In this second part of our story on the life of Bola (13) and Tolu (10), whose father had been sleeping with for two years until they were rescued and he was apprehended in July 2013; and Susan (19), who allegedly had two children for her pastor-father, our correspondent reports on the multi-dimensional concern about child sexual abuses in the country and the opinions of stakeholders.
This correspondent obtained the address of Bola and Tolu’s mother, Kemi, which she had submitted to officials who took custody of her children following the arrest of her husband in July.
The address indicates she resides at Agugu in Ibadan, Oyo State but a visit to the said address showed Kemi was not living there. The look on the face of a young man who was seen at house No 25 showed confusion.
“Nobody by that name lives here,” he said simply. The phone line Kemi had given to officials always indicates that it is switched off.
Our correspondent could not get Kemi to state why she had not visited her children since their father was arrested.
Alarming increase in child rape
These are perilous times for the Nigerian girl-child. A sexual predation with a craving for little children stalks the streets like an invisible monster.
Bola, Tolu and Susan are just three of the many children who have been sexually abused or raped by their “primary care givers.” Many more are being raped by strangers or neighbours.
But the culture of don’t-ask-don’t-tell in many parts of the country makes it impossible to have an accurate data on the rate of abuses.
However, once in a while, some victims summon the courage to speak up as in the case of a seven-year-old daughter of Sylvester Ehijele, who accused his father of rape in March 2013.
While the girl said her 49-year-old father had sex with her on a daily basis whenever her mother was not at home, the mother, Margaret, accused Sylvester of raping their 23-year-old daughter when she was much younger. The man did not stop there, he also allegedly defiled his one-year-old granddaughter.
This correspondent went in search of the family in Ejigbo area of Lagos to find out how the family dealt with the issue after the man’s arrest. But neighbours said the family had since relocated to their village, perhaps to escape stigmatisation. No one knew their address.
A Consultant in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Mashidat Mojeed-Bello, said in cases she had seen, only few victims summoned the courage to disclose the unpleasant event.
A sociologist, Mr. Monday Ahibogwu, said his studies suggest that rape cases are usually brought to the knowledge of authorities by third parties as is the case in that of Bola, Tolu and Susan.
A lot of recent reports have suggested that very young children are increasingly being sexually abused in the country.
The Director of the Esther Child Rights Foundation, Mrs. Esther Ogwu, whose foundation has handled many of such cases in the last five years of her operation, said in March, she was alerted to a case in which the young uncle of a four-month-old girl raped her through the anus.
“The girl’s anus tore to the extent that the doctors laboured so hard to repair it. The toddler suffered so much. The culprit ran away and his brother, who is the father of the victim, accused his wife of cooking up the allegation against his kin. The woman eventually left Lagos for her village in shame. I don’t know if the baby survived,” she said.
Just this month, the Ogun State Police Command arrested 26-year-old Kehinde Adejuwon, for allegedly raping a two-year-old girl.
In Ekiti State, within the same month, a 19-year-old man was arrested in Ado-Ekiti for raping the three-year-old daughter of his neighbour.
Also in December, a 12-year-old boy was arraigned before an Ikeja Magistrate’s Court, Lagos for indulging in “forced intercourse” with the three-year-old daughter of a neighbour. The magistrate ordered the arrest of the boy’s parents.
Seventy-one-year-old hunter, Ganiyu Kolawole, was also arrested by the officers of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps in Ondo State for luring a seven-year-old girl with a biscuit and raping her.
Executive Secretary, Children’s Anti-Corruption Initiative, a non-governmental organisation concerned with the protection of children, Mr. Omololu Akinwande, believes the underlying reason for the ‘epidemic’ of child sexual abuses in the country is craze for quick wealth.
Akinwande said, “We have investigated many cases of child sexual abuse and we have come to the conclusion that the reason for the increase is the quest for money.
“Ordinarily, one would have thought that sexual desire is the underlying reason why many would rape children or sleep with little children. It is more than that. This kind of behaviour is done for money rituals.
“Unfortunately, religious organisations are also promoting the craze for wealth in the society as well. Our study reveals that child sexual abuse increased this year. But by our estimates, only one per cent of the total of incidents is reported.”
However, it seems the alarming increase in rape cases is getting the attention of law makers in the country.
Chris Anyanwu, a senator Imo State, sponsored a sexual offences bill, which prescribes life imprisonment for rapists few months ago. It passed second reading at the senate in November.
“The children and young people of this country, both male and female, today face a growing danger as they are being routinely targeted by sexual predators and paedophiles,,” Anyanwu had said in her argument.
What the law says
Section 31 (1) of Nigeria’s Child Rights Act, 2003, states, “No person shall have intercourse with a child.”
Subsection two goes on to say that, “A person, who contravenes the provision of Subsection one commits an offence of rape and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.”
