By Job Osazuwa and Chukwuma Umeorah
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Child Protection Network (CPN), non-governmental organisation, rights activists and other stakeholders have re-echoed their resolve to end all forms of child abuse in Nigeria.
With increase in the spate of child abuse in Nigeria, there has been an outcry by various bodies and organisations to improve sensitisation among the public to join in the fight against the ugly trend.
According to the National Human Rights Commission, the Child’s Right Act (2003) is the law that guarantees the rights of all children in Nigeria. So far, 24 out of 36 states of Nigeria have adopted the act as a state law. A child, as defined by the act (2003), is any person under the age of 18.
Worried by how Nigerian children are treated despite the campaigns by governments and different groups, CPN, Alimosho chapter, Lagos State, on July 14, organised a one-day programme on creating awareness on child abuse and prevention, with the theme “Strengthening stakeholders pattern on child abuse case reporting and management.”
According to UNICEF, abuse in all its forms is a daily reality for many Nigerian children even as it worried that only a fraction ever receives help. The body revealed that six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence.
At the sensitisation exercise, Rev. Gabriel Oyediji, the CPN coordinator in Alimosho, reiterated the body’s commitment to the struggle of creating a safer and more conducive environment for children to grow.
He expressed worry over statistics showing that Alimosho LGA has the highest reported cases of child abuse, which include child molestation and child deprivation, thereby fostering the need for improved awareness campaigns in the area.
He explained that CPN is a national body of the leading coalition of all state and non-state actors saddled with the responsibility of protecting the right and welfare of children in Nigeria.
“Established in 2011 in partnership with UNICEF Nigeria, the CPN in Nigeria is a chain of charity organisations and NGOs at state and national levels connected by a common goal to tackle cases of child abuse. The network comprises members of various local council development areas (LCDAs) under the umbrella of different NGOs and entities to fight increasing rates of abuses in the country. The CPN is a community-based child protection network, which exists in over half of Nigeria’s 36 states.
“The state chapter of CPN was inaugurated in 2014 with a mandate to report and prosecute child abuse cases,” Oyediji said.
The head of UNICEF, Lagos, Mr. Dennis Onoise, commended the works of CPN and pointed out the contributions of the body in the fight against child abuse as strengthening the birth registration system to scale up the registration of children at birth. According to him, birth registration is very vital in identifying every child and giving them a fair chance at having their rights protected.
“Birth registration is the very first thing that gives children identity. For us to say this child is a Nigerian, then the child has to be registered,” he said.
He emphasised the need for an effective data collection system, pointing out that this would help in giving accurate statistics to help fight against abuse: “One of the things we haven’t done too well as a nation is having our own data collection system that is working.”
Onoise also stated other measures the UNICEF was taking to bridge the gap, which include strengthening legislative and institutional frameworks to protect children vulnerable and exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation. Others are the body’s collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and the Lagos State Judiciary, to set up a diversion programme that prevents children from being detained in prisons but introduced to rehabilitation programmes; ensuring children in humanitarian situations have timely and sustained access to quality preventive and responsive child protection services.
He reiterated UNICEF’s support and commitment to Lagos State government which by extension serves as a support to CPN and other like-minded organisations in the fight against child abuse.
Oyediji, who was the convener of the programme, explained that the network was poised at raising its voice in the defence of the innocent children in the area with the belief that powerless children need powerful voices so that they could be heard whenever they cry out. He said that the aim of CPN is for people the public to be aware of the ‘Child Right Law’ that protects victims, particularly children against several forms of abuse.
“When we go to schools to advocate and create awareness, the aim is to ensure that they are aware of the consequences of child abuse and put themselves on guard so that they won’t run in contrast with the law of the land,” he said.
Oyediji vowed that he would not rest on his oars until the dignity of the Nigerian child is fully restored, particularly when all forms of maltreatment and violence against children would become history.
Also at the event, executive director, Women’s Rights and Health Project, Bose Ironsi, said that she also share in the dream of a society free for everyone to live in. To achieve this, she said every stakeholder must display passion and determination.
According to her, the foundation was founded based on her personal ugly experience as a child. She said that her experience prompted her to change the narrative and to provide succour to vulnerable children and victims of abuse.
She posited that to tackle abuse-related cases, there must be synergy between the community and other stakeholders.
“No individual or just one organisation can do it all alone,” she said.
Ironsi identified one of the major challenges facing the vulnerable in the society as lack of accessibility to basic facilities and the slow pace of getting justice for victims. She expressed concern that this could have an adverse effect on the psychological and emotional state of the victim and the community at large. She called on the authorities to facilitate the process of getting justice for victims.
The guest speaker, the state coordinator of CPN and executive coordinator, Bimbo Odukoya Foundation, Aderonke Oyelakin urged all stakeholders, including the survivors, community leaders, family, the police, justice system, NGOs and other relevant agencies to always live up to their responsibilities in order to stop the rise of child abuse in the country.
The incisive lecture focused on educating its listeners on ways to identify and report cases around them. She said the best way to tackle child abuse is by way of prevention.
“We prevent and respond. But I believe that preventing the incident is far cheaper, better and safer for all of us. We need to be passionate about this struggle. We must put ourselves in victims’ shoes because we never can tell who will be the next target,” She said.
She also kicked against blaming the victim and societal stigmatisation associated with abuse. She frowned on people easily judging the victims, saying that this could be psychological harmful to the victim.
The lecturer stated that there must be zero tolerance to any nature of abuse, particularly by ensuring that perpetrators are speedily tried and punished. She said this would serve as deterrent to others.
CPN, which pledged not to relent in giving succour to the oppressed and vulnerable people in the society, also gave awards to deserving stakeholders. Some of the awardees include,
Those in attendance were men of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LNSC), the Hausa community, students and teachers from different schools in the local government and members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).