By Grace Obike
Infants, toddlers, other underage girls in danger as rapists go on the rampage.
Not a few Nigerians were alarmed in February last year with the news that a Kano-based businessman, aided by his wife, raped a six-month-old baby girl named Khadija until she lost consciousness. Upon his arrest, the businessman hired 10 lawyers to defend himself in court.
At about the same time, a 27-year-old man was caught red handed in Ogun State, raping his 11-month-old niece after using his fingers to open her up. The baby’s screams were said to have attracted some neighbours who rushed to the scene only to find the heartless man raping the toddler while she bled profusely.
Early in December last year, a three-year-old girl was raped in Masaka, a community on the outskirts of Abuja, by her unmarried 42-year-old relative. The toddler, who was said to be playing at home with her siblings when the relative, who all the kids knew as Uncle Austin, carried out the nefarious act, was eventually found crying in a pool of blood in a bush in the neighbourhood late at night.
About three weeks ago, a 50-year-old man who had just been released on bail for raping a minor, also raped his neighbour’s five-years-old daughter, Hussaina, in Kano. The sad incident reportedly occurred just three days after the errant man regained his freedom.
Not even security operatives saddled with the responsibility of protecting citizens are left out of the menace. Sometime last year, there were reports of a two-year-old girl sexually molested by a policeman in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Ironically, when the mother of the two-year-old girl saw her bleeding and crying at the policeman’s house, the policeman’s wife quickly rose in her husband’s defence, insisting that the poor girl had started menstruating. The suspect was eventually transferred out of the FCT, and that seemed to be the end of the story as nothing more was heard about it.
In a country like Nigeria where only a few victims and their family members would damn the stigma associated with being a rape victim and speak out about it, perhaps only one in 10 cases become public knowledge. Yet, on and on go the gory stories of rape and trauma. Randomly picking up Nigerian national dallies and flipping through the pages opens one to the reality of this menace. In the three months of January 2016, December 2016 and January 2017 alone, there were no fewer than 26 different reports on rape of little girls in different states around the country.
Data collected by the Presidential Committee on the Northeast Initiatives (PCNI) show that in the month of September 2017 alone, the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in Yobe State recorded 27 new cases of rape of girls under the age of 18. Some reports even claim that the figures are higher in Borno IDPs camps, adding that this might have contributed significantly to the high rate of persons living with HIV in the state. Abuja IDPs camps are also not left out with horrific stories of rape and parents giving out their little daughters to be raped for money.
Increasingly, the sexual exploitation and rape of IDPs is attracting public interest and national concern, but evidently, much more needs to be done. Data provided by the Police in Kano State revealed that at least one little girl is raped each passing day. The disaggregated data on sexual offences for 2016 and first quarter of 2017 shows that 386 girls under the age of 17 were raped in just 15 months. In some months like October 2016, the police recorded 13 cases of rape but in months like March of the same year, the record was as high as 66 cases, all minors. And the data is high when added with victims older than 18.
Lagos State is not exempted. In an unprecedented bid to eradicate the scourge of child sexual abuse in 2013, the state set up a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in collaboration with Justice for All Programme of the Department for International Development (DFID) of the British Council, and funded through UK Aid called the Mirabel Centre. In the report produced by the centre in March 2017 to mark its four years of existence, it revealed that a total of 2,342 survivors of sexual assault were helped by the centre in the four-year period between its opening in April 2013 and 31 March 2017, adding that the number of clients had increased significantly each year.
According to the centre, clients accessing the centre increased by over 80 per cent on the previous year in the second and third year of operations, and by over 40 per cent in the fourth year. This last year, ending March 2017, saw more than 1,000 survivors of sexual assault assisted, equating to nearly three new cases every day of the year.
The report also reveals that 79 percent of victims who sought the assistance of Mirabel SARC after a sexual assault were under the age of 18. Furthermore, 45 percent of this group were under the age of 11. Of those victims that were 18 years or older, 51 percent were between the ages of 18 and 22 (i.e. college age); an evidence that those who are most at risk of sexual assault are young girls.
Of particular concern is the number of victims that would be too young to understand what is happening to them, let alone prevent it. This is illustrated by the 318 victims that were under the age of six when they were brought to the centre.
In March 2014, 123 cases of child defilement were reported. In March 2015, it increased to 271. Another increase of 515 was reported in March 2016 before the figure jumped to 783 in March 2017, meaning that 1,692 cases of minors’ defilement was reported to the centre alone in four years.