If it is any other form of sexual abuse or exploitation as different from intercourse, the act prescribes an imprisonment of 14 years upon conviction.
The Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011, for instance, seems to be in agreement with the CRA on this. Chapter 137 states, “Any person who has sexual intercourse with a child is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life.”
Unfortunately, there have been few successful convictions of rapists and culprits of sexual abuses in line with the provision of these laws.
A prosecutor with the Lagos State Judiciary, Mr. Chinalu Uwadione, said the difficulty in prosecuting rape cases was as a result of the ignorance of the victims and their families.
“We find it difficult to prosecute such cases because many victims who even summon the courage to report the crime, refuse to come back to follow up the case. Families prevail on them to forget about the case for the preservation of their dignity.
“Some victims also destroy the material evidence that can help such cases. Some take their bath before reporting the case and make it impossible to prove rape.”
A senior Lagos lawyer, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu , is of the opinion that even though there is no mention of incest in the criminal laws of some states like Lagos, the ambit of the provisions of the Child Rights Act adequately takes care of such abhorrent acts.
Ugwummadu said, “The CRA does not draw a distinction between whether the children are violated by strangers or by the parents. The CRA covers both cases. The law is sufficiently elaborate so far as what is in the picture is a child.
“It is not even African for one to sleep with his own child. The leniency that could be argued in favour of a stranger cannot work for the father in the circumstance of our own setting. Even in foreign lands among people, who don’t have culture as deeply rooted as ours, it is unnatural and unpardonable to sleep with one’s child.
“The old Criminal Code, Cap 42, Section 357, defines assault on females, indecent assault on females, abduction of girl under 15. The point is that there is no incest but the general offences against female is wide enough to accommodate incest. Those provisions do not exclude incest.”
The lawyer explained that the police prosecutorial shoddiness is partly to blame for the unsuccessful prosecution of many rape cases.
He said, “We must not forget the cultural inhibitions associated with child abuse. It cannot be separated from the general stigma of rape. You hardly find a situation where the perpetrators are caught in the act. More often than not, the perpetrators are found when the victims summon the courage to report the crime. The general stigma associated with rape and sexual attacks on female and children imposes an additional duty on the police to go beyond the mere report of such offences.
“Quite a number of police formations trivialise such child sexual abuse cases and admonish the parents to forget about the matter so as not to expose the girl to stigma. Sometimes, they begin to wonder why the girl became the victim. The paucity of evidence, given the nature of the crime, affects these situations.
“The CRA has come with a huge revolution. What should interest any person regarding the seriousness that is attached to this law is first to note that it derives from the Constitution. Also, now, children can even institute a class action, not just against their parents but against government.”
The spokesperson of the Ogun State Police Command, Mr. Muyiwa Adejobi, agreed that the police at the counter of some formations lack the training to professionally handle sexual abuse cases.
He said the Inspector-General of Police had recently made effort to revitalise the unit handling such cases in police stations.
A culture of silence and no prosecution
Hardly do rape cases end up in the conviction of culprits.
Adejobi, who identified a number of reasons why sexual assaults generally have been difficult to prosecute, said, “It is very rare to see victims or their relations supporting prosecutions. Sometimes, the police charge the case to court but look stupid before the judge because the victim refuses to show up.
“For instance, recently we had a case of a woman coming to us to report that her husband had been sleeping with his own biological daughter. We charged the man to court. But the mother has been calling me on daily basis pleading that we should release him because she did not know we were going to take it that far.
“She went as far as filing a motion in court that they were not interested in the case anymore. She even brainwashed the victim that she wanted to destroy her father’s life.
“Don’t forget that when you talk about rape cases, timely medical examination of the victim is key. If you cannot tender medical report that there was carnal knowledge or ejaculation, there is no way one can prove rape.
“There was a time rape cases were so many that I had to go on the radio to sensitise the public that the situation was becoming alarming. We are trying to work on the psyche of the people.”
Adejobi said in his command, there is an anti-human trafficking and child labour unit headed by a woman, where sexual abuse cases are handled.
He explained that the IG had directed that Juvenile and Women Centres should be headed by women in all formations to ensure that victims have confidence to report rape cases.
“At charge rooms, some policemen make jest of the victims because they are men and this makes them uncomfortable. The IGP has taken note of these things and ordered all cases of rape, sexual assault and child labour should be referred to JWC and Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Labour Unit for investigation,” he said.
The social pressure that stands in the way of prosecution has been a cog in the wheel of successful prosecution, the police officer said.
Victims’ long way to recovery
The three girls focused on in this quest were all smiles throughout the encounter the encounter with our correspondent, though they acknowledged that they were scarred for life. But on the surface, all appeared to be well. To anyone, nothing is and could be wrong with them. But Mojeed-Bello had a contrary opinion.
