AUTHORS: Dr. (Mrs.) Anthonia U. Chinweuba, Nkechinyere Kalu, Geraldine C. Odoh
Nursing Sciences Department, Faculty of Health Sciences & Technology, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria.
From conception, children bring joy and delight to their family and those around them. When they grow up, they serve basic roles within their community as they become the future leaders of the nation. However, despite the joy associated with the birth of children, many remain victims of abuse, violence and exploitation. They are easy victims of violence because they are weaker in size, structure and mental capabilities (Akwara, 2010). Child abuse has become a global problem that needs to be tackled if children are to enjoy their God-given and constitution-guaranteed right to freedom, comfort and peace.
In Nigeria, abuse against children is rampant, yet poorly reported. Poor reporting may be as a result of cultural justification of certain forms of abuse associated with cultural practices and the reluctance of children to speak about previous abusive experiences. Fear of their assailants‟ threats or their parent‟s reaction may also contribute to this reluctance. Also, some children may either be too young to understand their experience or unable to speak for themselves.
According to the report of United Nations Children‟s Fund (UNICEF) in 2015, one in every four girls and one in ten boys in Nigeria experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. In 2014, findings of a survey carried out in Nigeria by the National Population Commission (with the support of United States Centre for Disease Control and UNICEF) on “Violence against children” showed that there is a high prevalence of violence against children in all the states of Nigeria.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child of 1999 provides that children must be protected from all forms of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, physical, mental or sexual abuse, and neglect or maltreatment. The Child Right Act of 2003 also provides 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, child labour and unlawful sexual intercourse.
Despite the various provisions that have been put into place to protect the rights of children, they are continuously subjected to various forms of abuse, degrading treatment, cruelty and violence; some of which are reported in Nigerian National daily newspapers. When children are exploited or abused, they do not enjoy their childhood, which leads to several consequences in future. However, when children are protected from abuse, they will grow up in a healthy and confident manner, achieve their potential, and contribute to the development of the nation.
Objectives of the paper
The objectives of this paper are to:
Discuss the concept of child abuse
State the various forms of child abuse
Highlight the causes of child abuse in Nigeria
Outline the physical, psychological and behavioural effects of child abuse.
Discuss the responsibilities of different agencies involved in the control and management of child abuse in Nigeria.
Concept of Child Abuse
According to section 277 of the Nigerian Child Rights Act of 2003, “a child is a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years”. World Health Organization (WHO) defined child abuse as every kind of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, commercial or other exploitation resulting in actual or potential harm to the child‟s health, survival, development, or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.
Child abuse is simply any form of harm or ill-treatment deliberately inflicted on a child (Ivory, 2014). Child abuse can occur in a child‟s home or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with. The most serious cases of child abuse can end in death. Those who survive may suffer emotional trauma that can last long after physical bruises have healed. Children who are abused are more likely to have problems building and maintaining relationships throughout their lives. They are also more likely to have low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues.
Forms of Child Abuse
Child abuse could be:
Emotional or psychological abuse
a) Sexual Abuse: this happens when a child is raped or forced to commit a sexual act. It is also any sort of sexual contact with a child or any behavior that is meant to sexually arouse the abuser. Hence, in addition to having sex with a child, it equally includes fondling a child‟s genitals or making a child to touch someone else‟s genitals. Sexual abuse also includes:
Making a child pose or perform for pornographic pictures or videos
Telling a child dirty jokes or stories
Showing a child pornographic material
Forcing a child to undress
Showing a child one‟s genitals.
Sexual abuse also includes child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Child Marriage: this is the marriage of a child less than 18 years of age. It is a widespread practice in the developing world and Nigeria is not exempted. Child marriage is common in rural communities because such communities tend to have traditional attitudes deeply entrenched in customs which are not easily altered by external influences (UNICEF, 2006).
In Nigeria, it is a common practice in the Northern States. Female children are given away in marriage at a young age and this violates their rights, exposes them to adverse health effects and deprives them of the childhood-time that is necessary for them to develop physically, emotionally and psychologically (Oguniran, 2011).
Female genital mutilation (FGM): the World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation as procedures that involve partial or total removal of the female external genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons. This practice is rooted in cultural beliefs and traditions that have been in existence for several decades and are difficult to change (Augustine, 2016). For example, it is believed in some communities that FGM fosters cleanliness and enhances male pleasure. Some communities also believe that if a woman‟s clitoris is not removed, it will result in the death of a baby during child birth, if it touches the baby‟s head (Gabriel, 2012).
