Nigeria made available to Independent, stated that the majority of children who experience physical, sexual or emotional violence in childhood do so on multiple occasions.
Presenting the report recently, at a media dialogue on End Violence Against Children (EndVAC) campaign, organised by the UNICEF in Ibadan, Oyo State, Sylvanus Unogu, Deputy Director, planning and research, NPoPC said over half of children first experienced physical violence between the ages of 6 and 11 with approximately one in 10 children having first experience of physical violence under the age of five.
“Girls are significantly more likely to experience both sexual violence and physical violence than other combinations of violence,” he added.
Onogu regretted that children are not speaking out, seeking or receiving services; stressing violence has a serious impact on girls’ and boys’ lives and future.
“Sexual violence is associated with higher risk for symptoms or diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) mental distress and thoughts of suicide among females and with mental distress among males,” he said.
Onogu therefore called for stiffer penalties and measures against those found guilty as violators of children rights.
Similarly, Sharon Oladiji, child protection specialist with the UNICEF, raised an alarm over increasing cases of violence against children in Nigeria.
Oladiji said a survey by the UN body for children matters indicated that the rights of a many Nigerian children were being violated.
She attributed the increasing rate of child abuse to the absence of institutions to check the trend.
According to her, the need to establish a Family Court has become necessary to severely deal with perpetrators of violence against children.
Oladiji, who explained that the court would specifically deal with perpetrators of violence against children, identified violence to include emotional, physical and sexual acts.
She decried the failure of a lot of families affected in such situations to speak out when their children or wards were violated by relations.
She said that a lot of children became prey to perpetrators of violence because of the failure of parents or guardians to allow them have a say in matters affecting their lives.
The child protection specialist said because of the failure of society and the government to punish perpetrators of the acts adequately, they did not see anything wrong in their actions.
According to her, lapses by the government and families have further encouraged perpetrators to continue in their acts.
Oladiji called for early reporting of cases toward reducing the trend.
She said that the N500, 000.00 fine or five years imprisonment for perpetrators of sexual abuse and unlawful sexual intercourse, among others, enshrined in section 34 of the Child’s Rights Act, was mild.
Oladiji appealed for a stiffer penalty, such as death sentence, for offenders to deter prospective violators.
According to her, establishment of the courts, existence of champions that will champion the cause of children whose rights have been violated, among others, will check the excesses of offenders.
“At the moment, the impunity is high; people do it and get away with it.
“There is no court system that specifically deals with all kinds of perpetration or perpetrators and as enshrined in that law.
“What we need is to speak about it and encourage our government to establish it; it may not be as costly as you think.’’
The expert highlighted some provisions of the Child Rights Act to include right to survival, development, protection and participation.
According to her, the protection right is essential for safeguarding children and adolescents from all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation.
CRA enacted on July 2003, is meant to protect the child from all sorts of violation.