Protecting Nigerian children against violence
“A nation that cannot protect her children is an endangered nation. This is because such a nation may be wittingly or unwittingly destroying the most valuable human resource base that would define and sustain her future,” says Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase. Arase’s words captured the mood at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, last week as stakeholders gathered to witness the Launch of the UN Year of Action to End Violence against Children.
The Nigerian Violence against Children Survey also posits that millions of children suffer violence every year in Nigeria. Estimates have it that 6 out of every 10 children under the age of 18 years experience some form of physical, emotional and sexual violence before the age of 18 years. Every year, millions of children are reported to suffer physical, sexual and emotional violence.
Surveys link violence against children in Nigeria to poorer mental and physical health outcomes for boys and girls in childhood into adulthood.
Compared to persons who have never experience childhood violence, physical violence reported associated with high risk of mental distress, thoughts of suicide, and substance use; sexual violence is associated with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, mental distress, thoughts of suicide and unwanted pregnancies; emotional violence is associated with higher levels of mental distress and thoughts of suicide amongst females and higher levels of mental distress and drinking amongst males; and females and males who experienced physical or sexual violence in childhood were also significantly more likely to perpetrate violence against children in both childhood and adulthood.
Experts say ending violence against children is not merely a child protection or child rights issue and a moral imperative.
“Failure to invest in tackling violence against children leads to substantial social and economic losses (estimated at 2-8% of Gross Domestic Product). These is also a growing evidence base to demonstrate that preventing violence can promote economic growth,” says a fact sheet on the Year of Action to end Violence Against Children. The prevention of and effective response to violence against children has been linked to the sustainable development of the nation.
“All children are safe from abuse, violence, exploitation, and neglect”, is one of the six commitments of the National Priority Agenda (NPA) for Vulnerable Children 2013-2020. These six core commitments of Nigeria’s government if fulfilled are expected to contribute to the achievement of the strategic objectives of Nigeria’s Vision 20:2020. This elevates the importance of the issue of violence against children and recognizes that reducing children’s vulnerability will positively and directly impact Nigeria’s economic and social well-being and development. Government’s actual commitment to these pledges remains to be seen.
But fresh ray of hope towards this has, however, been given by President Muhammadu Buhari himself, as he has pledged to mobilize Nigerians to resist violence against children. Buhari, who spoke at the launch of the year of Action to End Violence against Children in Abuja, also stressed the commitment of his government to protect the children against sexual, emotional and physical violence.
The President, who was represented by Head of Civil Service, Danladi Kifasi promised to strengthen policies and programme that protect children from violence. He said: “This administration shall improve on what government has done in the past and enforce all relevant laws that will protect our children from violence.
“You will recall that government has enacted the Child Rights Act in 2013; Violation against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 and also put in place the national task force for the protection of children against violence. The government will also give psycho-social support to vulnerable children. This administration is hereby ready to show commitment to mobilize Nigerians to resist violence against children.”
According to the Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey, carried out by the National Population Commission, with support from UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in two children experience physical violence; one in four girls and one in ten boys experience sexual violence; and one in six girls and one in five boys experience emotional violence.
However, Buhari noted that “majority of children do not tell anyone what has happened to them and fewer than five per cent receive the help they need to recover. These findings are an urgent call to action not only for the Government, but also for civil society organisations, religious and traditional groups, the media, the private sector, communities, parents and families to come together to tackle violence against children.”
U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires, ad interim, Maria E. Brewer, stressed the need for children to be protected from abuse, violence, exploitation and neglect. “Violence against children is never justified. Violence is preventable,” she noted while the UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Jean Gough noted: “The Government of Nigeria and its partners are to be congratulated on their commitment to end violence against children”.UNICEF will continue to support Nigeria in its efforts to ensure that children are protected from sexual, physical and emotional violence.”
The UNICEF chief added: “The Government is not only to be congratulated for undertaking this groundbreaking survey, but also for making the findings widely known, shining a spotlight on what the survey shows is a significant problem in Nigeria.
“The survey found that violence impacts millions of children’s lives every year across Nigeria. You cannot help but be shocked by the huge numbers of children experiencing violence. But sometimes we can get lost in the statistics. Let’s remember that each statistics represents an individual child suffering violence – a four year old boy being intentionally burnt for misbehaving, a 13 year old girl being repeatedly raped by her neighbour, a 7 year old being told again and again – ‘you are worthless, I wish you were dead’ by their own mother.
“Also, when many people think of physical, sexual and emotional violence against children, they think of it as happening to someone else, to someone’s else’s family and in someone else’s community. But the Survey findings are clear – violence against children is a problem that transcends social and economic status. It impacts rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and out of school children. The findings of the survey highlight that violence is not confined to poor families, or to marginalised children or children living in the shadow of conflict.”
Gough added: “Today, the Government of Nigeria, at the highest level, is committing to take action to end violence against children. The President is to be congratulated on this highly significant commitment. However, the launched Year of Action to End Violence Against Children not only recognizes the fundamental role that the Government at Federal and State level has to play in preventing and responding to violence, but the critical role that all Nigerians have in ending violence against children.
“UNICEF has been proud to support the Government in undertaking the national survey and is enthusiastically supporting the Year of Action to End Violence Against Children. UNICEF renews its commitment to support Nigeria to implement the Priority Actions during the coming year and beyond. When we leave the venue today, I hope that each and every one of us – government, non-government organisations, religious and traditional leaders, UN agencies and development partners, the media, as well as communities, families and children – will leave with absolute commitment and energy to take action to ensure that all children in Nigeria can grow up free from violence.”
On his part, IGP Arase described violence against children as a major social and law enforcement challenge with the global order.
“The dynamics of children violence which manifests inform of physical violence, sexual violence and emotional violence impact negatively on not only the child’s future potentials, but on national development,” he noted.
Quoting statistics, he highlighted how violence against children was more prevalent in underdeveloped countries and sub-Saharan Africa than other parts of the world.
He went on: “Police record shows that between January and August 2015, a total of 133 cases of child violence involving 141 victims were reported to the Police. Out of this figure, 112 were conclusively investigated; 21 are currently under investigation; 158 suspects were arrested, while 118 offenders were charged to court.”
He disclosed that gender desks had been established in all its 37 Police Commands including the FCT to address issues of violence against children and other gender-based violence across the country.
“For the Nigeria Police under my leadership, I can pledge my firm determination to develop our capacity and explore networks that will not only protect our children against violence, but ensure that deserved justice is served on offenders associated with violence against children in line with the dictates of our criminal laws”
He charged organizers of the event to take a deeper look at crucial areas like cultural factors that engender violence against children; social and psychological factors that inhibit the freedom to report such violence; and legal frameworks that complicate the timely delivery of justice in relation to violence against children and other gender-based violence.
It is now left for all stakeholders to go back and ensure that the efforts in launching the UN Year of Action to End Violence against Children, was not an exercise in futility so that in no distant time, the statistics of violence against children will no longer be shocking.