The authorities must do more to protect the Nigerian child

The growing rate of reported rape cases of minors in Nigeria is becoming unacceptable. What is more dreadful and unacceptable is that those involved in these criminal activities are usually treated with levity whenever they were arrested by the law enforcement agents. This disposition must change if we are ever going to deal with a situation that puts the lives and future of many of our children at great physical, emotional and psychological risk.

A recent investigation by an organisation involved in conducting public opinion polls within the country, NOIPolls, revealed that almost seven in 10 adult Nigerians (67 per cent) decried the high incidence of teenage rape in the country, while three in 10 (31 per cent) personally know of a victim of child rape in their local communities. The findings of the organisation further revealed that almost four in 10 (36 per cent) of adult Nigerians claimed that most often the alleged offenders involved in child rape were close family relatives and neighbours (33 per cent). And almost half (49 per cent) of those that personally know a victim claimed they were usually children aged between seven and 12 years. Some 78 per cent of these respondents claimed also that cases were reported without any serious effort by the police to investigate and/or prosecute the alleged offenders.

Given the foregoing statistics, the crucial questions are: Why is child rape on the increase in Nigeria? And what should be done to control this social malaise? We will be putting it mildly to say that rape is one of the most traumatising forms of violence against children. It is even more damaging when carried out by a person in a position of power and trust in a child’s life. Against the background that the effect of rape is enormous, even for adults, specialists believe that a child who has faced that kind of ordeal could grow up believing everyone is going to hurt him or her and may have little or no self-confidence. Such a child could also be dreadful, inaccessible and lack respect for, and trust in, authority.

Besides, all this will be compounded if the child has no support, is met with doubt or simply cannot tell anyone. If there is family breakdown and a lack of solid nurturing, such children are known to do less well at school because they are either not there or when they are there, they can’t concentrate. The abused child may also feel no relationship to the rest of the society. And like specialists in social studies have consistently argued, a person who feels unloved will surely not give love while those who feel disrespected would respect nobody. All these have a way of impacting negatively on the larger society.

However, it is more worrisome that majority of rape cases involving children go unreported principally because parents want to protect their children from probable stigmatisation. But perhaps the main challenge is that most people also realise that the victims may not get justice. Therefore, there is need for the authorities to do more in protecting Nigerian children. First, the perpetrators should receive a sentence commensurate with their offences. Most Nigerians have suggested a stiffer punishment of at least 14 years imprisonment against the few months that currently exist in the statutes of most jurisdictions.

Beyond the issue of commensurate punishment for offenders, there should also be institutions to help these vulnerable victims on how to handle the trauma arising from such crimes. We must work to protect our children from unconscionable predators who are messing up innocent lives and getting away with it.