Child sexual abuse happens when a child is been forced, persuaded or tricked to engage in sexual activities. This abuse is mostly done by adults who understand the child has not developed sexually to engage in sexual activities or reached the legal age to engage is sexual activities. In respect to the child reaching the required age, the Nigerian government seems to be contradictory in the legal age for child to engage in sexual activities. The Child Rights Act and the Penal Code identify different age for a person to engage in sexual activities and this undermines the possibilities to identify an age to pursue, in principle, the sexual rights of a child.
Sexual abuse can take different forms as engaging in sexual activities in the presence of a child, penetrating the child’s genital or excretory organs, engaging the child in foreplay, watching porno-graphical contents or any sexual content with or in the present of a child etc. The most reported forms of sexual abuse in Nigeria is sexual penetration either rape or persuasion. Other forms of sexual abuse are not reported because they are believed to be below the radar of child abuse since penetration did not occur. Sexual abuse is a major concern in the world especially in developing countries with weak and poor judicial institution and enforcement standards. According to the UNICEF, 6 out of 10 children in Nigeria are victims of sexual abuse. However, such activities are uncovered when rape cases are been investigated. This impairs the psychological, emotional, health and physical wellbeing child.
One of the duties of the government is to protect its citizens including protecting children against violence/abuse. The Nigerian government has ratified several international laws against sexual abuse. A few of these ratified laws are Convention on the Rights of the Child, Maputo Protocol and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women etc. These ratified international laws present a platform that reiterates Nigeria’s commitment to improve child’s rights amongst other human rights. However, such commitments are arguably only on white papers as every child is within the poor security management strategies of the Nigerian government and more so, within the family and neighbourhood they are raised.
This provides two framework of understanding who is responsible for providing safety for children against child sexual in Nigeria. The first framework for understanding who owns responsibility against sexual abuse in Nigeria looks at child security from the lens of the Nigerian government and its ability to manage child’s security. This identifies the availability of laws to promote child’s rights, effectiveness of such laws to protect the general wellbeing of the child, enforceability of such laws and improving institutions that handle child’s right directly or indirectly. This framework goes to harmonise domestic laws within Nigeria that concerns children regardless of religious and geopolitical affiliations of the child. This means that the rights of the child are within the confines of the federal government and cannot be sabotaged by the religion, customs and values practiced by the parents or political unit where the child is lives or enjoys some form of affiliation.
The second framework for understanding responsibility of the child in Nigeria against sexual abuse looks at child security from the lens of the parents and/or guardian who is the legal custodian of the child and provides for the day to day wellbeing and needs of the child. Within this framework, the parents/guardian are expected to serve as a watchdog for the child and provide security against external and internal threat that undermines the sexual and other rights of the child. Issues to be considered under this framework is identifying print, visual, oral, and online content the child is exposed to, identify and assess the behavioural patterns of the persons the child is expose to, ability to frequently engage the child in sexual health education, methods and techniques used to correct the child when he/she leads a poor behaviour etc. This means that the child, though within the political unit of a legitimate government, is served her rights based on the definition of such rights by the parent which determines the form and manner those rights are preserved. The implication within this framework is the lack of homogeneity in the definition of child’s rights based on the various value system parents and guardian use in setting a metrics for what is within the child rights especially when it is in the sexual context. Also, this framework could argue that the child been under the parents could endure sexual abuse from the parents and cannot be salvaged since the government has no responsibility for the rights of the child.
The third framework for understanding who owns responsibility against sexual abuse in Nigeria looks at child security from the collaborative work of the government and the parents. This framework identifies that even while the parents have close access to the child and manages the growth and development of the child, the parent/guardian works within set frameworks of the Nigerian government to ensure that child’s rights are well managed and all threats, especially sexual threats to child’s rights are identified and managed. While this framework creates a harmony between the first two frameworks, the liberal perspective to child’s rights pursued by the framework is sabotaged by the internal conflict that may surface between the two parties responsible for the child. This means that neither the government nor parent have a superior authority over who preserves the rights of the child and could lead to conflict for utmost responsibility to provide the child with security against identified threats like sexual abuse and other form of harassment such children might face within a community and political society that has no key tactics and strategy in enforcing child’s sexual rights.
These frameworks are applicable in the Nigerian case as there is a legal framework that is codified to manage child’s right. However, such legal framework as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Child Rights Acts, Penal Code, Cyber Crime Act, and Criminal Code have remained dormant in enforcing child’s sexual rights especially in a country divided by religious and cultural lines as seen by how the Child Rights Acts, Penal Code and Criminal Code defines a child’s exposure to sex and sexual activities. Sadly, value systems (that are not codified) seem to manage issues regarding child’s sexual rights at the detriment of the child.
Within the domestic laws in Nigeria, some provide safe net for children against sexual abuse. Section 34(1) of the 1999 Nigerian constitution that states that “every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his (her) person”. Such dignity begins when the rights of the child is given an objective evaluation by addressing the child’s age that provide him with a legal cover against abuse from sexual activities and exposure to sexual contents. Emotional and biological development should be considered in respecting the rights of the child to sexual abuse.
