The legendary anti-apartheid icon and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela once said that there can be no greater reflection of a society than how it treats its children.
Contrary to wise counsel and morals in Mandela’s philosophical wisecrack above, the manifestations of all forms of child abuse are unfortunately present in almost every African country.
According to observers, the way many children and teenagers are treated in the African society in spite of several extant global, regional and national laws for child’s protection in the continent, leaves so much to be desired, to say the least.
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“In sub-Saharan Africa, millions of children are faced with problems of exploitative labour, sexual abuse, servitude, discrimination, physical and psychological abuse, pornography and prostitution,” stated Chigoziri Ojiaka, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Imo State University, Owerri.
Ojiaka was one of several presenters at a one-day sensitization workshop on sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria which was organized recently by the Nigeria Police in collaboration with CLEEN Foundation in Owerri, Imo State, South East Nigeria.
In a paper entitled, “Sexual Abuse of Children in Nigeria: The Effects,” Ojiaka noted that the escalating trend of exploitation, discrimination and sexual abuse of children in sub-Saharan Africa, was very alarming, adding that the unhealthy incidents had become a serious obstacle to full development and survival of children.
She therefore, urged all stakeholders, including community and religious leaders, proprietors of schools and governmental agencies, to join hands in the crusade against the menace of child sexual abuse, adding that obsolete laws should be reformed to conform to global best practices. The Law teacher also advised victims/survivors and family members to break the silence by reporting the crime, while special police unit should be empowered to protect children from abuse.
In another presentation, the chairperson of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Imo State Chapter, Mrs. Ogechi Echebima, stressed the need for the enforcement and implementation of legislation and legal conventions existing to protect the rights of children and women at the municipal, national and international levels.
Meanwhile, institutions and agencies of government that are saddled with the responsibility of creating a healthy and protective environment for the children, in most Africa countries, are unfortunately are not too alive to their mandate.
Consequently, children are susceptible to all forms of harmful practices resulting from traditional, cultural, religious and/or superstitious beliefs as well as other socio-economic variables bedevilling modern societies.
In a country like Nigeria, their vulnerability is further compounded by the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious setting. With a population of 170 million people from over 450 different ethnic groups with diverse languages, traditions and religions, Nigeria ranks amongst countries with a plethora of deeply entrenched practices that portend grave implications for a child’s healthy physical, mental, emotional, spiritual growth and development.
Against this backdrop, the task of protecting children from such practices that impact negatively on children’s rights has become increasingly daunting and elusive.
Other challenges range from discrepancies and inconsistencies in various legal regimes across the country to lack of political will by the government, inadequate resources for effective implementation, low level of awareness about children’s rights as well as prejudices and weak capacity on the part of those involved in the nation’s law enforcement.