Little Rachael (not real name) seems to possess every attribute of a precocious child. Her mother claims she realised this trait early enough, and as such she has been doing everything within her ability to help nurture this uncommon quality. But it recently dawned on her that she probably had overrated her daughter’s intelligence. Held back by Lagos traffic recently, Mrs. Emmanuel put a phone call through to a family friend in the neighborhood, to help look after five-year-old Rachael and her elder brother after the close of school. The kids were no strangers to the family as they pay occasional visits to this family.
Rachael’s mother was, however, greeted by an embarrassing report when she finally arrived to pick her kids later in the day. Her little girl was said to have suddenly withdrawn to the couch in the sitting room of their host and defecated on it without informing anybody that she was pressed. Rachael, her 7-year-old brother as well as their two friends also aged five and seven were left in the custody of the 17-year-old nephew of the host family. According to Mrs. Emmanuel, Rachael was too scared to inform the oldest person in the house that she wanted to pooh being a male. “I have always warned her not to allow anybody, especially male, touch her private parts. It’s in obedience to my instruction that she naively refused to inform the ‘big brother’ who was at home with them that she needed to use the toilet. She knew quite all right that he was the only person that could take care of her afterwards. I think that is one of the fall-outs of the pressure we’ve got to put on female children in an era when child molesters have taken over our society,” Mrs. Emmanuel explained.
Kelechi (not real name), 14, is deficient in Mathematics, a challenge her parents are cock-sure could be a banana peel to her ambition of becoming an engineer. As responsible parents, they engaged a male Mathematics teacher to coach her further after normal school classes. Things began to look brighter for the SSS 1 student in the subject until the teacher left her school shortly after the commencement of the second term of the 2018/2019 academic calendar.
The school got an immediate replacement for the Mathematics teacher. But Kelechi’s parents were far from satisfied with their daughter’s performance in the subject since the new mathematics teacher, a female, took over. “To worsen the case, the new teacher declined taking her in extra class after school hours and every attempt to get another person for after school Mathematics class has not been successful. Although, we saw a male teacher who agreed to teach her at home, we are wary of leaving her and her younger siblings with a male teacher, because we are not always at home with them. This is our major dilemma,” Kelechi’s mother lamented.
Until few years ago, Aminat, 14, had enjoyed the long vacations, during which she often traveled with her other siblings (all male) to spend the holidays with their relations. But for three years running now Aminat kept recalling with nostalgia, the wonderful memories she had had during her past holidays with her relations. The fear of their only daughter falling victim of a sexual molester has been a major obstacle to the poor girl’s holiday fun. “I always tell mummy and daddy that I would be fine but they seem not to believe me,” Aminat said angrily.
To her parents, however, it is not a question of not believing in the little girl. Rather, the fear of exposing their daughter to the harrowing experience of sexual assault in the hands of godless and heartless pedophiles and child-molesters who are on the loose in the society, forced them to take the decision. “Her mother and I equally feel her frustration. She thinks we are deliberately denying her the freedom to enjoy the holidays with her brothers, but it is not so. As responsible parents, we are only trying to protect her but she doesn’t seem to understand that for now. The reports of young girls being molested by people, not only by strangers but also by close family members, made us to take that decision. I am sure a time is coming when she will appreciate what we are trying to do for her now.” Aminat’s father said.
The stories of Rachael, Kelechi and Aminat vividly convey the plight of the Nigerian girl-child, whose sense of humanity has not only been degraded but who has also been constrained to live in perpetual fear. Although the emphasis on the need to safeguard children against sexual assault tends to be more on female children, child rights advocates say the male child is not immune from being sexually assaulted.
Psychologists are unanimous on the view that children, who find themselves in dread of the opposite sex like Rachael, Kelechi and Aminat, are likely to grow into dysfunctional adults. A psychologist and psychotherapist at the Faculty of Psychology, Baze University, Abuja, Dr David Igbokwe, said children who are made to live in fear of the opposite sex may end up with deflated self-esteem.
