This article defines a parent as consisting of parents, guardians and all those responsible for a child’s welfare/upbringing.
Our culture is very permissive and overly trusting such that we welcome with open arms all sorts of people, often times, without investigating their backgrounds. Those who cohabit with us in our homes or whom we trust to take charge of our children can abuse this trust.
There is a great need to create awareness and challenge parents to pay more attention to their wards, irrespective of how busy they may be.
Parents/guardians and all those responsible for children’s welfare need to be more alert, vigilant and observant about the possibility of child abuse that their children can be exposed to and be proactive in taking preventive measures to guarantee that this does not happen or is stopped.
1.2 CHILD ABUSE IS REAL
When the issue of child abuse is raised, most adults dismiss it as something vague that cannot be experienced by their wards. This is a delusion that has done our society no good, rather, it has encouraged the abuse of children to continue unabated.
In October, 2018, a 13 year old girl named Ochanya died in Benue State University teaching Hospital from VVF a condition she suffered as a result of continuous sexual abuse from her guardian and his son. The abuse on Ochanya started when she was 9 years old and continued unnoticed for 4 years.
Victims of child abuse are usually threatened by the perpetrators such that they are scared to report to their parents. Sometimes, when a child tries to express this abusive experience, parents refuse to pay attention, disbelieving the truth in the allegation or rebuke they child for making such allegations especially if the accused is a close relation or highly respected person by the family and society.
1.3 FORMS OF CHILD ABUSES AND ITS EFFECTS ON CHILDREN
Abuses come in various forms and have been classified in different ways. Sociologically Speaking, child abuse can be classified into the following forms: verbal, sexual, psychological, physical and socio-cultural.
Verbal abuse: This comes in the form of insults,negative complements, lack of appreciation, use of abusive lnguage, quarrelling, talking down , negative comparison, shouting, monologue used constantly on children etc. When children are exposed regularly to this form of abuse, they suffer mainly from low self esteem and develop negative perception of themselves. Such children begin to express excesses in forms of lack of interest in school, open stubbornness, violence or extreme inhibitions.
Sexual abuses: These include genital contact, nudity, sexually implicit language, immodest touching of child’s genitals / sexual organs, exposing the child to audio visuals with explicit sexual content. This is the most secretive form of abuse and it requires extra care to discover. In Nigeria, female children experience this form of abuse the most. These girls suffer from psychological trauma, physical pain which lead to sexual health deficiencies, inability to build relationships and marital problems for them.
Psychological Abuse: It is the trauma suffered as a result of the inappropriate actions /inactions of adults. This form of abuse reoccurs in all the other forms of abuse. A child that experiences a form or another of psychological abuse suffers from inferiority complex that could lead to suicide, an inhibited attitude or conscience which could be malicious. Such children may grow to be extremist and easily become rogues in the society.
Physical Abuse: This is violence that has the tendency to hurt, harm, deform or mutilate the body, like striking, flogging, corporal punishment, subjugation. Physical abuse can lead to blindness, scars and deformation which a child carries to adulthood. Imagine becoming blind from physical abuse?
Socio-cultural Abuse: This is the violence that transmitted by way of the cultural tenets of the people. This is a great challenge in modern times. For example, a culture that support girl child marriage and female genital mutilation. A culture that support forced control of children and monologue. Parents must realize, that children are the future of tomorrow. They should be raised to be responsible adults by encouraging freedom of expression and participation in making decision on issues that affect them.
1.4 TRUST NO ONE
Parents may think that those closest to them will not abuse their children but this may not be true. In recent times, those who cohabit with the family and those whom parents trust to take charge of their wards are often the same people that abuse the trust and victimize the children.
It is not an uncommon occurrence for uncles, nephews, step fathers, siblings and neighbors to sexually harass little girls as we can see in the case of Ochanya. Parents cannot tell where their child will be abused and who will abuse them. Trusted Persons who can abuse children include:
Relations:- Aunties, Uncles, Cousins, Siblings, Parents, Family friends and neighbors.
