The law prohibiting violence against children should be enforced

That the incidence of domestic violence across the country has extended to children is frightening just as the statistics of the prevalence are worrisome. While we urge the relevant authorities to pay attention to this malaise, it is also important for parents to be more alive to their responsibilities.

In the latest survey by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), six out of every 10 Nigerian children suffer some forms of physical, emotional or sexual violence before attaining the age of 18. The survey, carried out by the National Population Commission (NPC) with support from UNICEF and the United States’ Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed that violence against children has become so widespread: one in two children experienced physical violence; one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence; and one in six girls and one in five boys experienced emotional violence. Unfortunately, majority of these children did not speak to anyone about the violence they suffered and fewer than five per cent actually received the help they needed to recover from the trauma.

We share the view of the Lagos State Governor, Mr Governor Akinwunmi Ambode that Nigerians have a clear moral, legal and economic imperative to end violence against children and that we cannot allow these findings and the priority actions needed to fight it to remain on paper. We therefore urge the government, at all levels, as well as international donors and non-governmental organisations to begin to respond to this crushing incidence of violence against children. To start with, highlighting the true magnitude of the violence is crucial to drumming up public support and encouraging steady action towards its eradication.

The strategies for addressing this violence should also include provision for counselling services, engagement of parents and creating public awareness by involving all critical stakeholders in the campaign. This is because a major concern from the UNICEF study was the lack of counselling unit and professional counsellors to manage cases of violence in many of our schools across the country. We believe that the consequences are enormous if the appropriate authorities refuse or fail to act urgently on this growing incidence as we may unwittingly be breeding an angry, psychologically traumatised, wayward and rebellious generation.

What is particularly disturbing is that the current trend of violence through child trafficking, forced marriages, sex exploitation and abduction, is a national malaise. According to the Oyo State State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, this was unacceptable as “the protection of the child and the promotion of their well-being are closely linked to development and well-being of the society.”

It is noteworthy that four days to the end of his administration on May 25, 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill into law. The act not only addresses emerging forms of violence, it provides commensurate penalties for offences as well as compensation for victims of violence which had never before constituted a part of our laws. Yet as commendable as the law is, available reports indicated that incidences of violence against these vulnerable groups had increased, rather than abate. The challenge of domesticating the law in many of the states as well as enforcing it where already domesticated is at the heart of what is necessary to tackle the menace.

What the foregoing suggests is that apart from creating awareness against this violence, government should also begin to formulate policy guidelines for addressing the problem in many of our schools. But the society must also rise up to the challenge of all forms of abuse and violence against children in Nigeria.