Section 277 of the Child Rights Act of 2003 defines “a child as a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years.”
At different times and locations around the country, a child is being abused. Child abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual.
According to UNICEF, 6 out of every 10 children experience some form of violence – one in four girls and 10 per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence. Of the children who reported violence, fewer than five out of a 100 received any form of support.
Abuse such as abandonment, child marriages, kidnapping, molestation, child labour to mention a few, are prominent in Nigeria. Despite these issues, there are laws made to protect the Nigerian child, many of which the perpetuators are ignorant of while some are aware, but believe the law cannot catch up with them or they can use their influence to go free.
The society, deleterious attitude of some parents, corruption, paucity of efficient therapy for the abused child, unreliable judicial system, poor law enforcement process among others have been major contributing factors which serve as constraints in implementing laws and policies created to guard the child from abuse.
According to NBS, UNICEF and UNFPA, 40 per cent of females in Nigeria are married at 15 years or younger, 44 per cent married before 18 years of age.
Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa with more than 23 million girls and women who were married as children, most of them from poor and rural communities.
Statistics show that there has been a reduction of 9 per cent in the incidence of child marriage since 2003. Data further reveals that there will be a probable reduction of 6 per cent by 2030. Though far from actualisation but can be seen as ‘good news’ right? The answer is NO! No because Nigeria’s sporadic increase in citizenry only shows that the number of child brides will escalate by over one million by 2030 and double by 2050. This is a major cause for worry.
Violence against a child is a shameful act that isn’t peculiar to a certain region in Nigeria. Take for instance, Lagos. Do you know that 6 out of every 10 children have experienced multiple violence in Lagos State before they attained the age of 15 years?
Shocked? Well, it is not peculiar to the West but in different parts of Nigeria. Sadly, only the reported cases are documented as proof, however, there are more.
Take the northern part of Nigeria for instance. In Northern Nigeria, almajiris between ages 7-15 years are sent to live with Islamic school masters. In 2010, the Nigerian Ministry of Education estimated that there are 9.5 million almajiris in the north. The children are treated as slaves and are compelled to be mendicants who must survive and also pay loyalties from the money gotten from begging to their ‘masters’.
The Child Rights Act of 2003 says that children must be protected from: child marriage; child betrothal; tattoos and skin marks; exposure and use of narcotic drugs; abduction, removal or transfer of the child from lawful custody, and; child labour, and unlawful sexual intercourse.
In the case of sexual predators, some caught are paraded on social media and displayed for everyone to see. Some of them receive jungle justice while some face the law. These are the ones caught, how many paedophiles are freely roaming the streets in suits and ties? Some are teachers, mentors, religious leaders, chiefs, co-workers, fathers, mothers (because boys suffer abuse too), family-friends, uncles and many more.
Solutions to the menace includes firstly, that legal institutions be strengthened to protect the child. Secondly, perpetuators MUST be prosecuted without exemptions no matter how highly placed they are in the society.
Thirdly, Schools need to ensure they are on top of the matter through awareness and openness so that the students are not afraid to share their experiences for fear of being punished or alienated for speaking out. Fourthly, awareness among the grassroot is key. Finally, the government cannot do it all; NGOs fighting for the abused must be encouraged and strengthened.