AFRICA AT THE FOREFRONT OF MENACE
Global and international statistics shows that rape cases are more prevalent in Africa. According to global and international statistics made available to The Nation by the Cece Yara foundation, Swaziland is the country with the highest number of sexual abuse of girls with 38 percent, followed closely by a 33 percent rate with Zimbabwe. Nigeria comes in sixth place globally with 25 percent, higher than those of the United States (14.3 percent) and the United Kingdom (7.8 percent).
In the Cece Yara Foundation’s report, one in every four girls in Nigeria experiences sexual violence before age 18, while 70.5 percent of victimised girls experience multiple incidents of sexual abuse and one in nine girls experience unwanted sex. Only 38.3 percent of girls sexually abused tell someone about it, while only 15.8 percent seek help.
In the foundation’s estimation, based on the National Bureau of Statistics, population projection for 2017, based on percentage growth with Nigeria’s population of 199 million, the population of Nigerian children being 100 million and the number of girls below 18 estimated at 49 million, the estimation of girls in Nigeria that will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday is 12 million.
These data can be said to show that the Nigerian child, especially the girl child, is increasingly at the risk of losing her childhood and life to paedophiles.
WHY SUCH LITTLE GIRLS?
Western scientists argue that paedophilia is a mental illness. Some researchers liken it to an addiction, others to sexual orientation, but some Nigerians who have spent years fighting the scourge have different explanations.
A lawyer, rights activist and National Coordinator, Proactive Gender Initiatives, Esther Uzoma, who has so far taken on more than 50 cases of child molestation, believes that it is in the nature of some human beings. To her, human beings are creators of pleasure and pleasure is an acquired taste, with everyone having his preference.
On her part, the Founder/CEO of Twin and I Child Care Foundation, Hajiya Aisha Tokura, says she is forced to believe that it is done mostly for ritual purposes. She argued that two out of the cases her foundation has handled, especially in Asokoro village in Abuja, has given her reasons to support the theory. One of the girls, she said, insisted that after the man had finished sleeping with her, he would use a white handkerchief to wipe her private part.
“It is not the first case I have heard like that. Another said she was wiped with a red handkerchief and when he was caught and asked why, he said he had taken her womb. And the girl is just eight years old,” Tokura lamented.
This line of argument can be said to have some credibility since the molester of baby Khadija in Kano State was reported to have been asked by a native doctor to rape a six-month-old baby, hence his wife aided him in the act.
Tokura also blames the internet for the exposure that is leading more Nigerians to commit such atrocities. According to her, the dark web is filled with videos of Nigerian adult males taking videos while raping children.
She said: “I’m fortunate to be close to someone who is a computer genius. He goes into the dark web sometimes and shows me the atrocities. It is amazing that Nigerians can stoop so low as to bring our children to being abused like that. This is not foreign. If you go to a certain site, you will see Nigerians and small children.”
She said that most of these molesters are paid huge sums for such videos. She also cited the example of an article she read recently where a man, who was confronted by his wife for making a video where their baby was sucking his private parts, defended himself by saying that he was going to make $10,000 for selling the footage.
Uzoma, on her part, argued that Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is fuelled by the conspiracy of silence by caregivers, which she says has become a fertile ground for the practice to bloom. According to her, it is an altar where a child is damaged forever, because when she gains the courage to explain to her primary caregiver, being her family, since the child feels violated and the parents ask her not to tell anyone, then the person goes ahead to violate other children.
She said: “I once took up a matter where a child was violated. In the heat of the matter, the parents told me to drop the case, saying that the 60-year-old man had paid N10,000 as bride price to marry the little girl.”
Explaining the situation with most parents, Tokura lamented that most of them feel embarrassed, so they try to pretend that it never happened. Others try not to disgrace the family when the abuser is a member of the family, so they decide to settle it as a family matter. In some other cases, the abuser is wealthy and people who would have fought for the victim are dependent on him, so they become voiceless.
But in all this, she says, “I always tell them: you are embarrassed today, you are killing your child tomorrow. So, your child has no future at all, because an abuser ends up becoming an abuser or they end up becoming suicidal.”
According to Cece Yara Foundation, 39.6 per cent of girls’ abusers are boyfriends, 17.2 per cent are friends, 14.4 per cent are neighbours, 13 per cent are schoolmates, 12.9 per cent are strangers, while 7.7 per cent are family members.