All types of FGM have immediate health complications including infection, pain due to the cutting of nerves and sensitive genital tissues, shock, haemorrhage and death. Potential long-term complications include chronic pain, infertility, sexual dysfunction and other obstetric complications.
b) Physical Abuse: child physical abuse refers to the non-accidental use of physical force against a child which results in harm to the child (Oguniran, 2011). It includes abuse subjecting the child to degrading and inhuman conditions, severe beatings in the name of chastisement, correction or anger, holding a child under water, intentionally burning a child or scalding with hot water, starving a child or failing to provide a child with food etc. Physical abuse may result in either temporary or permanent damage to organs, bones and brain tissues which can be fatal.
c) Neglect: child neglect is the failure to provide basic needed care for the child such as shelter, food, clothing, education, supervision, medical care and other basic necessities needed for the child‟s physical, intellectual and emotional development (Ivory, 2014). There are various categories of neglect such as: physical, medical, environmental, emotional and educational neglect. Neglected children usually have intellectual, physical, social, psychological and developmental problems. They are often socially withdrawn, suffer from malnutrition and are susceptible to several fatalities due to the absence of care givers at critical moments.
d) Emotional or psychological abuse: emotional or psychological abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child that causes severe and persistent adverse effects on the child‟s emotional development. E.g. belittling, embarrassing, shaming etc (Gabriel, 2011). Children that are constantly humiliated, shamed or rejected often see themselves as worthless and incapable of being successful. This can lead to depression, lack of concentration in school, low self esteem, dysfunctional relationships and ineffective coping skills.
e) Child labour: this is any form of work likely to have adverse effects on the child‟s safety, health and moral development (Akwara et aI, 2010). It refers to any work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and also deprives them the opportunity to attend school. According to the United Nations, it is estimated that there are 15 million working Nigerian children under the age of 14. These children have been exposed on the street and forced into long hours of dangerous situations that are not developmentally appropriate. Although this situation has been attributed to economic necessity, the risk of accidents, violence, sexual exploitation and sexually transmitted diseases cannot be over-ruled.
Many Nigerian children are domestic workers often referred to as „house helps‟, most of which are girls who are denied education and subjected to long hours of work with little or no pay. These girls are vulnerable to physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect.
Causes of Child Abuse in Nigeria
There are many things that can cause child abuse. The reasons are often complex and there is no single or simple explanation. Causes of child abuse can include:
Poverty: Sometimes abuse of children occurs when parents are unable to cope with their own problems, so they may take this unhappiness out on their children. Poverty also expose children to child labour which takes away their right to education and puts them at risk of other forms of abuse; and children who were abused often become abusive.
Cultural and social norms: for instance, female genital mutilation, child marriage, physical punishment as an acceptable part of rearing a child, subjecting children to very low status in the society and within the family, etc.
Isolation and lack of support: the absence of grandparents, aunts and uncles can mean that a child‟s parent(s) has no back-up; with no one to “baby-sit” or mind the child while the parents are out, shopping or to provide support and guidance. Parents sometimes see no alternative but to leave their children in the hands of neighbours or friends, thereby exposing them to risk of being abused.
Violence between parents/carers: Children often witness the fallout or the violence itself and can be at risk of being recipients too. The effect can be profound both physically and psychologically. Also, a parent may be emotionally dependent on an abusive partner and fail to protect a child from abuse or harm.
Serious marital/relationship problems: children often witness or experience the fallout of their parent‟s relationship. A messy breakup or divorce can be time consuming and emotionally draining, this can lead to parents neglecting their children while they look after their own issue.
Lack of parental skills: parents may not know how to care for their children or may belief that it is acceptable to use excessive physical force to discipline or punish a child.
Drug, alcohol or gambling problems: addiction or substance abuse may affect a parent‟s ability to meet their child‟s needs.
Unrealistic expectations: a lack of understanding about a child‟s developmental stages and behaviour may lead to child abuse.
Low self esteem and self confidence: parents may doubt their ability to meet their child‟s needs and find it difficult to ask for help.
Past childhood experiences: parents who experienced abuse as children in their own families may themselves become abusive (Uzudike, 1999).
Other causes are:
Community beliefs about witchcraft
Disabilities or mental retardation in children that may increase caregiver burden.
Young, single or non-biological parents.
Effects of Child Abuse
Every child who has experienced abuse will have their own response to the trauma. While some children have long-lasting effects, others are able to recover quicker and with ease. There is no right or wrong way for a child to manage effects of the abuse they have suffered. Some factors that can influence child responses to trauma include the age of the child, developmental status, type of abuse, how often and how long a child was abused, how severe the abuse was and the relationship between the child and the perpetrator. According to Akwara et al., 2010, some of the effects of child abuse are as follows:
The physical effects of child abuse are:
Bruises and welts
Scraps and cuts
Sprains and broken bones
Difficulty walking or sitting
Torn, stained or bloody clothing
Pains or itching of the genital area
Bruises or bleeding in and around the genital area
Sexually transmitted diseases
Inappropriate dressing e.g. wearing long sleeved clothes on a hot weather in order to cover up bruises
Poor physical health.
