Child abuse has become a global problem that needs to be addressed to give children the right to life and freedom, analysts has proposed.
They note that increase in child abuse globally and its effects call for urgent assessment, prevention and mitigation to secure the future of Nigerian children.
According to them, child abuse or child maltreatment is any act, or failure to act, by a parent or other caregiver that results in potential or actual harm to a child.
Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) views child abuse as “all forms of physical or emotional ill-treatment of children’’.
It says the abuse can be sexual, negligent attitudes and commercial exploitation that threaten the child’s health, survival, development and dignity.
Sociologists argue that child abuse is a crime because it is a social problem that denies the child of his or her rights in the society.
Expressing concern about the spate of child abuse in Nigeria, Mrs Odi Lagi, Senior Programme Officer, Network of University Legal Aid Institutions, attributed the trend to the current socio-economic situation in the country.
“Child abuse is on the increase in Nigeria and this is because the economic hardship has increased.
“When there is economic hardship, the vulnerable group, the children, suffer the impact more.
“This is because people tend to carry out their frustrations on children during crisis situations,’’ she said.
She explained that domestic servitude — a form of child abuse — could be attributed to lack of finance, especially in the household.
This, according to her, happens when children are not catered for, making them vulnerable and as a result, affects the society negatively.
“There are people who have been treated with less value in the society. If they don’t understand the worth of human life because of the way they are treated, they will treat other people in the same way,’’ she said.
“It should be able to impact on the children if there is violence against them. The government institutions have to wake up.
“Other institutions can also join hands to check the menace by creating children’s shelters where abused children can go.
“When a child is abused by his own father, you can’t send the child back to that home, he or she will need a place to ease off the trauma,’’ she said.
In her view, Mrs Josephine Chukwuma, Executive Director, Project Alert on Violence against Women and Children, said children should be sensitised to various inappropriate behaviours directed at them by members of the society.
She explained that an informed girl-child would not be a subject of abuse, whether it is done by family members, friends or strangers.
“We need to empower the girl-child and also empower her through information; because information is knowledge.
“A lot of our children don’t get the right information from the right source at the right time.
“There are a lot of things that come into play when a child is growing up, including the environment, culture and of course, the family.
“With family as the cornerstone, parents can only give their child the information they have but if they don’t have it, they can’t give it.
“That’s why programmes in the school and in the community generally can empower the girl-child to resist violence of any form, especially sexual abuse.
“Let a girl-child from an early age know the difference between a good touch and a bad touch,’’ she advised.
Chukwuma said that parents and guardians should establish a good relationship with the children so that the children would not be afraid to report any advances made at them.
“We call it age appropriate messaging. There’s a way you talk to a four-year-old child, it’s different from the way you communicate with a 10-year-old and definitely different from the way you communicate with a 14-year-old.
“People will say that you are teaching these children sex. No, you are empowering them to take ownership of their bodies and not allow their bodies to be abused by those, who ordinarily, should know better
“We have an epidemic of abuse on our hands and it is only through awareness and vigilance that we can protect our children,’’ she said.
To discourage child abuse, Mr Fatai Adeniji, a Lagos-based lawyer, called for adequate punishment for anybody found guilty of child abuse.
The lawyer urged relevant agencies of government to strictly enforce laws against child abuse to check the vice.
He observed that the increasing cases of child abuse called for full operation of Child Rights Act to properly protect the rights of children.
According to him, child abuse includes rape, molestation and child labour while the rate of rape or sexual abuse of children from nine years to 16 years of age is higher.
“Nurturing the girl-child is not the responsibility of government alone but all stakeholders; government and its security agencies need to create a safe environment that will protect children from various forms of abuse,’’ Adeniji said.
Corroborating this viewpoint, Mr Ola Ogunbiyi, a lawyer, pleaded with government at all levels to adequately enforce Child Rights Law enacted in 2011.
“The state government should be more proactive and protect children from being abused. We need to build our tomorrow if we want to improve our quality of life,’’ he said.