‘I want to take underage sex hawkers off the streets’

Olubunmi Igbinijesu, is a passionate, diligent and highly resourceful person with an overwhelming focus to help restore the dignity of womanhood. In pursuance of her passion, she founded The King’s Daughter, an NGO, through which she is currently empowering women and also reaching out to rehabilitate sexually exploited and under-aged prostitutes. An accountant by training, she is also a professional counselor and member of the American Counseling Association (ACA), with a Master of Arts in Counseling (in view). She also graduated from the Oakseed Executive Leadership Course of the Institute for National Transformation (INT), Lagos. She shares her experiences in this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU

What is Kings Daughter all about? The Kings Daughters International is a gender-based organisation focused on empowering women and girls spiritually, economically and socially. So basically we take a holistic approach towards empowerment of the female gender.

We do this by embarking on different projects. One of such is the TEAM Project that takes us to secondary schools to mentor girls and boys alike but our focus is more on the girls.

We train these girls on self development, leadership, personal hygiene and equip them with skills because we discovered that a lot of young girls mostly in secondary schools end up on the streets due to lack of money or skill.  The girls who perform in an outstanding manner in response to our training are given special recognition awards as well. For our skills acquisition, we also support the girls financially to enable them start up something so that those who don’t have money to further their education, can fall back on their skills. Aside girls, we train and empower women as well. I’ve been running this organization for the past eight years now.

Why the focus on female sex workers?
The passion to get young sex workers off the street came when I was growing up. I grew up in a polygamous home. My mother who happens to be the first wife and my father separated when I six years old. I am the only girl out of four children from my mother. My dad had custody of the children and my mum was not allowed to come anywhere close. She would come to our school and celebrate our birthday with us but at a point my dad stopped her from doing that, too. My stepmothers did horrible things to me. To say they were mean is an understatement because they literarily took the life out of me. They hated my mum so much. My stepmothers would punish me for things I didn’t do. For weeks my hair would go unmade. They did not take good care of me. So, I grew up not really enjoying the love and warmth of a normal loving and caring family. Somehow I managed to pull through all that. When I got into my early secondary school days, my dad sent me to stay with his sister. I ended up having to go to secondary school on my own. At some point I would come home and stay with my father in his compound, which had a brothel in it, and you know I was too young and vulnerable to be exposed to all that stuff. Men come to patronise young girls and women alike. For me, it just didn’t feel right that girls would trade their bodies for money. The whole experience left me in a sad place psychologically even though I had minimal contact with the women in the brothel. So naturally when I grew older, something inside of me wanted to reach out and help women and girls like that off the streets.

While helping sex workers, I interacted with many of them over the years when they are going through rehabilitation and discovered that they don’t really like that way of life but are driven by circumstances, though in few cases some are just greedy for seemingly easy money. Some of the girls even told me that they make so little. I have heard statements like “we live for one day”. They said that some days they make money while there are days they make nothing at all.

Anyway, I sought out people with passion to help these women and we have been combing the streets together trying to seek these women out and help them because few of them come out to seek help even when they are tired and strung out.  When we find them and we see that they are ready to get help, we rehabilitate, equip and house them for one year. This is because we want to monitor them and also change their orientation. We have succeeded in reconciling some of them who are underage to their parents. Over the years we have seen girls come out of this way of life to opt for a decent life. We are in the process of opening a home for them now and all plans are in top gear to launch the home this June.

How do you cope with the girls?
I have passionate and dedicated workers who are working with the girls. In this work, I’ve learnt to be patient because if you’re not patient, you will lose those girls. We counsel, instill discipline and empower them. Aside this, we are sponsoring some children from less privileged homes through school. We have two of them at Lagos State University (LASU). We are also helping children who are from abused homes.

What is your take on sexual violence on children?
Sexual violence in most cases is out of negligence of parents on their children. I’ve discovered over time that parents are not as careful as they ought to be. Like when I was growing up, I had an experience. My father’s very close friend asked us to come and play in his house. We went there and he asked my brothers to go to the sitting room to watch TV. He almost molested me that day. My saving grace was my elder brother who came to knock at the door, asking to know where I was. From that day I avoided him and never told anybody what happened. I was eight years old then and thank God it never happened. I know there are people that went through terrible experiences. Children who are molested hardly voice it out because of fear and stigma. The major thing with molestation is that most times the victims grow up with bitterness against men or people all through their lives and find it hard to heal. In fact, I kept mine a secret until I was about getting married, I told my husband. I managed to get over it and now I am going through a healing process. Parents have a lot of work to do.

How can parents protect their children?
My candid advice to parents is to be vigilant. No matter how you trust a family member, domestic staff or people please protect female children and don’t assume they cannot do it. There are even parents who molest their children and that is barbaric. I also advise parents to teach their children sex education at a tender age. A lot of parents don’t even teach their children (both male and female) sex education thereby opening them to learning wrong things from outside. Parents can start by telling their children from the age of two years the parts of the body that people should not touch. You must not be so occupied that you hardly have time for your children. Our children are part of our assignment on earth. The biggest legacy you can give your children is to educate and train them in the best way possible so that they can become responsible when they grow up. Be mindful of who you let into your home and make your children your best friend so that they can confide in you and tell you things. If possible, check your child’s body whenever you come back home. If a child has been abused, let her go through counseling to enable her heal from that experience. I advise churches to allow their counselors go through proper professional training. I think that churches need to also create room for members to come forward when abuse cases arise so that they can get professional counseling and therapy. Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs is doing a lot in that regard and churches need to liase with government and avail their members of these services by organising orientation programmes for members.

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