Sunday Sermon – Child Abuse
Child abuse is a term charged with emotion and is ambiguous in its connotation. The parameters are not always closely defined and great confusion can arise as to what constitutes child abuse. Several questions must be posed if a clearer working definition is to be attained and a suitable solution conceived.
What is child abuse? Who is a child? Who is the abuser? What are the effects of abuse on the child, on the immediate environment and on the society at large? What actions can be taken to prevent abuse on the child by the caretaking adult?
Let’s start from where we stopped. A caretaking adult is a person responsible for a child’s welfare. They include but not limited to parents, guardians, foster parents, an employee of a public or residential home, institution or agency or other persons legally responsible for the child in a permanent or temporary (e.g. baby sitters over 16 years of age) capacity who is in loco parent of the time of the child’s inflicted injury.
Child abuse involves the infliction of hurt by caretaking person but can the term be equated with any type of deliberate injury? Can the injury be identified and categorized into a particular type such as moral, physical, sexual, emotional and even, economical? Certainly, it is somehow difficult to determine when an inflicted injury is legitimate due to changing attitude of the society. Besides, the fact that different culture perceive particular injuries differently, at times defining and treating lightly some injuries viewed by other cultures as very serious further complicates the concept of child abuse.
Physical injuries may be identified readily whereas mental or emotional hurts may be difficult to ascertain, yet the later form may be a far more insidious aspect of child abuse. Merely looking at the injury to the child does little to solve connected problems of how it is sustained and is useful only as a diagnosis of impacts not causes.
Another method of attempting a definition of child abuse is to look at the reasons for hurting the child. Deliberate actions to inflict hurt on the child may be promoted by a whole variety of reasons. It may be social, political, economic, personal, sexual, age, intelligence of family stability pressures and so on.
If some of these factors can be alleviated, then help can be given through the agents of law, social services, and medical care services to prevent the action. So the considerations of the reasons for maltreatment of the child are not unimportant. These inflicted injuries may have short term effects on the child while typical emotional or sexual interference upsets are long term. If discovered, the consequential effects on the abuser – the perpetrator of child abuse act – is always apparent through both shame and public censor.
From the foregoing, it is very difficult to arrive at a clear definition of what constitutes child abuse. However, the following considerations are necessary of inclusion in holistic idea of child abuse:
1. The child must be under 18 years old and there must be infliction of an injury or maltreatment.
2. The injury must be proven to have been inflicted physically, sexually, morally, emotionally and any combination thereof.
3. The victim must have been neglected physically and emotionally.
4. The injury or maltreatment must have been administered on the child by an adult (parent, guardian, and friend) or other persons in the loco parents group.
The abuse of children by adults is not a new occurrence. It is a historic continuum rooted in ancient cultures. The practice is as old as man, embedded in the history of mankind and often with societal acceptance.
Infanticide was formally a culturally approved practice in certain circumstances amongst societies. The Hammurabi Code written in approximately 2015 BC established the father as sovereign of family powers. It also adopted infanticide as accepted practice as well as defined a parent/child relationship as a propriety interest. The Hebrews also upheld this practice. At the inception of the Greek Civilization, infanticide of unwanted children, deformed children or children of inferior parents was an acceptable practice.
Practicing infanticide in the form of sacrificing infants to the gods, sales of children into slavery, payments of debts with female infants and giving out of children into marriages are widely practiced in Africa till today.
Several factors have been advanced for this menace including:
a. Illiteracy. Poor educational background of the victims and their parents are contributing factors.
b. Poverty. Poor family background of the victims and their parents are also responsible.
c. Economic Downturn. The level of poverty in the society is very high and the very low standard of living of the average Nigerian is both frustrating and dehumanizing. These factors also combined to promote child abuse.
d. Ignorance. The lack of awareness campaigns on the part of the Government is also responsible for the menace. Government must make efforts to eliminate public ignorance by embarking on aggressive dissemination of information concerning the evils of child abuse. Information is power; information transforms. Information is key to change.
e. Child Trafficking. Due to the excitement attached to traveling abroad, the victims are always carried away by the promise of paradise across the borders and as a result they are misled into slavery, servitude, and all forms of abuse.
f. Unemployment. Due to high level of unemployment in the country, able bodied men and women are frustrated and as a result they are forced to do what they are not supposed to do in order to meet up the challenges of life, including human trafficking, ritual killings, child prostitution, child labour, etc.
g. Poor Policing. Evidence recovered from would-be traffickers revealed that the victims are collected from different locations at different periods with different rosy promises. This makes it difficult for law enforcement agents to nip the evil trade in the bud as both the perpetrators and the victims do everything to evade the prying eyes of law enforcements.
h. Corruption. A contributing factor to poor policing which encourage child abuse in Nigeria is corruption. Corruption undermines performance by lining the pockets of dishonest persons with security funds, taking the forms of bribe, undue gratifications, fraud and even embezzlement. It makes those engaged to serve to turn blind eyes to crimes being committed in their presence. A corrupt environment tends to produce individuals with the whole idea of get rich quick, thereby enhancing criminal behaviours.
While we are of the opinion the Government provides all necessary material and non-material resources for the law enforcement agents to perform their constitutional duties, the leadership should also check corruptions in governance and use the resources at Government disposal to create and offer employment with good conditions of service to citizens.
Aggressive awareness campaign against human trafficking and child labour at the grassroots involving parents, guardians, community leaders, youths etc. is a step in the right direction.
Finally, the Government should address the issue of poverty vigorously. This is because poverty affects all citizens, including the unborn baby in the mother’s womb. War against poverty is the first phase in the war against child abuse! Nigeria: choke corruption to kick-start development!