Protecting Children from Sexual Assault amidst Schools Closure

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With the increasing cases of sexual assault against school age children, which many have attributed to the continued closure of schools to curb the spread of COVID-19, the sole responsibility of protecting the children now rests on parents, who also must work hard to cater for them. Uchechukwu Nnaike sought the views of education stakeholders on how parents can combine these responsibilities effectively

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria is currently dealing with a number of challenges such as hunger, increasing crime rate, rape and sexual assault. These cases have become rife in the past few weeks and more worrisome is the fact that the perpetrators murder the victims, perhaps to eliminate any trace.

If the late student of UNIBEN, Uwaila Omozuwa was blamed for her decision to go reading (alone) when schools are still shut, what about Barakat Bello, a student of the Federal College of Animal and Production Technology, Moore Plantation, Apata, Ibadan, Oyo State, who was raped and murdered at home; and many other cases of children being raped or molested by neighbours and family members?

Findings from a National Survey carried out in 2014 on violence against children in Nigeria confirmed one in four females reported experiencing sexual violence in childhood with approximately 70 per cent reporting more than one incident of sexual violence. In the same study, it was found that 24.8 per cent of females 18 to 24 years experienced sexual abuse prior to age 18 of which 5.0 per cent sought help, with only 3.5 per cent receiving any services

Though sexual assault is not peculiar to girls alone, but with the current trend, it is obvious that girls are not safe anywhere; and parents need to make more effort to protect and guarantee their children’s safety, especially now that they are not under the care and scrutiny of their teachers and schools.

According to the Chairman, Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Hon. Olawale Alawiye-King, responsible parenting/parenthood requires passion, love, sacrifice and commitment towards raising a complete child.

“This is more needed at this time, considering the barrage of threats that children are exposed to by the continued closure of schools and even beyond. Hence, the need to optimise and improvise to meet the reality of this moment.

“Proactive parenting will be advised and essential. Thus, children must be guided and given maximum attention accordingly. This include ‘prearming’ children with strategies that reflect the parents values and guiding them through decision making.”

He urged parents/guardians to educate their children on the current vices and happenings in their environment such as rape, sexual assaults, child molestation, among others and to speak up if they come across such dangers. “Sex Education should be taught at home as well.

Practically, guiding children is important because rules in adulthood are not always clear or practical. Rules including preventing strangers from touching them in private areas and being alone with strangers and to report such acts to their parents. Children must also be made to understand the reasons behind these rules very clearly.

“Parents/gaurdians can explain that clear communication minimizes the risks of becoming a perpetrator and victim. Parents/guardians can teach that affirmative consent is a necessary prerequisite to any sexual behavior for teens especially. Affirmative consent is now the standard commonly used during student sex education trainings.”

Alawiye-King added that children must learn how to seek affirmative consent respectfully; how to convey affirmative consent when they want to give it; and how to recognize what is not affirmative consent. “Simply put, no means no and nothing more. All these is to ensure that the children are well informed if they come across such challenges. Parents should also often give rewards for good behavior to instill the right set of values in them,” he said.

“Households with absent parents/guardians may adopt the shared responsibility approach where one parent looks after the children, while the other fends for the family at least for this special period.
“Government at all levels have intensified advocacy and campaign against child abuse and molestation, it behoves parents/guardians to support the government by keeping the home fronts safe for their children,” the SUBEB Chairman said.

For Mrs. Yinka Awobo-Pearse, the Director, Woodentots Consult Limited: “There is no other way but for schools to open as soon as safe. In the meantime, employers have to allow parents (husband or wife) whichever earns more should return and the other stays home with reduced salary (I guess this will be the case).

“Of course government is not in a position to offer financial support, but they can encourage employers and parents with their voice. The abuse is a serious situation,” she said.

An educator, who preferred anonymity, advised parents to start educating their children about their bodies and sexuality very early, as soon as they start talking and can understand what is being said, adding that children should be taught to be bold and assertive and call for help whenever they sense any unusual touching and gesture from any male.

“Parents should also try and make themselves more available to their children, be friends with their children so that they will be free to tell them anything. Also girls should not be allowed to go out alone at night or be alone with a man in a lonely place at any time.”

A number of self-defense techniques were also suggested for women like bag punch and kicking when attacked from behind; punch in the groin; putting one’s fingers in the attacker’s eyes; palm strike; heel to the feet, among others.