Rebecca Ejifoma

As Nigeria joined the world for the push to end violence against children by 2030 in line with Sustainable Development Goal, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has urged Nigerians to make child protection their responsibility, as it promises to mobilise political will in its commitment to end the scourge.

UNICEF made the call on World Children’s Day on May 27, with the theme, ‘Creating Safe Spaces for Children: Our Collective Responsibility’. This is to remind the world that child protection against violence is everyone’s responsibility.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), violence against children includes all forms of abuse against people under 18 years old. They are: physical, emotional, sexual and psychological abuse.

Just this year, countless number of children were abused in Nigeria. Among them are six years old, whose two teachers allegedly defiled; and an in-law, who defiled his four nieces aged 11, 10, eight and four years olds and a six years old neighbour in Lagos State.

While the two teachers of Peaklane Schools Akute in Ogun State, Messrs Anyawu and Leke, were said to have defiled the six years old in the rest room in March this year, Michael Chukwuemeka Chukem was arrested in May for continuously defiling the five girls.

THISDAY, who spoke with parents of the victims after the court hearing, gathered that the teachers will appear at Ifo Magistrate Court on June 6 this year, while Chukem will be arraigned again before the Tinubu Magistrate Court on Wednesday May 30 this year.

“Both the proprietress and her teachers have been insulting us. As much as I need justice, I just feel bad about the way my husband and I have been continuously humiliated and made like the perpetrators rather than victims,” mother of the pupil, Mrs. Afolabi, told THISDAY.

Therefore, to end such violence UNICEF Deputy Representatives, Mr. Isiye Ndombi, said Nigeria was the first country in the West African sub-region and the 9th country in the world to conduct the Violence against Children survey in 2014.

“The survey provided the first nationally representative data on the prevalence of sexual, physical, and emotional violence among children in Nigeria.”

He, however, described violence against children as pervasive. “Violations occur in the home, school, work place and online. The perpetrators often are the very people children are expected to trust: parents, caregivers and other family members, friends, teachers and intimate partners.”

According to the Deputy Representative, the findings – released at the end of 2015 – highlighted that millions of Nigerian children are suffering violence every year and most are suffering in silence.

Following the sordid increase, Ndombi estimated that six out of 10 children would suffer some form of emotional, physical or sexual violence before they attain age 18. He emphasised that many of them encounter violence over and over.

Sadly, he said that despite the number, less than five per cent of the children that seek help, receive support. “This was clear call for the government at all levels to act to end violence against children.”

He added: “The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development convened an inter-agency Technical Working Group on Violence against Children (VAC) comprising representatives from all the key ministries as well as civil society and faith-based organisations, to develop a robust response plan to the findings of the survey.

“In September 2015, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, launched a Year of Action to end violence against children. He renewed his commitment in October 2016 by launching a long-term campaign in line with SDG to End Violence against Children by 2030.”

Now, while expressing that nine states have rolled out this programme, Ndombi said: “We at UNICEF see potential for other states to follow. We are also seeing a promising increase in the number of children that have received support after having reported violations against them.”

Following this, UNICEF assured Nigeria that it remained firmly committed to ending violence against children in Nigeria. “We are determined to mobilise political will and resources to tackle all forms of violence against children wherever it happens.”

He added: “Currently, we are re-analysing the 2014 VACS findings to gain an even deeper understanding of the drivers of violence against children.

“We are, also, supporting our government partners to launch our National Plan of Action to End VAC by 2030 alongside a national Social Norms Change Strategy, and supporting the government to track and monitor reported cases.”

Notwithstanding, he commended Nigeria for demonstrating clear commitment to end violence against children – “Nigeria’s commitment provides an excellent opportunity to speak up on behalf of all the vulnerable children in the country.”

Therefore, while she called for more awareness, Ndombi urged everyone to protect children. “Violence against children can and must end. Change can only happen by tackling the issue from all angles like developing protective laws and policies, promoting services and awareness and more.”

Speaking exclusively to THISDAY, CPN Coordinator, Mrs. Ngozi Okoro, noted that it is the responsibility of parents, schools, religious centres, the society, the government and the child when it comes to create safe space and protect the child.

She spoke further: “The issue is that from the home angle, everybody is busy looking for money to care for the families; hence, some either forget their responsibilities or leave it to their house helps.

“If the parents do it right using every opportunity to interact with the children, giving them audience, they will protect themselves when they see danger signs. Empower the child with the right information, he won’t go astray,” she advised.

Following child abuse in schools, the CPN Coordinator tackled proprietors. “Owners of schools just employ anybody because they need teachers quickly; no interview, no assessment to know why the person left his former place.”

With the Lagos State Child Protection Policy, she suggested that if all schools domesticated it, which ensures that anybody they employ – from gateman to genitor – go through it. “This method will help curb child abuse in schools.”

“Homes, schools, churches should domesticate the Child Protection Policy and be aware of the child right law to protect the ones under their care. If we know this, we and the children will be safe,” Okoro said.