The rash of child abuse incidents is an indication of its high prevalence. 6 out of 10 Nigerian children experience at least one form of violence before they reach 18

■ Social workers press govt for stiffer penalties

Henry Okonkwo

The sight of Akerele’s physique gives you a flashback to the heart-rending pictures of Biafran children ravaged by hunger and disease during the civil war, which took over 3 million lives. He looks like a walking corpse; so pale and malnourished he could barely stand on his thin legs.

Akerele’s entire skin, from the face to the body and down to his feet, is covered with rashes – a clear indication that he had not had a good bath for days or probably weeks. His head is dotted with different sizes of boils, all dripping with pus; even around his mouth are sores and blisters.

A surge of pity uncontrollably wells up in you as you look at him. His sad story is so bad you feel a teardrop form at the corner of your eyelids. Instinctively, you wipe it off with the cuff of your shirt. And try to keep your emotion under wraps to do the job at hand, which is to find out how he came to such a terrible pass.

Akerele’s life has been fraught with suffering, neglect, torture and plain horror from an early age. He was only three years old when his parents divorced. His parents later settled with different partners, and sent him and his elder brother to go live with their paternal grandmother at Magodo-Ajility Road, in the Ikosi-Isheri area of Kosofe Local Government Area, Lagos State.

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That was the beginning of his ordeal as Akerele started experiencing various forms of emotional, psychological and physical abuse. His grandmother barely fed him and his brother, and always locked them indoors and prevented them from going out to play with other children. “Grandma doesn’t feed us well. Yet she flogs me all over my body with cables,” little Akerele said.

“Whenever she wants to go out, she will force us into the house and lock us inside for hours with no food.”

Akerele disclosed that he finds ways to sneak out and beg for money and food from kindhearted residents.

“Anytime I succeed to come outside, our neighbours give me food, others give me money like N10, 20 and 50,” he said.

Under spiritual attack

Akerele’s grandmother, a 65-year-old widow, who said she retired from the Lagos State Civil Service as a matron, and spoke polished English, attributed the emaciated look of the boy to the operations of some demonic spirits she alleged to have taken possession of him. She further alleged that the boy steals foodstuff around the house.

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“The marks on his body are from the canings I give him. I flog with him cables whenever he misbehaves or breaks the door to steal food from the kitchen whenever I’m not in the house. I believe he’s under some kind of spiritual attack; that is why he looks like that. His elder brother that stays with me has not been to hospital for over two years yet he looks hale and hearty. But the younger one is different, he’s always skinny and underweight,” she told Sunday Sun.

‘Please don’t take me back home’

Just like Master Akerele, nine-year-old David (surname withheld) is another child that is also being abused by his grandmother.

He lives with her at Finbarr’s College road, in Bariga, Lagos.

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David, a primary school pupil does not only look malnourished and pale, but also has several nasty wounds. David’s wounds where allegedly inflicted on him by his grandmother. According to David, he got the injuries when his grandmother used a hot knife to lacerate his arms. David said that the grandmother got angry that he used a gift of N50 he got to buy biscuit.

Passionately pleading to social workers who took him to Shomolu General Hospital to receive treatment, he said: “I don’t want to go back, to live with my grandmother anymore. She beats me every day and doesn’t give me food. She cut me with hot knife I used the N50 given to me by her guest, to buy biscuit. Please don’t take me back her. I’ll prefer to sleep anywhere else but not in her house.”

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The harrowing experiences of little David and Master Akerele may somehow be considered minor compared to horrific experience of 12-year-old Ifunanya (surname withheld).

She was brought from her village to help baby sit her aunt’s children, but ended up dead last Monday after allegedly suffering continuous neglect and malicious physical abuse.

Her school authorities noticed Ifuanaya’s physical abuse in July. Filled with rage and shock, they made a video of her narrating how she sustained an eye injury after being beaten black and blue by her aunt.

The four-minute video made available to Sunday Sun showed Ifunanya in her school uniform, telling her interviewers how she was falsely accused and battered by her aunt.

“My aunty was searching for her money. She told everyone that could not find her N200 on the table. I didn’t see or know where the money was. But she accused me, saying that it was me that stole her money. So she started hitting me on the head with a cane, knife, cover of pots and ‘turning-garri’ (wooden ladle). Then she brought ground Cameroun pepper and rubbed it into my eyes,” she said.

Ifunanya disclosed that five days later after her beating, she still felt excruciating pains all over her body especially in her eyes. “My eyes were aching me so much. So I went to tell my aunty but she became angry and slapped me. That was how my left eye got swollen.”

A social worker that came into the matter from the Child Protection Network (CPN), Ebenezer Omejalile, lamented that Ifunanya could have been rescued if not for the flat-footed way her authorities handled the case.

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“The case was reported to an education office in Oshodi-Isolo on July 3. After seeing the haggard way she looked and the big bulge in her eyes, it was a clear case of physical abuse, which is a very serious offence under the law. But they only called in Ifunanya’s guardian and instructed her to ensure that Ifunanya was well attended to by a trained optician yet they didn’t even follow up the guardian to ensure that she did as they instructed her. Ifunanya complained of severe headache last week. She was taken to a private clinic where she was diagnosed of malaria and typhoid. The education authority ordered that she be taken to the Isolo General Hospital. Again that order was flouted till last Monday when we got news that she had died.”

Waking up to child abuse

The rash of child abuse incidents is an indication of its high prevalence. According to the 2014 Nigeria Violence Against Children (VAC) survey by the National Population Commission, UNICEF and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, six out of ten Nigerian children experience at least one form of violence before they reach 18.

READ ALSO: Opara-Ndudu calls for safety of Nigerian children

More worrisome is that there seems to be no reprieve in sight for the victims as children’s right advocates complain of weak child protection structures in Nigeria.

“It is worrying to know that the rate of child abuse in Nigeria has suffered a considerable neglect,” said Alhaji Awofeso, a social worker and founder of Child & Community Response Initiatives.

“We get an estimate of five cases of child abuse in my Kosofe community alone. Child abuse in Nigeria is stoked by an overall poor public knowledge on the dangers of child abuse to the society at large. Nigerians display weak attitudes in reporting cases of child abuse in their localities. That is a clear case of neglect of the Nigerian child by the citizenry.

“Again there are not enough children’s rights organisations providing support to children who are abused and that there is a general lack of knowledge of organisations that promote and defend children’s rights. We really need to do more for our children to safeguard their future and the future of our country.”

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