Saturday letter

The cases of child sexual abuse and defilement of underage/teenage girls at schools, at home and in between are many. The story of the 16-year-old JSS111 student of Day Secondary School Tunga Minna, who was allegedly impregnated by a vice-principal generated public outcry from different quarters. Wife of the president, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, took personal interest in the matter. She called on relevant authorities to ensure that justice is done.

Hajiya Aisha contacted the wife of Niger State Governor, Dr. Amina Sani Bello to take interest in the case before Fati Auna magistrate court. Chief press secretary to the governor’s wife, Aisha Wakaso, hinted that the Child Rights Agency was also monitoring to ensure that due diligence was done. The accused was said to have had sex with the girl three times in his office, thereby contravening sections 19 and 25 of the state Child Rights Act. Just recently, the Emir of Bauchi, Alhaji Rilwanu Suleman Adamu ‎called on the state government to separate boys and girls in schools to ensure morality and preserve the future of children.

I must assert that this is just one in hundreds of thousand cases of rape against underage female citizens. Villages, towns and cities are not different in the records of this social menace. Many little girls die from such wicked acts unnoticed. Unwanted pregnancies and abandoned new born babies from these heinous and inhuman activities are many.

Sexual abuse, researchers say, is the misuse or wrong use of sexuality whether in action, touching of breast or buttocks, very intimate body contact or actual sexual intercourse with a child. It also alludes to use of words suggestive of intention to engage in any form of sexual activity or practice. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that at least one in five of world’s female population has been physically or sexually abused. The threat is increasing among girls who often have faced problems of gender inequality in addition to the usual problems of unguarded childhood and adolescence manifested in child labour and street hawking.

Street hawking is a common form of child labour in developing countries, Nigeria inclusive, and the female children are mostly victims. According to research, the child on the street is exposed to malnutrition, respiratory tract infection, mental illness and violence including sexual exploitation by men. It is widely believed that the men prefer young girls as sexual partners because they assume they are sexually inexperienced hence are less likely to be infected with sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Sexual abuse among female street hawkers/vendors in Nigeria is another source of worry. A research by African Journal of Reproductive Health on women’s health and action research centre showed that street hawking exposes young girls to all forms of hazards, including sexual abuse. Data collected through research proved that the mean age of the female hawkers was 13 + 2.2 years. Out of 186 respondents, 130 (69.9%) had been sexually abused with 32 (17.2%) having had penetrative sexual intercourse, (28.1% were forced and 56.3% submitted willingly) while hawking. Majority (59.4%) of the sexual partners were adults. Worryingly, there was low awareness of the twin risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among the respondents.

Furthermore, there has been deliberate discrimination against the girl child especially as regards education with the wrong belief that their marriage deprives the parents and family of such investment. In order not to waste limited resources and to make the girl more relevant to her family, she is given minimal education and the result is low aspiration and limited career and employment opportunities. There are also stress related problems when some of these girls are given to rich families as house helps or sent into street hawking.

Aderinto Adeyinka Abideen in an article “Gender and Behavour” argues that the special circumstances in which girl children find themselves in urban Nigeria expose them to possible risks of physical, psychological and sexual abuse which in turn increase their vulnerability to early pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.

The United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) treats child labour with great concern in Nigeria, in spite of legislative measures. It defines child labour as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development. Statistics released by International Labour Organisation show that the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15 million. These include street vendors, beggars, car washers, cobblers, shoe shiners, mechanics, hairdressers, bus conductors, domestic servants and farm hands.

The West Africa Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) Nigeria Platform, with support from the Ford Foundation held a dialogue in Abuja on ‘Curbing Early Marriage and Protecting Children’s Rights in Nigeria’ with a clarion call for the integration of child marriage prevention efforts into existing development programmes while stakeholders who were instrumental to the passage of the Child Rights Act at the national level should act collectively to see that the act is eventually promulgated into law in all the states of the federation.

Muhammad Ajah, Abuja