“Safety and security don’t just happen; they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens of our society, a life free of violence and fear” – Nelson Mandela
Many times, the first thought we have at the mention of the term ‘child abuse’ is physical maltreatment and violence against children; and with good reason too. A 10-year-old girl, (name withheld) was found chained to a window’s burglary proof in an uncompleted building by her aunt, for allegedly stealing four thousand naira. The little girl was said to have been rescued by policemen in Ogun State after two days of starvation! Another 9-year-old boy, also in Ogun state, was also chained and starved for a couple of days, by his father, a pastor, who claimed the boy was possessed by demons. There is hardly an adult in Nigeria today, who doesn’t have a story to tell about how he or she was severely “disciplined” by the parents as a child, and there is always a new story in the newspapers about a child who was either beaten to an inch of his/her life, molested, burnt with a pressing iron, or some other form of savagery. But the abuse of children goes beyond just physical violence. There are other forms of child abuse that are just as heinous but we never see them in the news, which makes them even more dangerous. Emotional abuse and child neglect: despite seeming insignificant in comparison with physical or sexual abuse, are just as serious and are even more common. These forms of abuse may not leave scars we can see, but the damage to the child is just as real. Emotional abuse includes any acts of verbal assault, constant criticism, intimidation, constant shaming and humiliation, confinement, isolation, and any other maltreatment which may diminish the sense of dignity and self-worth of the child. And child neglect happens when a child does not get the shelter, schooling, clothing, medical care, or protection he or she needs.
Some people believe that emotional abuse and child neglect are not abuses at all because there is no physical harm done. But this is not true. Emotional abuse and neglect hurt children in many ways. The effects are internal and long-term, leading to life-long mental health problems. Emotional abuse could result in depression, difficulties in socialisation, learning problems, perpetual fear or anger, and sometimes death.
Sadly, the majority of children who suffer abuse of any form do not tell anyone what has happened to them and the perpetrators go scot-free. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), fewer than 5% of abused children receive the help they need to recover. In fact, the UNICEF’s state of the world’s child report indicates that Nigeria is one of the worst places for a child to grow up. According to the report, six out of 10 children in Nigeria experience emotional, physical, or sexual abuse before the age of 18! This statistics is very heart-breaking and it is time for every Nigerian to work towards ensuring that our children are safe from, not only violence and molestation, but also harassment, neglect and emotional harm. Every child is important. He or she doesn’t have to be yours to be loved. Remember that it takes a village to raise a child; sharing responsibility for the care and protection of children helps to ensure that all children are allowed to reach their full potential as human beings.
Also keep in mind that child abuse does not occur only within the family or at home, but also in schools, religious settings, and other social environments and communities the child interacts with. To protect your child/ward from child abuse, Healthwise Staff from WebMD.com advice that you take the following precautions:
Listen to your child. Let him or her know it is safe to talk about anything with you
Get to know your child’s friends and their families
Screen all caregivers such as your housekeepers and day-care centres. Find out what they know about child health, child development, and child care.
Teach your child the difference between “good touches” and “bad touches”
Take a break when you feel overwhelmed and stressed-out. Ask a family member or very trusted friend to help out when you feel the work has become too much for you to handle alone.
Get help if you have ever been a victim of abuse because having a history of abuse increases your chances of becoming an abuser.
To help and protect other children from child abuse and neglect:
Learn to recognise the signs of abuse and neglect. For example, a child may not grow as expected, may be dirty or unhealthy, or may seem fearful, anxious or depressed
Know the names of your neighbours and their children. Offer to help a new parent. Child abuse becomes less likely if parents and caregivers feel supported.
If you see abuse or neglect happening, speak up. A child’s life may depend on it.
Most abused children are not able to help themselves. Children deserve nothing less than our constant focus on their safety, and it is our duty to protect them from mental, physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, even if their parents or guardians are unwilling to do so. If you see, or have any reason to suspect a child is experiencing harm, or is in danger of any form of child abuse, including neglect, sexual abuse, child battering, child trafficking, etc. it is important to take action; report to the police, government organisations and Non-government organisations that work to eliminate cruelty children. If you see an act of abuse and ignore it, then you are no better than the abuser, and are just as guilty. Reporting child abuse is the responsibility of everyone. Remember that by reporting your suspicions, you may prevent a child from being seriously hurt or even killed, and from having lifelong emotional problems.
By Akaomachi B.