According to data from the United Nations International Children Emergency fund, one in four girls and one in ten boys have been victims of sexual violence before they turned 18. There is generally very little data on abuse in Nigeria, but the general consensus is that sexual abuse is grossly under reported.
Another disturbing information from UNICEF: about 88% of sexually abused victims know their abuser, and 4.2% of sexually abused girls and 3.4% of sexually abused boys receive any form of help. So Mum, Dad, anyone out there, perpetrators of sexual abuse are not strangers. They are closer to your home than you think. They could be the driver, the help, neighbour, family friend or even your relative.
Let’s take a step back. What is child sexual abuse?
According to data from the National Health Service website, which is in reference to UK law, child sexual abuse covers a range of activities that include:
- Possessing images of child pornography.
- Forcing a child to strip naked or masturbate.
- Engaging in any form of sexual activity in front of a child including watching pornography.
- Taking, downloading, viewing or distributing sexual images of children.
- Encouraging a child to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam.
- Not taking measures to protect a child from witnessing sexual activity or images.
- Inappropriate sexual touching of a child, whether clothed or unclothed.
- Penetrative sex.
In Nigeria, child sexual abuse is an offence under several sections of chapter 21 of our criminal code.
Given how common child sexual abuse is, how grossly under reported it is, and how the vast majority of the victims don’t seek any form of help, it is important I talk about ways to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse.
Talk to them early about sex!
I know it is not our culture as Africans to talk about sex. Our parents did not talk to us about it, and most people feel uncomfortable talking about sex, not to mention talking to a child about sex. But not talking about sex has not done any good. In fact, I feel it is responsible for the high rate of child sexual abuse in Nigeria. Talk to your kids about what sex is, boundaries with regards to physical contact, let them know when to scream for help.
Be close to your children
In this day and age, with inflation and ridiculous bills pilling up, we are inclined to overwork ourselves taking on hustle upon hustle. In the midst of this chaos, you have to find time to build up on what is important.
When I say “Be close to your children,” what I mean is let them be comfortable being vulnerable with you, knowing that you have their back whatsoever the case may be. They should be able to tell you if they not alright, knowing for sure you will be there to help them. It takes time and a conscious effort to be friends with your kids, drawing the line, of course.
As a parent, even if you are not always around due to work, make sure that when you are around, you spend quality time with your kids. Let them trust you and let them know that you trust them. Have a strong presence in their lives, whether you are physically around or not. Technology has made it easier to navigate through this.
The reason I say this is that I have seen cases of really bad sexual abuse where the victims had to be hospitalised. It happens that the abuse has been taking place for a while, but the child was scared to inform the parents because the child had been threatened not to tell anyone, or because they felt their parents might not believe them, or because their parents are not always around to protect them, and they would still be left in the hands of the abuser anyway, so why tell? The parents always feel crushed when they hear that, because one of the duties of a parent is to protect. But the thing is: children process your presence, the quality of it, the relationship you’ve built with them, and it translates to whether they have found a friend in you or not.
Take time to educate your kids about abuse itself, so that they know what it is. Don’t say they are kids! Kids these days are really smart, so do not underestimate them. For example, the introduction in this article is a very useful fact sheet on what child sexual abuse is. Try as much as you can to break it down to their level and have a chat with them.
Other ways to reduce child sexual abuse and its effect are having strong policy on abuse, educating the public, making sure appropriate care and counselling facilities are readily available, and so on. That is a broader topic for another day, because I wanted this article to be as focused as it can be. I will be talking about sub-topics on sexual abuse in more detail in the coming weeks.
If you read this article and you know any child who is being abused, please contact The CeCe Yara Foundation to get the required help. For more information on child sexual abuse and additional resources, please click HERE.