The child psychiatrist told our correspondent that the concern is on the long term effect of their experience on their lives.
She said because the act was perpetrated by the primary care givers of the victims, they might develop a lot of immediate and long term effects.
Mojeed-Bello said, “A mark has been put on such children. They could develop post-traumatic stress disorders by continuously reliving the memory of the unpleasant event.
“Such victims could develop anxiety and undue fear. In the long term, they could develop major psychiatric problems like depression and other major psychosis later in life.
“The self esteem may be affected in such a way that they may not see themselves worthy of anything good. At some point, some may develop somatisation disorders; they start having some unusual bodily symptoms whose origin becomes untraceable through tests. There is a myriad of psychological impact on such children.”
The psychiatrist explained that some victims grow up to become abusers of young children themselves.
However, a lot of things help victims live normal lives, she said.
According to her, it is not so much about counselling as a treatment that helps such victims but the system adopted by the therapist.
“The support given to such victims helps them in the long term. Caring for them, providing them with shelter, showing them love is one aspect of it.
“But a group treatment helps a lot. Talking about what they have experienced in a group is a form of ventilating the mind. When you have a group of victims with similar experience, a therapist helps them walk through the difficult past experiences and gives them alternatives on how to cope with it.”
She said in many cases, it does not help at all to return the child back to the environment in which she passed through such experience.
Public wants incestuous fathers castrated
The reaction of the public to the case of Bola, Tolu and Susan mirror the dire consequences of the act of having sexual relations with one’s child.
Ahibogwu (the sociologist) said incest erodes the fabric of the society.
According to him, outside religious implications, the negative socio-cultural implications are enormous.
He said, “In the ancient cultures like Egyptian, Greek and Roman empires, people were made to marry their sisters so that they would not have their blood polluted by non-family members.
“But the situation changed when civilisation realised that what it portends was more dangerous than what it protected. People killed each other in envy because they had affections that they could not control for relations.
“The act is abominable across cultures. In some countries, you are even prosecuted. Some cultures in Nigeria allow the marriage of cousins while it is abominable in some other parts.”
The abuse of the children here usually begin in their formative years.
Ahibogwu said that when such abuse starts when the girl-child has yet to understand the difference between right and wrong, it reaches a stage that such child willingly goes to the father for the sexual act as if it is a normal thing.
He said, “It is a breach of confidence in the father-child relationship. Many seemingly normal people on the street are not psychologically balanced. Some men do not have the ability to control their sexual urge which is why they have sexual relations with children.
“It is not a healthy behaviour for the society. It is rape; it is child abuse, sexual abuse and breach of confidence between father and daughter.”
Ogwu is of the opinion that the act has some ritualistic undertone.
“Why did the father of those two young girls clean them up with a white singlet and took it away after he was done? One may not be able to prove it, but it is a notion supported by my findings,” she said.
Incest has always been an abomination in many parts of Nigeria and the feeling of Nigerians has not changed on the issue.
Some members of the public this correspondent spoke with gave different versions of ‘creative’ punishments for fathers who sleep with their children.
“I don’t see why such a man should still enjoy the use of a male organ since he has used it in an abominable way. He should simply be castrated,” 65-year-old retired principal, Mr. Adeosun Olugbade, said.
A young man, Ayodele Alonge, was in agreement.
“In an ideal situation, castration should be the first punishment for such devilish fathers. Next ex-communication, as societies normally would do in the ancient times. Such person should be taken away for rehabilitation because insanity may be an issue here,” he said.
Olajide Sonaike shares the same opinion. He said the “grave” offence should be met with an equally grave punishment.
“A father like that is a virus. Guillotine system would not be such a bad idea though,” he said.
Ayodeji Olofintuabo, an employee of the National Youth Service Corps suggested that raping a child should be described as “sleeping with a child.”
“It may not be strange in some cultures but anybody caught in Nigeria should be locked away for life,” he said.
Akinwande suggested a death sentence for such fathers.
The CACTI boss said, “Our laws are too liberal. Do this in China or Saudi Arabia and the culprit will die for it. Only this method can eradicate this kind of menace in our society.
“Our society seems to be in support of the problem because when you offer to help or report, they start begging you. It is unfortunate. The last case of sexual molestation of a four-year-old girl that we handled, the father blamed us for taking up the matter.”
A septuagenarian, Pa Joshua Chukwueloka, who spoke with this correspondent in Ojodu, Lagos, said in Igbo culture, incest is a very abominable act.
He explained, “When I was young, if someone did such a thing in my village in Anambra, the person was treated like a leper. Both the child and the father were exiled. They were not even allowed into other neighbouring communities because the news would have spread.“It is an act that is unheard of but the quest for money and some devilish spirits make people do it. It is a very negative act in Igbo culture. A man who sleeps with his own child should be tied to a truck and dragged around town.”