Psychological and mental effects of child abuse are:
o Low-self esteem
o Difficulty in making and maintaining relationships
o Experiences flashbacks
o Persistent fear
o Hyper vigilant
o Bed wetting
Behavioral effects of child abuse
Uncomfortable with physical contact with others
Poor academic performance
Management and Control of Child Abuse in Nigeria
These involve measures of tackling child abuse cases including early case recognition coupled with ongoing care of child victims and their families to lessen its consequences. On the other hand, controlling child abuse aims at reducing reoccurrence of maltreatment which consists of introducing protective factors against child abuse and eliminating the risk factors for child abuse. Both strategies have been shown to reduce the incidence of reported child abuse. The earlier such interventions occur in children's lives, the greater the benefits to both the child and the society at large.
In order to adequately manage and control this menace of child abuse and its resultant effects on children in Nigeria, robust systems spanning several disciplines must be in place including good governance, effective judicial institutions, and law enforcement agencies, competent educational and healthcare providers. Each system should not act alone but be integrated with others to culminate in an effective over-arching child protection system. These will help to ensure that children grow up in a healthy manner; free from all forms of abuse; achieve their potential; and contribute to the development of the nation. Also, it is generally agreed that children are the future generation, the leaders of tomorrow and the potential flag bearers of any nation. Therefore, to carry out these duties, the child must be protected from abuse and not be trampled upon.
This multi-sectoral approach to the management and control of child abuse can only be achieved through a combination of efforts by the government, relevant stakeholders, as well as experienced and committed members of the society. For example, educating health workers on how to manage child abuse cases is by itself of little value or even harmful if the system to protect the individual child or other family members at risk, is unavailable or ineffective. In addition, policy-making without enforcement introduces complacency. It must also be recognized that undertaking control of child abuse, so as to decrease the frequency of its occurrence, is risky for all professionals involved. Governments must have systems to protect the professionals engaged in this work from the abusers and/or their family members. This equally extends to ensuring adequate protection for professionals who undertake responsible media coverage of child abuse issues as well as whistle-blowing; and the mandatory reporting of child abuse; as these are important mechanisms for effective management and control of child abuse in Nigeria.
Responsibilities of different Agencies in the Control and Management of Child Abuse in Nigeria
Governments and Governmental Departments
Although NGOs and UN agencies are vital in advocating protection against child abuse, the prime responsibility lies with a country‟s government, working closely with appropriate advocacy groups. Thus, the management and control of child abuse in Nigeria requires combined and closely coordinated involvement of key players, with Nigerian governments taking the most important lead by performing the following functions:
Ensure good governance by providing basic amenities such as food, water, security, education, sanitation and health facilities. When these basic necessities are adequately provided, it minimizes undue stress on parents/care-givers thereby helping to control child neglect and abuse.
Providing an enabling environment and support for the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to thrive, and do extensively draw from their findings and researches to formulate policies, programmes and interventions for child victims of abuse and violence.
Set-up committees at different levels to monitor and undertake studies on the sexual exploitation of children; and establish drop-in-centers for the rehabilitation of sexually abused child victims.
Sign bilateral agreements with other countries so as to address the issue of child trafficking both within the African region and globally. These include ECOWAS countries like Ghana, Gambia, Benin, Gabon, Togo, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and others like Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Belgium and the United States of America among others.
The existence of the Child Development Department of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs as the coordinating body on all issues relating to children is the first step in arresting the abuse against children; while the promulgation of various laws such as the Child‟s Rights Act, 2003 and its salient provisions; as well as the domesticating of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which has been simplified and translated into the three major Nigerian languages, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa) - are giant steps taken towards arresting cases of abuse against children.
In addition, the following Governmental authorities are responsible for addressing various forms of abuse against children in Nigeria:
• Special Presidential Committee on Human Trafficking, Child Labour and Slavery; Federal Ministry of Women Affairs; Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity; Federal Ministry of Justice; Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation; Nigeria Immigration Service; Nigeria Customs Service; National Boundary Commission; and the Nigerian Police Commission. However, the coordination and monitoring of all issues and activities addressing violence against children lies essentially in the office of the President of Nigeria and overseen by Office of a Special Adviser and Special Presidential Committee on Human Trafficking, Child Labour and Slavery.
The Government of Nigeria has also evolved some institutions charged with child protection issues including protection against violence. These include:
• National and State Child Rights Implementation Committees;
• National Council of Child Rights Advocates of Nigeria (NACCRAN) as the umbrella NGO involved in Child Rights advocacy;
• Nigerian Children‟s Parliament, inaugurated by the President of Nigeria
• National Agency for the Prohibiting of Traffic in Persons
In addition Nigeria observes various special days during which issues concerning child abuse, neglect and exploitation are addressed. Such as:
- National Children‟s Day (27th May)
- Day of the African Child (16th June)
- International Children‟s Day of broadcasting (2nd Sunday of December)
- Global Match against Child Labour (Annual event).
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