Aisha Buhari And Our Teenage Girls’ Protection
The cases of child sexual abuse and defilement of underage/teenage girls at schools, at home and in between are quotidian. The story of the 16-year-old JSS III student of Day Secondary School Tunga Minna, who was allegedly impregnated by the vice principal, Muhammad Muhammed Kuyizhi generated public outcry from different quarters. Wife of the president, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, took personal interest in the matter. She called on relevant authorities to ensure that justice is done.
Hajiya Aisha contacted the wife of Niger state Governor, Dr. Amina Sani Bello to take interest in the case before Fati Auna magistrate court. Chief press secretary to the governor’s wife, Aisha Wakaso, hinted that the Child Rights Agency was also monitoring to ensure that due diligence was done. The accused was said to have had sex with the girl three times in his office, thereby contravening sections 19 and 25 of the state Child Rights Act. Just recently, the Emir of Bauchi, Alhaji Rilwanu Suleman Adamu called on the state government to separate boys and girls in schools to ensure morality and preserve the future of children.
I must assert that this is just one in hundreds of thousand cases of rapes against underage female citizens. Villages, towns and cities are no difference in the records of this social menace. Many little girls die from such wicked acts unnoticed. Unwanted pregnancies and abandoned newborn babies from these heinous and inhuman activities are many.
Sexual abuse, researchers say, is the misuse or wrong use of sexuality whether in action, touching of breast or buttocks, very intimate body contact or actual sexual intercourse with a child. It also alludes to use of words suggestive of intention to engage in any form of sexual activity or practice. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least one in five of world’s female population has been physically or sexually abused. The threat is increasing among girl children who often have faced problems of gender inequality in addition to the usual problems of unguarded childhood and adolescence manifested in child labour and street hawking.
Street hawking, in turn, is a common form of child labour in developing countries Nigeria inclusive and the female children are mostly victims. According to research, the child on the street is exposed to malnutrition, respiratory tract infection, mental illness and violence including sexual exploitation by men. It is widely believed that the men prefer young girls as sexual partners because they assume they are sexually inexperienced hence are less likely to be infected with sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Sexual abuse among female street hawkers/vendors in Nigeria is another source of worry. A research by African Journal of Reproductive Health on women’s health and action research centre showed that street hawking exposes young girls to all forms of hazards, including sexual abuse. Data collected through research proved that the mean age of the female hawkers was 13 + 2.2 years. Out of 186 respondents, 130 (69.9%) had been sexually abused with 32 (17.2%) having had penetrative sexual intercourse (28.1% were forced and 56.3% submitted willingly) while hawking. Majority of them (59.4%) of the sexual partners were adults. Worrisomely, there was low awareness of the twin risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among the respondents.
Furthermore, there has been deliberate discrimination against the girl child especially as regards education with the wrong belief that their marriage deprives the parents and family of such investment. In order not to waste limited resources and to make the girl more relevant to her family, she is given minimal education and the result is low aspiration and limited career and employment opportunities. There are also stress related problems when some of these girls are given to rich families as house helps or sent into street hawking.
Aderinto Adeyinka Abideen in an academic journal article “Gender and Behavour” argues that the special circumstances in which girl children find themselves in urban Nigeria expose them to possible risks of physical, psychological and sexual abuse which in turn increase their vulnerability to early pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.
The United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) treats child labour with great concern in Nigeria, in spite of legislative measures. It defines child labour as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development. Statistics released by International Labour Organization shows that the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15 million. These jobs include street vendors, beggars, car washers, cobblers, shoe shiners, mechanics, hairdressers, bus conductors and domestic servants and farm hands.
The West Africa Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) Nigeria Platform, with support from the Ford Foundation held a dialogue in Abuja on ‘Curbing Early Marriage and Protecting Children’s Rights in Nigeria’ with a clarion call for the integration of child marriage prevention efforts into existing development programmes while stakeholders who were instrumental to the passage of the Child Rights Act at the national level should act collectively to see that the Act is eventually promulgated into law in all the states of the federation.
Rachel Harvey, the chief of child protection for UNICEF in Nigeria, says about 80 percent of children are abused again and again with the abused mostly knowing their abusers who tend to be parents, other relatives or male teachers. “Children revealed that they didn’t know where to go. The majority of children don’t know where to seek help,” Harvey said.
Further research shows that girls start working at an earlier age than boys, particularly in the rural areas. They also suffer the triple burden of housework, school work and work out of home whether paid or unpaid. Cases abound in connection to presumed spiritual leaders engaging in the dastardly acts. Lagos state police command once arrested one Chukwuma Nkwocha, general overseer of the Tongue of Fire Restoration Ministry, for allegedly keeping 30 under-aged girls as sex slaves. A 56-year-old prophet Taiwo Oluboyode impregnated his 16-year-old daughter in Odode, Idanre area of Ondo state. Vanguard reported that the teenager carried the pregnancy for her father. Again, a7-year-old girl identified as Talatu Musa Paul was reported dead after allegedly being raped through the anus by a 21-year-old son of a Senator in Taraba state.
The abominable cases are many and many individuals and groups are pushing for stiffer penalties for the crime. To achieve far-reaching success in the flight against child abuse, most especially sexual harassment of the female child, all the government and non-government organizations must come together and re-strategize toward a common goal. The Ministry of Women Affairs, NAPTIP, NOA, WOTCLEF as well as Awesome Treasures Foundation, AWP Network, DAWN, FIN, KIND Nigeria, Mirabel Rape Crisis Center, Moremi Initiative, Nigerian Women Fund, STER Nigeria, She Leads Africa, WAAW Foundation, Wellbeing Foundation, WiMBiz, WITIN, WTEC and WOWE have more assignments to carry out in this regard. Poverty alleviation, health education and protective child right policies that can decrease prevalence and the associated risks of child abuse must be promulgated.
A Non Government Organization, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), through its director, Ishaq Akintola, however, believes that honourable and dignifying child marriage is better than child prostitution which is rampant in Nigerian cities and red light zones. He compared the globalization and promotion of homosexualism, lesbianism and same-sex marriage as a direct challenge to God’s divine order.
Therefore, the view of Reps Ibrahim Garba Mohammed (APC, Kano) is in order. There should be special and stiffer laws against rape in Nigeria. Confirmed rapists should not be allowed to go on bail but be remanded in prison, tried and jailed. After that there should bepsychiatric tests on them because for someone to defile a two or three-year-old girl, that person must be insane. Only an insane person can rape an infant.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail [email protected].