On the spate of child abuse
AS children resume for another school year, the gravity and magnitude of the horrific incidents of child abuse during the holiday period should be food for thought for parents, counsellors, school managers as well as authorities concerned with the protection of children.
During the long holiday, newspapers were awash with shocking cases of child abuse in the same manner the electronic media featured them. In many newspapers, no day passed without a reportage of rape cases, many of which were perpetrated by fathers and uncles or some familiar care-giver.
Of equal frequency was the hyped value of corporal punishment, which was taken to the level of absurdity as fathers turn their homes into torture chambers. For instance, eight year-old Shina Adegbola, a primary three pupil had his buttocks lacerated by his father who bloodied them with a stick because the poor boy stole his N500. The boy, who later returned the money upon request, claimed he stole the money because he was hungry, and his father and stepmother refused to feed him.
Kafayat, a 12 year-old girl, had her body scourged with wire whips by her father, when she intervened in a violent domestic squabble between her umemployed father and mother. Five year-old Olamilekan had bloody sores on his body inflicted on him when his father beat him with wire whips. Another five year-old, was so brutally beaten by his father that he had a broken neck. Precious, a nine year-old, had burns on his arms inflicted by his father who used pressing iron on him. The same kind of injury was inflicted on another Kafayat, 16, by her father.
In a suburb of Calabar, Cross River State, another frustrated father, Monday Okon Inyang, attempted to sell his 11-year-old son, David for N100,000 before being arrested by police. The unemployed and impecunious Inyang claimed his son confessed that he was a wizard and was responsible for his father’s predicament.
What is curious in all this is that these kids did not want to return to their homes for fear of the monster, they call parents.
Contrary to the views of perpetrators who justified the use of extreme punishment and physical violence as a way of training the child, rights groups and experts in child psychology and education are unanimous that inflicting injuries and physical assault on a child is neither punishment nor any means of reforming or correcting a child. Like these experts have rightly submitted, waywardness of a child should be blamed on an interplay of economic, social and physical environment in which a child is brought up. In the same vein, the harsh economic environment, with its effect on the emotional stability and psychological state of parents and guardians, is adduced as a reason for abuse. Others are the abysmal family lifestyle of individualism and atomisation that creates an absence of communication between parent/guardian and children, the tensed, overcrowded squalid environment with their susceptibility to aggression and violence, and also the traditional belief that extreme punishment is tantamount to child training.
Whatever the justification given, extreme punishment and infliction of injuries have negative effects on children. The experiences of child psychologists and psychiatrists as well as everyday happenings are not enough to make all appreciate the rampancy of this monstrosity. Like all other kinds of child abuse, maltreatment of children or infliction of injuries destroys quality parent-child relationship, creating a situation of mistrust and animosity. It dehumanises the child and imbues him or her with a low self-esteem and poor self value that may develop into emotional problems in future. It also perpetrates a tradition of aggression and abuse; for maltreated children are likely to inflict such negative treatments on their own children when they become adults. Above all, extreme punishment in the form of frequent physical violence and infliction of injury are likely to negatively affect the cognitive function of the child.
If the saying, today’s children are the leaders of tomorrow, is anything to go by, then public and private initiatives must synergise to safeguard the future of these abused children. In this regard, observant adults and neighbours should endeavour to report cases of abuse, as was the case of a nurse at the Igando General Hospital, in Lagos who having observed the gravity of injuries allegedly inflicted on Shina by his father, the child earlier mentioned, tactfully got his address and phone and reported the erring father to a civil society organisation for action.
On its part, government and relevant authorities should effectively enforce the Child Rights Act by ensuring that parents, care-givers and formal guardians who infringe on the rights of children are prosecuted. Often, many parents have resorted to religious injunctions and some uncritical submissions of African traditions as justifications for wanton abuse of children. While the regularly cited communitarian practice of the African may be upheld for its benefit to foster collective responsibility for the safety of the child, the pedagogic and social value of this practice must be questioned when it sets extreme punishment and physical violence as a guide for moral education.
Besides, civil organisations, faith-based associations and cultural groups should educate parents and parents-to-be on the tasking responsibilities of parenting. These bodies should disseminate positive personality –enhancing methods of corrections such as regular family meetings, positive reinforcement of behaviour, amongst others. Parents, guardians and care-givers should be made to understand that whilst discipline is a necessary condition for proper education of children, inflicting injuries and violent approaches to child training amount to abuse.