IN the past, it was rare and hardly reported, but today, the rape of underage girls is assuming epidemic proportions in Nigeria. Across the country, reports of adult males defiling children are coming in torrents, adding to the misery of a population wracked by poverty, unemployment and crime. Paedophilia — sex by an adult with an underage person — is so destructive that Nigerians must rise to combat it and save our innocent children from the perverts.
For these predators, sex — normally a sensual activity between two consenting adults — will simply not do: they target children who cannot legally grant consent to such indulgence. Children are lured by adults they know and trust into sex, the implications of which their young minds cannot grasp. Many are brutally raped by men too strong for them to fight off. Children, babies, some only a few months old, have become fair game.
Even hardened police officers are sickened by the spectacle. In a space of five days, July 7 to July 11, the police in Edo State nabbed four men who separately raped minors, aged between seven and 13 years. In Lagos, a 13-year-old girl was lured by an adult male neighbour into a room, where three adult friends took turns to gang-rape her. The state police command reported that underage rape accounted for a significant percentage of the 678 reported cases of rape between March 2012 and March 2013. In this deadly game, the child appears to have no hiding place. Fathers are raping daughters, as did one Sylvester Ehijere, 47, who was arrested in Lagos this year for raping his own seven-year-old daughter and his granddaughter, aged one month; or one Alabi Ibrahim, 62, whose 10-year-old stepdaughter narrated how “daddy always sleeps with me when mummy is not around.”
Aid workers, urging vigilance by parents/guardians, say fathers, uncles, family friends and acquaintances, domestic staff, teachers or others in authority are often the ones who defile innocent children. A headmaster was caught in Osun State recently for serially defiling his 11-year-old female pupil, as was Olalekan Lasisi, 32, a police corporal, who raped and impregnated a 12-year-old girl in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State.
The increase in underage rape requires serious attention from every government. While the rape of an adult is bad enough, that of a minor is reprehensible. It targets the weak and defenceless. American criminologists believe that the emotional damage of child rape could lead to girls growing up into lives of prostitution, crime and desolation. Low self-esteem and wantonness could result, while, at the other end of the spectrum, some could become frigid — a condition where a woman is incapable of enjoying sex. Some children die during or after the rape, others are traumatised for life. Some contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, or bleed to death. Unwanted pregnancies and babies result, some of the pregnancies leading to crude abortions that cause permanent damage.
We recommend swift action in passing the bill now before the National Assembly for an Act on Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) that spells out life imprisonment for convicted rapists in contrast to the mild three years in the statute books. This will help put away, permanently, people like the two men who recently raped an 18-month-old tot or the 85-year-old “Baba Yellow” of Somolu, an alleged serial child rapist.
The main battle against child rapists will, however, have to be waged by parents/guardians and care givers. Parents must overcome societal pressure to conceal rape because of fear of stigmatisation of the victim. A situation where the 427 cases reported in Lagos State in 2012 are only a fraction of the actual rapes perpetrated only leaves the rapists free to strike again. CLEEN Foundation, an NGO, says “only 28 per cent of rape cases are reported to the police,” much lower than robbery, 39 per cent; kidnapping, 40 per cent; and attempted murder, 45 per cent. Princess Olufemi-Kayode, Executive Director of Mediacon, a child rights advocacy group, rightly calls on the police, especially, to respond swiftly to reports of child rape. We join NGOs in deploring the penchant for treating reports on rape with levity as “less than 50 per cent of those who muster courage to report (rapes) were satisfied with the handing of the cases,” according to CLEEN.
Mediacon advocates early sex education for children and warns parents against leaving their children with family and friends for long, since over 80 per cent of rapes of minors is committed by individuals known to the victims, including clerics. Schools, faith-based organisations and local government councils should roll out counselling programmes for parents and children. Schoolchildren should be taught to cry out and report when uncles, clerics, older boys or teachers touch or fondle their sensitive parts. Women should not suppress the rape of minors to protect family or neighbours, even their husbands.
The new legislation should emulate similar ones in the United States and Europe by compiling data banks on known paedophiles, who will be required by law to inform the police or welfare authorities when travelling to another state or country. Police authorities are then required to share information on the offenders to help monitor them. In some US states, it is mandatory to inform residents when a convicted paedophile moves in to the neighbourhood. All the 36 states should domesticate and implement the Child Rights Act, which among other measures, criminalises marriage to a girl under 18.
But eternal vigilance by parents remains the major weapon against girl-child molesters. Parents should monitor their children and forge close friendship/rapport with them to ensure the children confide in them always.
Culled from Punch Newspapers
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