Igbokwe pointed out that creating such fear about the opposite sex in children would affect their self-esteem and self worth as the victims are made to experience a lopsided upbringing. According to him, “It affects their self-esteem and self worth because it is now a lopsided interaction between them and every male figure that comes their way. Already, we know that when there is no presence of a male figure in the life of a child, whether a boy or a girl, the training of that child is lopsided. The child is now made to be over-identified with the same sex parent.”
“In future such conditioning may make them to have negative views about men. They will begin to see men as bad and women as good and when it gets to the time to form attachment, that is to get married, they will now interpret each relationship based on the negative things they have heard even when the people are good for them. Then they will begin to misinterpret clues. There are some people that church people call destiny helpers who may not necessarily need anything from them but they are just good on their own. Then, because of the negative view they hold about the opposite sex, they will miss the opportunities to be assisted without any string attached. So, if care is not taken, they would grow up as dysfunctional adults,” he stated.
Mrs. Salem Ogunlowo, a psychotherapist and chief executive of Salem Therapy Consult, Okota, Lagos, said in addition to the possibility of having to struggle with low self-esteem and low confidence, female children who are restricted from mixing with the opposite sex could experience other emotional challenges.
Mrs. Ogunlowo who noted that it was natural for parents to protect their children from molesters especially in the era of marauding pedophiles, however, pointed out that restricting the child from mixing with people especially the opposite sex would cause more harm than good.
“It could result in what we term emotional regulation challenges. This means that the child will grow into an adult who will struggle with low self-esteem, low confidence and low self-worth. Sometimes it could also result to depression and anxiety. I have treated children with such problems and I know that the parenting style has huge role to play in this,” she said.
Compared to children who are raised in atmosphere of insecurity and fear of the opposite sex, Ogunlowo said those brought up in a secure attachment style relationship environment tend to develop healthy skills that would help them to thrive in the world. “They grow up with skills like self-worth, empathy that will help them to live and cooperate with others,” she said.
The phobia of most Nigerian parents over the safety of their female children is not a misplaced one. Available statistics show that one in every four Nigerian girls experiences one form of sexual assault before attaining the age of 18 according to a non- governmental organisation, Women At Risk International Foundation (WARIF).
Similarly, a study carried out by New Nigerian Journal on Clinical Research at a Police clinic in Benin City, Edo State, revealed that out of a total of 146 cases involving 144 females and two males, children between the ages of 11-15 turned out to be the most affected.
“Age group of 11–15 years was mostly affected (37%). The majority of victims of sexual assaults (72.6%) had no sexual activity before the assault. In 95.9% of cases, no contraceptive was used. The perpetrators were known in 52.7% of cases, and most of them (20.5%) were co-tenants. There was penovaginal penetration in 91.8% of situations, with verbal threats being the most common means of subjugation. About 76.9% of sexual assaults occurred during the daytime. The hymen in 56.2% of cases showed signs of fresh injury and, in 17.9% of cases, it was intact. Seminal acid phosphatase was seen in 29.6% of cases,” the NNJCR study revealed.
As a way out of this dilemma, Igbokwe said there was need for parents to ensure they give balanced information to their children while trying to create the awareness about the need for children to take extra caution in safeguarding them against sexual assaults.
“It is important to balance the story. We need to look at both sides. Yes, some men are bad but a man gave birth to you and a man is training you, so they should be able to impress it on them that although some men are bad, not all men are bad.
“ Sensitization is very important. We must let them realize that they need not evaluate things the way they are going about it now. They must balance any story they are telling their female children. Because if not the child may not be able to achieve some developmental milestones. They must make them to realise that not all men are bad,” he admonished.
In her own submission, Mrs. Ogunlowo called on parents to learn to befriend their children. She pointed out that children who grow up in a loving and encouraging environment tend to thrive better. “Raising children should not be entirely autocratic, it has to be balanced. Out there are the wolves, the pedophiles. A child who grows up in an environment where he or she doesn’t feel loved would rather tend to the person who will give them that room. And don’t forget that these are the loopholes these evil people exploit. They create that environment where the child feels at home with them and then they strike, they take advantage,” she said.