Ugo Aliogo writes on a nine-year-old girl, Precious Chiwendu, who was scalded with hot water by her foster mother
Precious Chiwendu is a nine-year-old child with a budding ambition. Like her contemporaries her desire has always been to excel in her academic pursuits in order to unlock the door to her greatness. But due to life circumstances and the harsh economic conditions, her parents did not have the financial wherewithal to give this dream the desired support. So, they sent her to Lagos to become a housemaid to Ifeoma Mbakwe.
Chiwendu began her new life in the metropolitan city of Lagos, spending most of her time worrying about the certainty of her future and her relationship with her new foster parent. No doubt, Lagos was a huge city to her and she found life different here. She saw a human community where people cared less about others, a far cry from her former community.
Mbakwe was given the sole duty to be a custodian and a parent to Chiwendu, but she turned out to be a thorn in the flesh for the little girl, beating her at any slightest provocation and starving her most times as a disciplinary measure. As a result of these ill-treatments, the primary three pupil lost every sense of love, care and comfort she was supposed to enjoy as a child.
On December 27, 2015, something eventful occurred which exposed to the world what the little girl has been enduring for a while. On that fateful day, the woman asked Chiwendu to bring crayfish, but she came back and said she could not find it. She (Mbakwe) accused her of eating the crayfish. Then in the heat of anger, she took an object which is used for grinding paper to hit the girl and then poured hot water on her.
Chiwendu said: “She hit me at my back and poured hot water on me. I complained that my body was paining me. But she told me to go and sleep. She does not give me food regularly. There is no food for me in the afternoon when I come back from the school. Sometimes, she would not give me food in the evening. She always beats me. I want to go back to my parents.”
When THISDAY contacted the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Dolapo Badmus, she explained that the girl is in protective custody, and the woman is already in court where she is being reminded in prison.
She noted that the case is already in court, and the police on their part have gathered every evidence and facts on the issue which they have presented to the court and they are waiting for the court verdict on the case.
Badmus further noted that the state command has three divisions that preside over the case of domestic and sexual violence especially on women and children, “therefore we advise people to promptly report these cases to the police and the trained hands will take charge, because we do have cases of people not handling cases of sexual violence very well.”
She added that, “They are at the Ilepuju, Sankoko in Agege and Adeniji Adele on the Island. But everyone is free to report cases on domestic violence against anybody in any division. But specifically, these three divisions are trained in conjunction with DFID. The case of this particular child is being handled by the Sankoko in Agege division and I was the one that investigated this case, when I was the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) therefore there is nothing much for the Police to do than to prosecute.
“What the police can do in their own capacity, is that we prosecute it so that it can serve as a deterrent to others who are willing to do that, but it is still the public that have a lot to do especially in the area of reorientation.
“First, make people to see the inherent dangers in doing such inhumane act and to make ensure that people are treated with human feelings. The police cannot know everything, it is the public that will alert us, but at our own end if when we have such reports, we will make sure we deal with it decisively so that it serves as a deterrent,” she said.
A sociologist and a Senior Lecturer in the University of Lagos, Dr. Franca Attoh, who reacted to the issue called on government to examine whether the institutions that are responsible in handling such cases are running properly, stressing that some of the situations are test cases ‘for us to do a reappraisal to know whether these institutions are actually running well, if they are not running well what should be done to reposition those institutions.’
Attoh added that: “Nigeria, has domesticated the child’s rights act therefore any form of violence against a child right should be prosecuted and the necessary sanction meted out. But beyond this, what the government should be looking out for is what engenders violence against children. For instance, why children who should be in school are be used as domestics? Has government fulfilled its own part of the social contract? If not then government cannot be completely exonerated from some of these issues? Why can’t government ensure through a policy of free education that all children of school age are in the school?
“The truth is that government can afford to have free education from primary to secondary level, there is tuition free, so if somebody want to go the university, he/she can take a loan and then the institution should have provisions for things like that.
