Protecting the child, a collective responsibility- Part 1

Jummai had what you would call a happy childhood and normal too in terms of her relationship with her family, i.e. her parents and siblings. Her dad told folk tales to her and her siblings every night before they slept, he took them out to the zoo, amusement parks and to visit family friends during the weekends and they prayed together as a family every night. What else can a little girl ask for? Her father was one of the few bankers of those days, he was well respected in the community and theirs was what you would call a very decent family. They lived a very comfortable life and did not lack anything.

When she was about five or six years old, they had a driver. This driver was recruited by her dad’s bank as his personal driver to take him to work and back everyday, he also sometimes ran general errands for the family whenever the need arose. His name was Dauda. He was quiet, respectful and diligent in his job. He came to the house early in the mornings, waited in the car until Jummai’s dad was ready to go to work, took him to work and he brought him back in the evening after work. Everything looked okay and he was seen as someone who minded his business and did his job. What no one knew however was that he was a treacherous pedophile. Each time six-year-old Jummai went outside the house to play in the morning during the holidays, he would lure her into the car with sweets and would proceed to caress her and kiss her passionately like he would do to an adult. When he was done with her, he would let her go, just in time for her dad to come out for them to go to the office. This he did for many months, undetected until he was replaced for an unrelated reason. For some reason, she knew that what he did to her was wrong, it confused her because it disgusted her and also excited her too, as she got the attention she did not get at home from this driver. She never mentioned it to anyone and life went on as usual and she even forgot that it ever happened to her. It wasn’t until she became an adult, knowing what she now knows, that she realised that God must have been on her side for not allowing the driver to go beyond what he did to her.

A couple of years later when she was a teenager of about sixteen years old, while she slept in her bed, she felt a hand caressing her breast, she thought she was dreaming or something. Then as she cracked her eyes open she wasn’t sure who she saw leaving the room in a hurry.   She lay in her bed as realization hit her, she felt revulsion- it was her 25-year-old male cousin Yusufa from the village, who had lived in their house for about a year. She said nothing because she needed to be sure before taking any action. A few days later, it happened again, this time she opened her eyes and their eyes met before he ran out of the room. She was livid, jumped out of her bed and ran after him. When she got to him she screamed, “What the hell were you doing to me?” He pretended not to know what she was talking about. He said nothing. She felt so much anger and hatred for her cousin that day and if not for the size of him she would have beaten him to a pulp, all she could do was to keep cursing him out. She swore that as soon as her parents were back from their trip out of town she was going to report him to them. The noise attracted their aunt who came and asked what the problem was. After Jummai narrated what happened, she reiterated her promise to tell her parents when they got back from their trip. Her aunt listened with patience and in the end begged her not to tell her parents or anyone because it would cause a big family issue. Her dad would not take it lightly; this cousin was from her mother’s side of the family. He was sent to the city from the village to come and learn how to do business, he ran the family shop and the plan was that after a few years, he would be given some money to start his own business. Reporting him would mean that he would be sent away with nothing, his poor mother in the village would be disappointed, and he might go back to the village and lie that the allegation was false, which would definitely cause a family feud in the end. Jummai refused to budge and insisted that she would report to her parents. But after a lot of begging she finally agreed to “see reason”; she listened to her aunt’s pleas. Since then she stopped talking to her cousin; she hated him and did not hide that fact from him or anyone. They basically stayed out of each other’s way until he left their house a few years later, to start his own business and family.

This week’s topic is one that touches my heart greatly. Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) has been going on for many decades, but is just being looked into in the slightest of ways, in the last couple of years. Little attention and effort is given to it, this is because of the lifelong issue of stigma and discrimination that could be faced by victims as a result of it being exposed. A lot of families that it has happened to would prefer not to deal with it because of the stress it might cause to them, they do not want their family to be stigmatized, they do not want to “blow it out of proportion”, because they think that it is easier to burry it than to actually confront it, deal with it and stop it in its tracks. Forgetting that there are other long lasting future effects of child abuse on the victim, which include emotional instability, increased sexual behaviour, faulty interaction with others, drug and alcohol abuse and other deviant behaviours. Sexual abuse is linked to poor mental and physical health with outcomes that include self-harm, thoughts of suicide and sexually transmitted infections. Jummai is one of the lucky few who did not go through the trauma of rape and violent sexual abuse, even though what she experienced was also sexual abuse.

The Child’s Rights Act of Nigeria (not many of us know that it exists), passed in 2003, defines a child as anyone under the age of 18 years old. This means anyone who is under 18, is a child. It does not matter how womanly or mature she looks, she is still a child who is unable to make informed choices about sex.

Although all forms of sexual abuse whether perpetrated against adult victims or child victims, are wrong and have been prohibited, with sentences for offenders, child sexual abuse constitutes a huge percentage, which has not been adequately captured by statistics. This is not unconnected to the underreported cases of child sexual abuse due to families’ wish to avoid stigma and discrimination against the child victim and even the perpetrator. Child sexual abuse is even more insidious because the victims are given very little or no choice and they are powerless to make an adult decision, which they know nothing about. This then affects them in future and makes them live a life that was foisted on them due to circumstances beyond their control. Rather than live a normal life that every child is expected to have.

There are some myths about CSA, which have been ongoing for some time that has helped in the perpetuation of child sexual abuse over the years. Next week I will highlight some of those myths and some suggested solutions to this problem.

Until then, have a blessed and thoughtful week. Lots of love!

Author: Tosne

I'm a human rights lawyer and I love writing my thoughts down because it allows me to express myself in a permanent form. I like to see women succeed and empowered in all aspects of their endeavors. I'm a super mom blessed with wonderful kids!

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