Child abuse: How to tell if something is wrong and what to do – Part 2

Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi

According to the Coordinator of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, there has been an increase in the reporting of sexual abuse, child rape and abuse especially in Lagos State. Though the figures are a still a little sketchy, Adeniyi says data collection would improve in the next four years, which will determine if there is still an increase in child rape and abuse. As for the increase in reportage, she credits it to increased intolerance to such issues, increased awareness about support services available to survivors and sheer political will to fight the menace.

Adeniyi adds that signs to look out for include
age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual behaviour, sexually explicit drawings and behaviour, unexplained fear of a person or place, unexplained itching, pain, bruising or bleeding in the genital area, age-inappropriate seductive behaviour, pregnancy in young girls, venereal disease, frequent urinary or yeast infections.

“As parents, there are various steps that can be taken to reduce the possibility of your child being abused. First, bond and fellowship with your child(ren) (a secret shared with you, is still a secret), teach your children their rights, especially relating to safety; teach them about their body parts, good and bad touch, the need to set boundaries, basically, use age appropriate messages for them.

“You can be creative, it can be whilst giving them a bath, you can begin to introduce the names of their private parts to them, and that they are private and should be covered, kept for them and them alone, an if anybody touches them, the should threaten to tell their parents.

“Also monitor your child’s television, video, and internet viewing/usage. Watching violent films, TV programs, and videos can harm young children. Be a nurturing parent, children need to know that they are special, loved and capable of following their dreams. Provide quality care and education early in life. Ensure your children’s school has Safeguarding and Child Protection Policies in place. Teaching children, parents and teachers prevention strategies that can help to keep children safe. Report suspected abuse or neglect in any child because keeping children safe is the responsibility of every adult in the community, she added.”

For a concerned outsider, Adeniyi points out signs to show a child is being abused, either physically, sexually, emotionally or sheer neglect. “Indicators of physical abuse include questionable, recurring bruises, bite marks, bald spots, cigarette/general burns and questionable, multiple, or recurring fractures. Indicators of neglect include persistent hunger, stealing or hoarding food, abrupt/dramatic weight change, poor hygiene, recurring untreated medical issues, inappropriate dressing and excessive school absences.”

Adeniyi reveals that they are ensuring survivors of sexual abuse have access to medical attention, working with the police to ensure cases are promptly investigated and suspects are remanded but, more importantly, have embarked on various projects aimed at reducing the chances of children falling prey to pedophiles, including: STRAC- Safeguarding the Rights of a Child Workshop for Primary School students and STAI- Smart Teens Advocacy Initiative for teenagers.

“We have also embarked on various trainings, Multi Agency Trainings for all Designated Safeguarding and Child Protection Officers, including doctors, social welfare officers, administrators of schools and police officers. If everybody plays its part, including the society, ending violence against children by 2020 can become a reality. Whilst the VAAP Act is an enactment that is binding only on the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, other states can, however, be persuaded to adopt it or enact similar law.

“In Lagos State, we have the Protection Against Domestic Violence Law, 2007. There are, however, some innovative provisions in the VAPP Act, it is an offence to forcefully eject a spouse from the home, forced financial dependence, female circumcision, harmful traditional practices have also been criminalised under the VAPP Act. Perhaps the Protection Against Domestic Violence Law, 2007 may be amended to incorporate these innovative sections.”

“Teachers, parents, relatives, guardians are all mandated reporters and under the Executive Order, 2014, every mandated reporter is legally required to report actual or suspected child abuse to the relevant authority. Lagos State requires that anybody that has dealings with children must file a report where there is reasonable cause
to suspect abuse or neglect. This is an extremely low legal threshold. You do not have to wait until you become very sure or you have conclusive evidence. In fact, if you are not a professional, you should not embark on an investigation. Your duty is if you suspect or see something, report to the relevant agency.

“All that is required is for there to be a reasonable suspicion, if it’s in the school setting, the Safeguarding Child protection Officer or the Guidance Counselor or the Social Welfare Officer would be notified and then the school would have interface with the relevant government agency- Child Protection Unit. In other instances, the suspicion can be communicated anonymously, by dialing *6820# or by calling DSVRT on 0813-796-0048 or reaching Child Protection Unit on 0907-733-3426 and the necessary steps will be taken to ensure that the rights of the child are adequately protected,” she said.

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