Dr. Nimi Stephnie Ekere is a wife, mother and consultant family physician and fellow of National College of Family Physicians. She also wears the toga of child’s rights advocate, parenting enthusiast, life coach, mentor, public speaker and teacher. Passionate about effective and intentional parenting, Ekere who is an author in her own right, in this interview with MARY NNAH, says her NGO, Smile and Shine Children’s Foundation, is at the forefront of addressing issues of child sexual abuse in Nigeria and why her two recent books on sexual violence are a must read for everyone
How easy is it to work with children in terms of advocacy given the circumstances in Africa where Child Rights is not really on the front burner?
It really is no walk in the park but when your passion drives or propels you, you have a seamless journey. My profession as a medical doctor and consultant Family Physician makes it a lot more interesting as people tend to naturally trust their doctors. This has helped me a great deal in relating to the children and being a voice for them. Most parents listen to their doctors and children are quick to open up to their doctors who they see as role models.
Even if it is a lot of work to be a child Rights advocate, I find it fulfilling because I love children with everything in me and remember that I am a mother too. As much as it is not a very easy road especially in a country like Nigeria, I must say that I haven’t had much difficulty at all.
Most child rights advocates have complained incessantly about how parents obstruct justice for their children in cases of abuse. What’s your take on this?
That is so correct. A lot of parents in this part of the world are not ready to own up to issues of child abuse especially if the perpetrator is someone within the family or a rich and powerful person. You hear things like, ‘’Dr, it is a family matter’’ or “we don’t want the matter heard outside’’, etc
You also run Ekom Charity Foundation, What’s that about?
I decided to start Ekom Charity Foundation to mentor young children and care for the less privileged, especially women because of my love for children and the empathy I feel for women who are economically disadvantaged. What we have done in the area of mentoring is go to schools to teach children about charting a good course for their lives. They are taught to avoid peer pressure, drugs, all forms of vices and we counsel them too. And to further strengthen our give-back culture for children we have organised events like Christmas parties in slums with Santa Claus giving wonderful gifts to the children. Most of these kids had never had a Christmas party in their lives and the excitement on their faces remained indelible, to say the least. On a wider scale, the foundation also does free medical outreaches and health campaigns. So far, we have carried out numerous free medical services for the less privileged.
What really is the focus of your foundation, Smile and Shine?
Smile and Shine was birthed out of a burning desire to end child sexual abuse. Being on the field I have seen children become medically and psychologically traumatised because of child sexual abuse (CSA), while some even committed suicide. I have seen parents lose their children to the deleterious effects of CSA. I have also seen people blame the victims or survivors rather than give them the help that they deserve while the perpetrators walk the streets like heroes. I want to stop this.
I want to be able to help prevent abuse in the first place and in the sad event that it happens, we want to make sure that help is proffered and these children are subsequently reintegrated back into the society and become healthy adults regardless. I am responding to a profound need to also break the silence that is attached to CSA. I call it the “don’t tell anyone” phenomenon which is common in this part of the world. I believe that if victims are allowed to speak up, help would come faster and so, healing would also be faster and long lasting.
With the current rape pandemic we are experiencing in the country, what is expected of the health sector in playing its role to curb the menace?
The health sector both public and private must be fully prepared to handle cases of sexual violence. Primary health centres should ideally have all it takes to handle cases of rape, rather than continue to refer patients to higher facilities or centres. Similarly, the private clinics and hospitals must be ready to handle rape cases at all times. Knowing that the earlier the patient is attended to after the incident, the better the outcome, it is imperative to have all centres fully equipped to handle cases of rape.
As a doctor, what are the first three things you’d advise a rape survivor or the parents of a rape survivor to do immediately it happens?
As a doctor, these are the first three steps I would advise a rape survivor; first, you don’t have to feel ashamed. It was not your fault. You are and will always be a hero or heroine. Thank you for speaking up and confiding in me or anyone else.
Secondly: you would need to go to the hospital as soon as possible, or at least within 72 hours of the occurrence of the incident, as this would help prevent STDs/AIDs, pregnancies (as the patient is at risk of these) and treat any other accompanying ailment It is advisable not to wash or change clothes if the rape has just occurred as this would help in the event of a forensic evaluation, this would help as samples would be taken for analysis.” And thirdly: counseling for the victim and the family would be advised and implemented immediately.
Why don’t we have rape kits in Nigerian hospitals at this point in history? This is a matter of concern and such, who should we hold responsible for the unavailability of these kits?
We do have rape kits in some hospitals, however a lot of centres have incomplete kits while some others do not have at all and refer patients to tertiary heath. I would not say that there is unavailability of rape kits but I would rather say that we could do better. For instance, there is no reason why primary health centres should be referring victims to higher facilities. Rape kits should be readily available in every hospital. All government hospitals at every level must ensure that there is availability of enough rape kits, the private sector and NGOs because of the rising prevalence of rape cases.
Also, the government, private sector and even individuals should do well to sponsor health personnel and even the staff of the investigative unit of the police force on training in forensic education as this would help in cases where the perpetrator is not known. The worrisome question on everyone’s lips would be ” how prepared are we for DNA and forensic analysis? Well, with the introduction of the BVN, we are on the right track.
The truth remains that there should always be availability of rape kits in every facility as it is advocated that rape cases be seen in the hospital as early as possible.
Tell us about the books you’ve published
I have published four books for Preschoolers and young children, older children and preteens, teenagers and young adults and parents. There’s a collection of books for the family on how children can prevent sexual abuse and how they can build a formidable relationship. So they basically teach children and parents all they need to know about child sexual abuse. They include; ‘Some parts are special’ for pre-schoolers and young children aged two to seven years, ‘Setting boundaries’ for older children , ‘Sparkles at dawn’, for teenagers and young adults and ‘Into the light’ for parents and guardians’.