“There is a social contract between the state and the government in exchange for tax, there are certain things the government is supposed to do for the state, one of them is security of lives and property and ensures the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Therefore what stops a country like Nigeria from having free education up to secondary school level, so that if somebody has primary education, it is classified as basic education? I recall during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 1999, he launched the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme.
“The programme scope consisted of six-year primary education, and three years of junior secondary education which explains that the first six years of your life you are supposed to have a basic education, then the next three years the individual will have the junior secondary education which stops at the level of Basic Educational Certificate (BEC). Then if you were not good in the senior secondary, the ideal thing would be for the individual to proceed to a vocational institution to hone your skills in any of the vocations. This is the reason why you find that there is a new curriculum.”
Chiwendu who hails from Orlu in Imo State has been under the protective custody of the Lagos state Office of Public Defender (OPD) after she was brought from Rem-Yems Hospital in the Agbado area of Lagos, where she has been on admission since December 28, 2015.
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government has adopted the child, a report in one of the national dailies noted that the Director of the Lagos Office of Public Defender, Mrs. Omotola Rotimi stated that the state Governor Akinwumi Ambode and the state Attorney General, instructed the agency to cater to the girl.
Rotimi said OPD would provide a legal representative for the victim for the prosecution of the case, adding that their legal representative will appear in court on behalf of the victim and “we will ensure that the case is diligently prosecuted to get justice for her.”
She added: “The attention of the governor and the Attorney-General was drawn to the plight of Precious Chinwedu, whose boss poured hot water on. We were instructed to take over the matter and the girl has been taken from the hospital with the help of the police. She is now in our protective custody.”
A legal practitioner and the Executive Director of Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) Mrs. Adaobi Egboka stated that there is the domestic violence prohibition law which has been in existence, but the challenge is the lack of awareness, “most people in the remote areas, are aware that there is a law, but they do not know there are legal organisations that they can use to challenge this type of criminal act.”
Egboka also noted that the society views domestic violence as an issue that should not be taken to the court of law, adding that 70 per cent of women are going through domestic violence in their marriages and relationships.
She explained that the public are aware of the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and women groups that are willing to handle such cases free, willing to provide counselling and take it up legally, but illiteracy affects people’s decision to take legal actions against the cases of domestic violence, “people do not know what to do, and the organisations to reach out to when they are confronted with these issues.”
She added: “I don’t want to look at the issue from poverty point of view, rather from an illiterate point of view. The women are willing to go to court, but after going to court for the first day, the family begins to intervene in the issue and persuades her to drop the case. So there is so much pressure coming from the family on the women not to proceed with the case.
“This is a child, therefore the Children Right Act comes into play here. First, the women deserve to be charged to court because it is a criminal offence, we should not forget the fact that a lot of these children who come from domestic backgrounds are used as domestic workers, so sometimes their parents even consent to their coming to live with such people, but the parents do not know the agony their children go through.
“Even when they know, their parents are a bit reluctant because of poverty, and lack of awareness on what to do in challenging such criminal act. But the fact is that many state governments have made free education available from the primary to the secondary level, so if parents can begin to take care of their children and send them to these government schools, they will not be doing domestic work anymore. Most times individuals involved in such cases wonder how long it will take in the delivery of justice.
“The problem with our criminal justice administration in Nigeria is becoming very interwoven and huge. For instance in Lagos State, we have the administration of criminal justice law and at the federal level administration of criminal justice in place which has tried to reduce, but we have not gotten there. Therefore the delays in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria have made many people to lose hope in the justice system. There is also the case of corrupt judges and people not being able to get help from the judge.
“Apart from the fact that there are women groups that are willing to support the girl through counselling, the woman should be made to pay compensation to the girl’s family, so in that way, the girl can get adequate treatment and go back to school. There are foundations such as the Mirabel centre, they handle issues of trauma, psychological problems and counseling programmes. There is also the Bimbo Odukoye Foundation, they have a lot to offer to young girls who have been through cases of assault and other gender issues.”