According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), abuse or violence in all its forms is a daily reality for many Nigerian children and only a fraction ever receive help.
The National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 defines a child in Nigeria as anybody who is 12 years or below; however, a draft decree put into law now sets the age of the child in Nigeria as 18 years or below.
Violence Against Children (VAC) is defined as constituting all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence, exploitation or for commercial purposes of which result or pose harm to a child’s health, survival or development.
It takes different forms, including physical, psychological and sexual; often times, it also takes the shape of disciplinary measures.
In recent times, children are even used as human bombs and in any combat or non-combat roles in the conflict in north-east Nigeria.
Studies also show that six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence, one in four girls and 10 per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence.
Often times, the children who reported violence receive little or no form of support.
In all of these, the physical, mental, social and even economic burden of VAC is enormous.
Identifying the huge consequences of VAC, world leaders in 2015 made a commitment to end all forms of violence against children by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the same campaign tagged “End Violence Against Children by 2030,’’ on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016.
Following the launch and with increasing incidence of different forms of VAC, including rape, trafficking, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), there have also been various clamours to end VAC in the country, of which requires a holistic approach.
This is especially as poverty, discrimination and attitudes, especially cultural and gender which directly or indirectly facilitate violence toward children to continue.
A study by UNICEF, the first of its kind in Nigeria, shows that about half of Nigerian children reported some form of physical violence by a parent, adult relative, community member or intimate partner prior to attaining the age of 18.
The studies, “A Financial Benchmark for Child Protection, Nigeria Study, Volume 1’’ and “The Economic Burden of Violence Against Children’’ were based on data gathered from 2014 to 2016 and the survey done in 2018.
The study on the Economic burden of VAC, reveals the cumulative loss of earnings as a result of productivity losses across diﬀerent types of violence against children to be N967 billion ($6.1 billion), accounting for 1.07 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This amplifies the urgency to act on reducing or outright stopping of VAC.
However, achieving this will involve increasing efforts on Child Protection Services; efforts that will include awareness on prevention strategies, the implications of VAC and the consequent penalties as even cheaper options.
Ms Juliane Koenlg of UNICEF, Abuja, tells the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the most important thing is still to increase the awareness on the prevalence of violence against children in Nigeria which is high.
“It is a huge problem, especially on its impact on health and economy in Nigeria; the child needs protection.
“If we look at child protection services, we are looking at preventive.’’
She said: “Studies have shown that the economic violence urges actions ranging from physical, emotional to sexual violence.
“So, we are not only talking about physical consequences alone, but also communicable diseases, including HIV, STI and even death.
“We also should not forget about mental consequences which might arise from sexual or physical violence.
“It also has consequences on the educational attainment which we have seen in economic growth productivity loss due this consequence.
“Nearly N1 billion is lost due to creativity loss, while N1.4 trillion is lost to VAC.’’
Ms Ifeoma Ibe, a child rights advocate, says governments must be committed to reducing VAC in Nigeria.
According to her, at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) First Ladies Forum in October 2017, the 15 members state, of which Nigeria is among, agreed to adopt a range of measures to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation.
“We must strengthen our National Child Protection Systems to Prevent and respond to violence, abuse and exploitation against children.
“The countries committed to protect children from the most damaging forms of abuse, by focusing on five priority areas: sexual, physical and emotional violence against children, including FGM/C; child marriage; child labour, civil registration and vital statistics; and children on the move.
“We must do the same here,’’ she said.
Lending her voice, , Rachel Harvey, Regional Adviser of Child Protection, UNICEF, had at the launch of the campaign to end VAC by 2030 in 2016, told NAN that the Federal Government must adopt proactive measures against violence through quality services.
According to her, child protection services must be staffed by trained professionals to help children recover from their experiences.
“Also, perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions by strengthening the capacity of the justice sector.
“Children and the general public must know that violence against children is unacceptable and know where to seek help when they become victims,’’ she said.
“Issue of violence against children is not confined to poor families, or to marginalised children or children living in the shadow of conflict.
“It is a problem that transcends social and economic status; it impacts rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and out of school children.
“Ending violence against children is not just a moral imperative or a legal obligation; failure to prevent and respond to violence leads to a new generation of victims.’’
Shedding more light on the problem, Harvey said: “The Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey found that adults who have suffered violence as children, are much more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence.
“Failure to end VAC also impacts the country as a whole; it leads to substantial economic losses and constrains development.
“Ending VAC has been linked to sustainable growth not only by the international community, but through the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Violence against children is therefore not somebody else’s problem – it is everyone’s problem and everyone needs to be part of the solution.’’
According to her, it involves religious leaders, NGOs and the media as they have fundamental role in breaking the culture of silence on violence that children suffered.
Aside from the efforts of governments and what the laws stipulate, many stakeholders believe that VAC can be stemmed right from the homes.
This is especially as the National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 specifies that “parents and the society at large, are under an obligation to provide their children with proper education and to protect them from exploitation arising from early marriage, employment and their negative influence that infringe on their rights’’.
Mrs Sharon Oladiji, a child protection specialist with UNICEF, agrees that Nigeria has many laws protecting children in the country, but the laws are not adequately implemented.
She calls for the creation of family courts vested with jurisdiction to hear cases that would help protect the child and prevent trafficking.
“We have good laws, but what we have suffered is implementation; government should also provide the establishment of voluntary homes to take care of children that are suffering,’’ she said.
She tasked parents on their responsibilities of proper upbringing of children in order to reduce rate of child rights violation in Nigeria.
“If a child is well brought up, issues of molestation and abuse will not occur.
“When you raise a child well he goes out to become a good person, when a child has problems in the home he goes out and demonstrates it,’’ she says.
Also, Mrs Eliana Martins, of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, Lagos State branch, believes that parents have critical roles in reducing VAC through the proper upbringing of their children and wards.
“Instilling good morals in the upbringing of children will help to mould a child’s personality for a more responsible adulthood.
“If you teach your children good values, definitely they will imbibe these values as they grow up and the women, especially have to rise up to this task.
“Parents are encouraged to work together to bring up children in order to put in place better value systems in our society.
“This will enable people to respect the laws, so that we can appreciate that these laws are to make the society better and not find ways in which we can break them.’’
Martins emphasised that education and good communication are also integral in grooming children and stressed the need for effective administration of the criminal justice system in the country.
“There is also need to ensure that when laws have been breached, the culprits are brought to book for justice to be done.
“It is important because if there is no social justice, there is no way we will have harmony and there will be conflicts everywhere as it will be a lawless society.
“The police, other security who have the right to investigate, arrest and prosecute and the legal system should be effective and efficient in the discharge of their duties,’’ Martins advised.
Mr Denis Onoise, a child Protection specialist, UNICEF, reiterated the need for “Call to Action’’ by governments and stakeholders to add child protection budget line to national chart of accounts.
He said that based on studies, currently, only 14 per cent of child protection expenditure in Nigeria was devoted to critical prevention services.
According to him, there is also need to formalise an End VAC National Act Plan and establish VAC helpline.
“These will improve the delivery of child protection services across the country,’’ Onoise said.