The concept of Child Abuse; and Child’s Rights protection in Nigeria, being the title of a paper presented to International Human Rights Summit, Geneva, Switzerland, by Hon. Aiyamenkhue Edokpolo, SSA to Edo State Governor. 28 August 2010
I bring you greetings from the Government and people of Edo State, Nigeria. It is with a sense of responsibility that I accepted the task of making a landmark statement on this all-important issue which governments and concerned agencies are grappling with across the globe. As a social scientist, with a background in Political Science; I am deeply concerned personally (as a father of children) and as a matter of my official appointment as a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Edo State, on Politics and Strategy, because, my children or relations may be victims of rights violations in any part of world; hence the exigent need to contribute to this august dialogue with a view to mitigating the root causes or effects.
The concept of Child Abuse is as old as far as when human existentialism attained the knowledge of formal or informal documentation of positive and negative accounts, vis-à-vis established law and order by persons or people of a given community or society. It assumed notorious dimensions in countries at civil wars or inter-country wars. However, as a social phenomenon, Child Abuse has been defined by various authorities or institutions. The Wikipedia defined Child Abuse as the physical, sexual or emotional mistreatment of children. The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention defined Child Maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by parent or other caregiver that results in harm, or potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. For me, Child Abuse is a symptomatic expression of an abysmal failure to give care to children under our parental jurisdiction, either by birth or adoption or established welfare organization.
Child's Rights or the right of children is a social phenomenon that has attracted so much attention and solidarity, the world over. The Wikipedia defined children's rights “as the perceived human rights of children with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to the young, including their rights to association with both biological parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for food, universal state-paid education, health care and criminal laws appropriate for age and development of the child”. There is a general interpretation of child's rights ranging from allowing children the capacity for autonomous action to the enforcement on issues of being physically, emotionally and mentally from 'abuse', although there is no generally acceptable definition of what constitutes child's abuse.
In Nigeria, the twin concepts of Children's Rights; and Child Abuse are in most cases grossly misplaced and 'selectively' handled by governmental agencies charged with such mandates, largely as a result of political interferences. This is so, because, we have it on good authority that there are reported and unreported cases of children's rights violations which are not investigated; and sometimes when they are reported to security agencies, they are mishandled or compromise; sometimes, when they are thoroughly investigated, at the stage of filling the cases in court, powerful economic and political figures steps-in to obstruct the cause of justice. Even those that are charged to court are not given the full bite of the laws; unless those that enjoys the steady coverage of the press, in terms of nuisances that are given administrative bites of law. Most often than not, the most victimized set of children are the orphans, who live at the mercy of their adopted-parents or orphanage homes. The Orphanage home as practiced in Nigeria does not subscribe to the internationally acceptable principles in their treatment or management of orphans placed by concerned members of the public and governmental institutions in their custody. As a member of Rotary International, I have had personal experiences as the Director of Projects Services of the Rotary Club of New Benin, District 1440, in Edo State. I have been saddled with the task of accessing orphanage homes within my club's geographical constituency with a view to recommending at least two for funds and domestic materials allocation. Myself and members of my committee interfaced with the management and staff of the orphanage homes that were randomly selected for visitation; our experience was bizarre as the environment were some homes were situated where 'disaster zones' prone to erosion and flooding menaces, in addition to environmental pollution. A face value evaluation of the homes and the living conditions of the orphans present a sorry-picture of a people ravaged by war or natural disaster. Yet, money and valuable items donated are hardly used for the purpose. Governmental agencies, by my opinion do not monitor or access the conditions of these home, thereby providing a fertile ground for managers of orphanage homes to perpetuate corruption and window-dressing.
Socio-culturally speaking, before the Colonial era in the ancient Kingdom of Benin, the child was seen as an indispensable asset of existentialism; and it was a taboo to treat him or her in a manner that question his or her right to freedom of existence. There exist several maxims or idioms which pronounces serious and unpardonable humiliation on anyone who undermined the right of the child, these includes “aikhue omodan ne ekpen gbe re”- no matter how bad a child is, he or she must not be sacrificed at the altar of a lion; “oruonkpa ibi omon”- the child is sacred to the entire community or society to the extent that he or she was not given birth to by the immediate family but by the entire community; “aigbe omo gi ne idigue”- no matter the offence a child has committed, he or she must be pardoned immediately he or she knee's down.
Of a truth, I strongly believe that the Colonial experience in present day Nigeria brought significant positive impacts on the cultural values of the ethnic nationalities around the River Niger. Although Colonialism or imperialism has been widely condemned, we cannot wish away the civilization and missionary influences that were associated with the 'illegitimate' enterprise. For instance, Marry Slessor is credited to have made extensive campaign leading to the stoppage of killing of twins in Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, in Nigeria; this was hitherto a norm that when twins are given birth to, they are omen of evil, and they must be sacrificed to the gods. It has also been argued that in the pre-colonial Benin Kingdom, albinos or 'unknown' strangers were killed to appeals the gods of the land, especially during unfavorable weather or climates. There are uncountable inhuman or devious practices which the colonial experience helped to put-aside for healthier human relations and development.
Finally, I will advocate the strengthening of checks-mechanisms in the various countries or states with high propensities' or notorieties for human rights violations or child abuse. In Nigeria, it is “not yet uhuru” because we have it on records that in some very rural areas, there are prevalence of child abuses and human rights violations in large scale, with little or no hope for justice. In Edo State, the State Governor has placed no one in doubt on his resolve to frontally address the incidences of Child Abuse. As a matter of policy, the main aim of banning street trading in the State Capital, was to check the menaces in the metropolis; reported cases of Child Abuse attracts the burning interest of our Government, and I am sure that with proactive collaboration, a lot will be achieved in this regard. I wish to state pointedly that, there must be closed interaction with the media, and State governments that have made significant strides in the fight against this scourge can be confer with an international award or recommendation as a way to boosting the campaign. As the leader of a foremost socio-cultural organization (the Benin National Congress) in Nigeria, we conceptualized the Benin National Merit Award as a way of reinforcing the reward system of our people. It has impacted on the private and public sectors operators as the Congress is currently perceived by corporate entities as a proactive watchdog, in view of their social responsibilities to our communities. I think, Youth for Human Rights International can borrow a leaf, or when it is already in place, the effectiveness has to be reviewed against the backdrop of its impact at ensuring that stakeholders subscribe to international best practices, in the treatment of the child, especially in Africa.
It is a great honor and privilege to be part of this conference, I thank you for paying attention, and God bless you all. Amen.