Section 1, 6 & 26 of the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 focuses on sexual violence which provided a comprehensive definition of sexual violence and the penalty for violators. Focus here is on penalty of child’s sexual rights offenders. Over the years, there have been an outpouring of sexual crimes against children in schools, homes and their neighbourhood. These crimes are commitment by teachers to male and female pupils/students, parents/guardian to children (mostly fathers to their daughters and uncles to nieces), girls within communities infected with rapist and child sexually offenders. However, a good number of rape and other cases related to sexual abuse are not managed within the confines of the laws. Sadly, this provides courage to will-be rapist to cause a lifetime injury and pain to a child in exchange for a one-sided desire for pleasure. Therefore, it is not wrong to state that the Nigerian judicial system of managing sexual crime against children put vulnerable children at risk of sexual offenders. In this case, the first framework that identifies the government as the chief enforcer of child’s sexual right seems to leave children at the brink of an unchecked political system infected with poor child handling.
In addition, section 275 of the Penal Code states that whoever, by any means whatsoever, induces any girl under the age of eighteen years to go from any place or to do any act with intent that such girl may be or knowing that it is likely that she will be forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with another person shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 10 years and shall also be liable to a fine. The ambiguity of this law makes it weak to manage child sexual rights within the confines of this law.
The Criminal Code also affirms the prohibition and rape in the southern part of Nigeria. Sections 357-363 outline key issues to manage rape in Nigeria. The definition of rape within this law is narrowed to identify women as the sole victim of the hideous act. While this may be a weakness in the conceptual clarification of rape since men and boys are also victims, the modification of the definition could be based on the number of reported cases based on victim that are predominantly women. These laws are well outlined to provide some manner of safety for women that are the primary target of rape. However, the strength of such codified law has been tested severally and provides no valuable defense for women. If such laws exist within a political system that claims to uphold the rights of women and children and are continuously flawed, what is the limit of responsibility the government cam claim over its highly vulnerable populace?
The Child Rights Act 2003 also prohibits sexual intercourse with a child. Sections 31-33 identifies negligence and child consent as no defense and immaterial to the offender. This means that the law seems to provide a safe net for children and undermine any argument in favour of the offender to indulge a child in sexual activities. However, children have been reportedly raped and sexually violated by security officials, their parents (mostly fathers), teachers, relatives and neighbours. The law also remains weak in prosecuting child sexual offenders and these gap in the Nigerian legal system exposes children to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment including sexual abuse.
Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (2015) covers contemporary and key issues that undermine women’s right. One of such contemporary and key issues is the issues of sexually based violence. The Act identifies rape as a sexual offence against both gender unlike the criminal code that limits its victim to women based on vaginal penetration and provides protection for this most vulnerable group. Men and boys can also be sexually abused through anal and oral sex. Interestingly, not all Nigeria states have adopted the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act. This act provides punishment for sexual offenders and identifies, in section 38, how to integrate victims into the society. Yet. it is been neglected by some Nigerian states, especially those in the Northern region.
Having said that, some victims of sexual abuses and other concerned persons accuse the government of indirectly promoting the vice at the expense of protecting its citizens. This could be based on the availability of laws that are codified and expected to manage issues of sexual violence that is within the purview of the Nigerian government but only become white paper affect such bills become laws. The accessibility of justice for victims of sexual abuse is costly, the inapplicability of such laws within various states and regions of Nigeria is another key shortcoming that undermine the effectiveness of laws protecting children from sexual related abuse, and the tradition of stigmatization and other forms of treats leaves victims to suffer the effect of sexual related crimes and provides an edge for offenders to indulge in the act.
On the other hand, some persons say that the parent/guardians are to be blamed as they have failed in performing their responsibility of protecting their child. This group of people address child handling from a perspective that is birthed in raising the children within customs and value systems that are not codified and may be fluid depending on the value system of the parents that is influenced by religion, ethnic beliefs and other value systems that are determined by ancestral heritage rather than a scientific process of determining and providing security for children that is codified and documented.
However, some of these codified laws that provides security for children are drawn from various values and customs, the distinction between both is that codified laws are an appraisal of belief systems regarded to improve the sustainability of man within the society. This process of appraisal and engages each value and belief system in relations to its ability to improve human rights and in this context, the sexual rights of children.
The question remains who is to blame between the government and parents/guardian for exposing children to sexual related violence. What key issues are left out between both parties (i.e. government and parents/guardian) and how does this undermine the security of children against sexual related abuse?
Adeleke, N.A et al “Sexual Assault Against Women at Oshogho, South West Nigeria” Nigerian Journal of
Clinical Practice (2012), Vol. 15, No.2, pp, pp 190-193.
Theresa Akpoghome, “Analysis of the Domestic Legal Framework on Sexual Violence in Nigeria” Journal of Law and Criminal Justice (2016), Vol 4, No.2
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended (2011) CAP C23 LFN 2004
Section 11(a) of the Child Right Act
Section 218 Criminal Code Act
Section 23 Cyber Crimes Act, 2015
Section 275, Penal Code
Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 (VAPPA)