By Edoamaowo Udeme
A phone call awoke me that beautiful Sunday afternoon, my Sister-In-law, a nurse, had a rape situation and thought it wise to “ruin” my day and my entire week! She knew I couldn’t resist such story, true to her words, I couldn’t. I found myself dashing off to Karimo, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja, Nigeria.
It turns out that an 8 year old girl (name withheld) was involved; she has been constantly sexually exploited and threatened by two adult men. One of the men in his late 30s had a fiancé living with him, the other was a mid 20s young man living with his parents. His father only just got retried having suffered stroke but still lived in the quarters while the other one still worked with the girl’s father in a construction site.
According to the girl’s mother, a petty trader, nothing was noticed until someone caught them red handed and the little girls confessed that she had been threatened severally by the two men not to tell anyone but they only offer her sweets and chewing gum when they wanted to “have her”.
She had been sexually exploited for months.
Her parents didn’t help matters, they blamed her every day.
The police waded in, took the culprits into custody and later released them on bail. To the parents, the story had ended because, they were threatened at the station, exploited and accused of negligence, their daughter tagged “a prostitute”. What’s more? The girl stopped schooling because of mockery and stigmatization and couldn’t even step outside their 1 bedroom flat because of the same reason.
The semi literate parents also got threats for reporting the case to the police, “but for the free living quarters and a job to hold on to, we would have run away overnight” said the father amidst tears.
By the time I arrived Karimo police station, the culprits have been bailed and gone, the younger one ran away immediately, it was only the “About to be married” whose fiancée had immediately broken up with him and moved out that was available.
With a call to a friend Barrister Abubakar who promised to take it up pro bono, all plans were on deck to send two of them to their desired imprisonment for rape until her parents who were initially too excited a savior has come from above, changed their minds and invited me for a meeting.
“Our lives are in danger so we are withdrawing the case” Said the father. My heart sank! However hard I tried to convince them to change their minds and leave everything to me, it never worked.
“People who have told us to leave everything in God’s hands have noticed that we are adamant and are avoiding us” And then, the mother dropped the last nickel, “Please ma, she our child, we shall handle her with prayers, tell your lawyer to withdraw the case, thank you”.
Turns out that in church, at work at market and even inside the quarters where the incident took place and in school, the whole family is being mocked with little children singing and beating empty cans and calling the little girl a prostitute and the parents, parents of a prostitute who couldn’t control an 8 year old girl.
Then, my lawyer friend nailed the coffin! “If they don’t press charges, we can do nothing”.
Charges dropped, the culprits roaming the streets free, the girls still constantly harassed, parents still scared of their lives and the story ends,
These are a reoccurrence cases in our neighborhoods but a great number of times, the fear of repercussion, victimization, stigmatization, mockery, stifled justice and threats to deaths hampers the fight against child abuse and violence against the children.
If only the parents could be convinced that the Child Rights Act in Nigeria can be effectively put to use and they could be protected as well, maybe, just maybe, they would have allowed the lawyer to press charges but they couldn’t believe me or the lawyer.
The United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF has for decades been protecting children from all sorts of abuses and violence, Sadly, Nigeria would rather wait for international organizations to come to the aid of its citizens instead of waking up to its responsibilities.
In various ways, UNICEF has saved Nigerian children’s lives even in crises torn environments, they defend their rights, and help them fulfill their potential. They also advocate for measures to give children the best start in life, because proper care at the youngest age forms the strongest foundation for a person’s future but The Child Rights Act of Nigeria may just be a piece of book almost like any other book in our shelves if the Local, State and Federal government of Nigeria does not join hands with UNICEF and collectively see to it that every piece of law in the act is acted on so that the future of this generation and Generations to come will be protected.