In the game of football, there are two sides, each seeking to win the game. There is a ball being tossed back and forth until the referee’s whistle marks the end of the game. The game of life is similar to that of football but here the ball represents children. While many people are introduced into their lives there are only two teams; those who seek to take advantage of their innocence and those who don’t.
As the world evolves, protecting children has never been so important. The violation of the rights of children comes in many forms (violence, child labour, trafficking, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, child marriage, lack of official recording of births, etc.) and millions of children around the world experience the worst kinds of rights violations (UNICEF). In the present day, child sexual abuse has become like a cancer eating into the very fabric of our society.
Worldwide, around 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sex in their lifetime; nine million of these girls had been victimized within the past year. Of those abused, nine in 10 reported that they experienced forced sex in the hands of someone known to them. Unfortunately, only 1% of adolescent girls who have experienced forced sex reached out for professional help. Boys are at risk too but many of the atrocities against them are largely unreported (UNICEF).
In Nigeria, according to the 2014 Violence Against Children Survey (VACS), 16.4% of females and 8.4% of males aged 13 to 17 years experienced sexual abuse in the 12 months prior to the survey. Of those reporting sexual abuse in the past 12 months, 64.1% of females and 76.0% of males experienced multiple incidents of sexual abuse over the course of their lifetime. Whereas, 47% of female and 34.9% of male reported cases took place at age 13 or earlier. The abused children frequently named neighbours as the last perpetrators of the abuse.
Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) takes place multiple times every day but many are unreported as evidenced in Nigeria. People who sexually abuse children can be found at home, in schools, churches, mosques, recreation centres, youth sports leagues, and any other places children gather. Surprisingly, abusers can be and often are other children. With CSA, the stranger danger rule does not apply. Those we contend with are often closer to the children than we think, they manage to gain their trust and then strike.
We cannot always be with our children. Hence, we have to equip them with knowledge. It is important to help them understand when a touch is predatory and intrusive. Children – both boys and girls – need to be able to identify their private parts by name and know when contact with these organs is tantamount to abuse. They must also be aware of what to do when this occurs – report to a trusted adult. This is where educating the school, parents, and religious leaders, amongst others, about the sensitivities of child protection becomes important.
Also, laws will need to be amended to account for current realities. CSA goes beyond penetration to include inappropriate touching or fondling of private parts, illicit exposure of children to sexual content, which may be a form of grooming before the actual act and so on. These need to be accounted for in our laws. A child need not go through the painful experience of forced sex before we are able to take action.
We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and act like this is not happening around us. CSA is a global epidemic with dire effects and should be treated as such. Statistics reveal that delinquency, crime, substance abuse, teenage pregnancies, amongst other vices are more prevalent in adolescents with a history of child sexual abuse than their counterparts. Often times, the victims eventually become the abusers if the situation is not managed properly, and in most cases, it is not.
Following the recent UNICEF World Children’s Day which was celebrated on 20th November, it is important to remember that children have the right to be protected. A key UNICEF goal is to ensure that government decisions are influenced by an informed awareness of children’s rights and by improved data and analysis on child protection issues. Children’s rights violations have to be captured. You have a part to play. Sign the UNICEF petition and #GoBlue to call on world leaders to commit to fulfilling the rights of every child and acknowledge that these rights are non-negotiable. It is your duty.
Bolanle Otukoya is a Child Protection advocate