By Gloria Thomas
An individual is a product of his or her environment: this goes to show that every characteristics and behavior displayed by an individual is directly or indirectly influenced by the collectivity of his or her childhood experiences, inculcated norms by both parents and society and witnessing of behavior of parents or any other authority figure under whose tutelage the child might have grown up; invariably, information and experiences exposed to from childhood have an impact on the later development of an individual which ripples into the younger generation.
When such information and experiences are negative, and without proper and necessary re-orientation cum cubing, it sprouts cancerous and decadent elements into the society.
With the above deduction, it is no wonder Nelson Mandela said “The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats it’s children”.
The memory of a child is like a blank slate, whatever is written on it remains embedded in his/her memory and reflects through his or her character but unlike slates it takes much more effort and exertion to be erased.
Child Abuse has been a prevailing phenomenon around the world for centuries, with no peculiarities to race, ethnicity or religion. Child abuse is any detrimental treatment meted upon a child that results in a physical, psychological or biological injury. Child abuse can be perpetrated by parents, guardians, teachers and or strangers. It takes vast and sometimes unpredictable forms:
- Physical Abuse: the use of physical force on the child, which might result in physical injuries. An example of this was the case of 56 year old Dahiru Musa of Nasarawa State, who bounded his 15 year old daughter with a chain and dragged her on the streets of Lafia, as a way of instilling discipline in her.
- Emotional or psychological abuse: This occurs through use of abusive words and down talking a child, and constantly making comparative statements with reference to the child’s better counterparts, which directly affects the child’s self-esteem.
- Sexual Abuse: forcing of Sexual activities upon a child, a case that is rapidly rising in the country e.g also in Nasarawa State, the case of 75 year old Ali Isa, who raped his neighbor’s three year old daughter, In Anambara State, there was the case of 38 year old Emmanuel Bassey, who raped six boys who were under 15 years of age. Even more bizarre and conscience tugging is the case of a father inflicting sexual violence on his own biological daughter, as in the case of 31 year old Daniel Joseph who raped his 2 year old daughter and consequently inflicted her with an STD.
- Neglect; this can be done physically, through ignoring or isolating a child as a form of discipline or shaming. And also psychologically and emotionally, through withholding the necessary love and emotional support the child needs for proper development. An example of this being Almajerism. Child neglect often gives rise to other forms of child abuse e.g child rape, bullying and exposure to negative orientations and peer influence.
In Nigeria, Child abuse, is a reality that many children face on a daily basis, with 6 out of 10 children experiencing some form of violence, 4 out of 10 girls and 10percent of boys experiencing sexual abuse. Some of the factors that give ground for child abuse in Nigeria are: religion, culture- which embraces use of violence in discipline and against women, poverty, loss of both or either biological parents, finite parental authority, neglect etc.
A good example of child abuse as a result of religion and culture would be seen through the concept of Almajerism and in the case of the girl child, child marriage and genital mutilation; with the country recording the highest number of child brides in Africa.
The effect of Domestic Violence and the witnessing of it has psychologically injurious effect on children though with exceptions; children who witness domestic abuse have the tendency of growing into abusers themselves and this is very peculiar to the male child who grows up witnessing his father met domestic violence against his mother.
Such encounters when not properly addressed echoes into the child’s adulthood and births a mindset where violence against his female counterparts or wife is norm. Then in cases where the child witnessed parents with criminal tendencies, use of drug and alcoholism, these traits are then inherited as norm. The effects of child abuse therefore spans from withdrawal syndromes, low self-esteem, schizophrenia, increased fear and guilt, suicidal thoughts, poor mental developments and learning ability, physical deformities, alcoholism, use of drugs and criminal tendencies, vesico vaginal Fistula(VVF), and in worse cases death.
In resolving the issue of child abuse, certain orientations need to be trashed: certain religious and cultural beliefs that were the mark of a time with no enlightenment needs to be abandoned, the concept of Almajerism, female genital mutilation and child marriage being paramount.
Finite parental or guardian authority needs to be questioned and confronted when necessary: disciplinary actions should be measured and reasonable, people should be oriented to interfere when disciplinary acts by parents or guardians metamorphose into barbarism, instead of turning away in the guise of letting the parent treat their child anyway they see fit.
Authorities should put things in place to monitor children’s welfare in homes, especially homes where one parent is late and replaced by a step, where a child is placed under the care of anyone else asides his/her biological parents, where one or both parents display abnormal traits such as any form of violence, use if drugs, alcoholism, criminal tendencies and psychological defects etc.
Organizations should be established that can serve as make shift homes for children in case of domestic instabilities, pending when normalcy is restored in their homes.
The 2003 Child Right Act needs to be domesticated by the State Governments, and agencies need to be put in place to ensure that the law is being adhered to. Perpetrators of child abuse should be made to face the full wrath of the law.
Thomas, an inspirational and motivational speaker writes from Kano