Hajiya Tokura further explained that most girls, especially in the North, who are sent out by their parents and caregivers to hawk are sexually molested by everyday men on the street; like the mason constructing the house down the road, motorcycle riders, kiosk owners, and so on. And by the time she is 12 or 13, she feels that she has slept with so many men, so she is eager to marry and get some rest.
She explained that what most people do not understand is that in the North, not all girls are necessarily forced into marriage. A lot of girls going to school, she says, are even trying to marry their teachers. “It is the way of the North. Once you are above 19 and you are not married, you feel left out,” she said.
Lamenting further, Tokura says that she does not think the world takes the issue of child sexual abuse (CSA) seriously. In the UK or America, she noted, there are no grants for child sexual abuse, but one finds grants for child labour, early marriage and girl child education. “But when it comes to CSA, nothing. Sometimes I wonder why nobody wants to talk about it. They say the western world is so enlightened, but nobody wants to talk about CSA, and it is rampant.
“I want everyone to open up. Why is this not an issue? Look at Save the Children. They are supposed to be saving children, but they only talk about child marriage, not child sexual abuse.”states that have domesticated it also provides that sex with a child is rape, and anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child is liable to imprisonment for life upon conviction. But whether any molester has been made to face the full wrath of the law is another matter.
A detective with one of the police divisions in the Federal Capital City of Abuja, who pleaded anonymity while speaking with The Nation, explained that Nigerians often fail to realise that the act of releasing a child molester back into the society does not rest solely on the shoulders of the police. “We are always accused of receiving bribes when a molester is released, but it is not always so,” he said, adding that the police had pushed several molesters to court, but at the end of the day, “you see them come back from the court and even mock you as the prosecutor that took them to court.”
A senior lawyer and former chairperson, Federation of International Women Lawyer (FIDA) in Kano State, Hussaina Ibrahim, lamented the lackadaisical attitude of the government towards the fight against child sexual abuse, saying that in most states of the country, especially Kano, prisoners who get released because of overcrowding in prisons are such rapists.
“The problem I have with the authorities is that when they stay in the prison for a while, they get released due to overcrowding,” she said.
She cited as example the case of five-year-old Hussaina whose 50-year-old rapist was released from the court for molesting a minor, three days after he molested her. She said she had on some occasions taken up pro bono cases of molesters awaiting trial for years, just to ensure that justice was served.
Hajia Tokura also feels that the government needs to do more to fight the scourge. In her view, the Nigerian Police needs to train its personnel on how to deal with victims of sexual abuse, recalling an incident to push home her argument.
She said: “There was an 11-year-old girl we took to the police station, and the police woman asked her, ‘Tell me the truth, were you not enjoying it when you were doing it?”
Girls being educated on what to look out for to avoid abuse
But Uzoma says she still believes strongly in the justice system. According to her, the courts are always eager to enforce existing rights. She said the court system, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory, does not take it lightly, but the reluctance of victims to come forward creates the vacuum in the fight against CSA.
She added: “Because of the nature of our criminal justice system in the country, I did something that was unprecedented. I used a process called fundamental rights enforcement procedure to fight for the rights of the minors brought to me. I argued for the first time that it is a breach of fundamental rights to have sexual intercourse with minors. The beauty of the process is that it is very short. Evidence is by affidavit, so you front load and argue”.
Evidence has shown that the society sometimes encourages paedophiles with its culture of silence. Tokura narrated an incident where a man vowed to divorce his wife for reporting his rapist brother.
She said: “There was a family in which the husband came and threatened us. His brother abused his six-year-old daughter and the wife was taking it on, but he said he was going to divorce her. He came to the office and threatened us. He said we should drop it. He said I was a disgrace for bringing up such a thing as someone from the North, and he asked me if I was not ashamed to do so. I had to call the police.”
The police detective, who spoke with The Nation, also narrated an incident that occurred in Kubwa, Abuja, where the mother of a 13-year-old who was molested by a man in his 30s had to drop the case because she could not afford the transport fare for the trips to the station and the court. In the end, the only punishment meted out to the molester was being fired from the bakery where he worked.
Suggesting the way forward towards dealing with the problem, Tokura advised government to create more awareness so that parents know the trauma a molested child goes through.
“For a child to be told ‘Shut up, you were not raped’ or to be asked ‘what do you know about rape?’ it is wrong,” she said.
This article was first published by The Nation Newspaper