Employees:- Housekeepers, Gardeners, Drivers, Personal instructors.
Schools:- Teachers, Nannies, Physical Trainers.
Sports:- Coaches, Athletes, Audience or spectators.
Religious Places:- Leaders, Pastors, Imams, Fortune tellers, Catechists, Choir masters, Sunday school teachers, catechism teachers.
In extra-ordinary circumstances such IDP camps and settlements, victims of war, violence, natural disasters, forcefully separated children are also exposed to various forms abuse. Lastly, children can be abused by other victims. It is therefore important that there be proper healing process for victims of abuse and abusers who may be sick or ignorance.
1.5 HOW PARENTS CAN PARTICIPATE IN PREVENTING ABUSE OF THEIR CHILDREN
Looking at the risk children are exposed to everyday, and having seen that nowhere is safe for the child. Parents must be ready to make extra-effort to protect their children. Below are some suggested solutions for parents.
Know your child: Parents should take an extra interest in observing and knowing the behaviors, likes and capabilities of their children. By this, a parent can easily detect when the child is behaving in an unusual manner or keeping a secret and ask questions. Also, when a child informs the parent about an occurrence or experience outside, the parent can easily know the truthfulness of such claim. By knowing your child, even when trusted persons come to accuse the child of bad behavior as an excuse for abusing the child physically, the parent can defend his/her child.
Love your children: Parents should love their children to the best of their ability. They should express this love by showing affections, verbal expression and contact. When a child is given assurance of love and protection from his/her parents, they tend to have high self-esteem, be affirmative in their speech and are not afraid to tell their parents about what is of distress to them.
Be involved : Parents should be involved in the general upbringing of their children. They should accompany them every step of the way. Make out time to play, dialogue, examine, inspect, bath, dress up and check on their children with a curious eye.
Gone are the days when parents should believe that the house keeper, nanny, neighbor, school care givers among others will take proper care of their children when they are not around. All parents must make it an obligation to be involved in their children upbringing. They must spend quality time each day no matter how busy they may be to be with their children and inspect them thoroughly. The culture of eating together as a family should be brought back into our homes and bed time stories and conversation should become part of the daily routine of the home. By so doing, they give their children assurance of their parents interest in them. The children will develop an increased sense of protection from their parents. As such, in a case of harassment, children will not hesitate to inform their parents.
Dialogue with your children: Parents should listen to their children and encourage them to express themselves. This is very important if parents want to know what goes on in their children’s lives. This culture must be built between parents and children such that the parent becomes a friend and confidant of the child. It is good to discipline a child but parents must be ready to ensure that a child does not become too scared to express himself or herself in the home.
Be bold and courageous: Parents should take swift action when they suspect any case of abuse. The parent is the first protector of his child. Irrespective of whom the child is accusing of abuse, the parent must act on it. Parents should not be concerned about the truthfulness of the information from the child. This is because seeking to find out the truth give the perpetrators of abuse time to continue abusing your child. This will impress on the child that the parent cannot protect him and can lead to great psychological problems. Parents must confront such people and take appropriate legal action against them.
Parents must know that in the case of child abuse, it takes a child of great courage to report an occurrence and there is very slim possibility that a child will lie about an abuse.
Initiating a holistic healing process: There should be no blaming of the victims during the healing process. It should be therapeutic. Leaving the child to grow without proper therapy will leave the child with psychological scars that can affect his/her adult life.
Parents should make every effort to ensure healing for their child in a case of abuse. Healing for the victims may take months and as such the parent must be patient to ensure proper healing for abused children. It is advisable that the parent consult the services of an expert such as social welfare office in the area.
Children are the future of tomorrow. The way they are treated and raised-up has great effect on the society we hope to achieve in the future. It is the duty of parents therefore to protect their children first before looking at the contribution of the society. Therefore parents should get involved and ensure that abuse of children is completely prevented and stopped.
By Evelyn Onyi Anyebe
(Child Protection Awareness-CPA)