Last week, I read about a 43-year old father in Jos, Plateau State charged with violating ‘the right to dignity’ of his children – aged 6 and 8 years respectively – after physically beating them for over three years leading to serious bodily injuries and scars. Similarly, about a month ago, the news and pictures of a 7-year-old boy beaten to death by his father and step-mother in Yenegoa, Bayelsa State went viral (in case you missed it, here is the link).
These two cases have been playing in my head ever since and it is hard to imagine how one or both parents would physically beat the life out of a child they bore or to the extent where the child’s back is covered with scars and sores all in the name of instilling discipline. To make matters worse, it appears that while one parent happens to be the ‘disciplinarian’, the other parent does nothing to stop his or her partner from going too far with the disciplining act.
For instance, the mother of the children who were physically abused by their father (her husband) when questioned by reporters recounted different incidents that led to aggravated corporal punishment of the children at the hands of their father.
She recounts, “There are so many instances, many things that happen. One of it is sometimes their father warn them that when they come back from school, they should tell him what they learnt. That is recent one I’m talking about. If they come back, most especially the bigger one, she will not report. She will not tell him what she learnt. There and then when he takes the cane, she will not say ‘sorry’. And from there, he would be very angry and very annoyed and start beating. And when he starts beating, he wouldn’t want anybody to stop him. That is what normally happens.”
Initially, I was overwhelmed with anger just watching the mother give the account above with no emotion, empathy or remorse until I read in the report that the wife is a victim of domestic abuse too. I also watched the father declare how his action has brought ‘shame to the church’ and this makes me assume that culture (not religion) played a major role in reinforcing his belief in physical chastisement as a positive method of instilling discipline in children. Unfortunately, this has left these children unprotected from their father’s wrath. The mother, being a victim herself, equally became powerless and rendered an onlooker who watched and listened to her children scream in agony and for help that never came, until recently when their school teacher intervened and reported the case to the authorities.
No child’s back should be turned into a whipping canvas in the name of instilling discipline. As a parent, watching your partner (husband, wife, lover or boyfriend) as they mutilate the backs and other body parts of your children should never be tolerated or condoned. Turning a blind eye to child abuse is never an option! This is because child abuse is not only about the ACTION of an individual that causes serious physical injury or emotional harm to a child. Child abuse can also be the INACTION (failure to act) by an individual (in this case, the mother) which leads to harm, serious injury and even death.
In a society with developed child protection systems, both parents would be prosecuted for inhuman and degrading punishment, physical and emotional abuse as well as child neglect. In spite of the fragmented state of the child protection and welfare system in Nigeria, it is a welcome development that the father got arrested and charged to court. It is also good to know that the incident happened in one of the 24 states in the country that has domesticated the Child Rights Act (CRA) of 2003.
However, the story should not end here! I hope parents and couples learn from this sad story and find the courage to protect children from harsh, inhumane and degrading punishment in the name of instilling discipline. There is a very thin line between disciplining children and infringing on their rights as human beings and this line gets crossed ever too often in our society. Child rights advocates often attribute this to the poor implementation of the CRA and a weak child protection system even in states that have domesticated the CRA. Hence, the Nigerian child protection and social welfare system continue to fail our children, the so-called ‘future of tomorrow’.
Whilst we continue to advocate for better safety nets for children, let us, as parents, caregivers and guardians, step up to the plate by protecting and preventing the abuse of all children in our care. I understand how difficult it can be when you are perceived as not supporting your partner’s decisions especially when it comes to instilling discipline in the home front. As a Nigerian woman, challenging a spouse or partner who believes in corporal punishment as a form of discipline is no easy feat due to the patriarchal nature of our society. However, I hope you find the courage to speak up before you find yourself nursing the wounds on your child’s body or buying a coffin to bury your child. Remember the duty to provide nurturing care, protect and prevent abuse is your responsibility, not a choice.
As the story continues to unfold, let us not forget the mother (an accessory to abuse and also a victim in this case) who may need some form of counselling and coaching on parenting. The children too will need extensive medical, psychological, emotional and financial support in the months to come. I hope they get all the support that they need because this will go a long way in stopping this cycle of abuse, at least in this family.
Photo Credit: Atm2003 | Dreamstime.com