That the incidence of domestic violence across the country has extended to children is frightening just as the statistics of the prevalence are worrisome. The relevant authorities have to pay attention to this malaise. It is also important for parents to be more alive to their responsibilities.
In the latest survey by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), six out of every 10 Nigerian children suffer some forms of physical, emotional or sexual violence before attaining the age of 18. The survey, carried out by the National Population Commission (NPC) with support from UNICEF and the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed that violence against children has become so widespread.
One in two children experienced physical violence. One in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence; and one in six girls and one in five boys experienced emotional violence. Unfortunately, majority of these children did not speak to anyone about the violence they suffered and fewer than five per cent actually received the help they needed to recover from the trauma.
What is particularly disturbing is that the current trend of violence through child trafficking, forced marriages, sex exploitation and abduction is a national debility. This is unacceptable as the protection of the child and the promotion of their well-being are closely linked to the development and well-being of the society.
When people think about the effects of violence against children, they often do not consider how domestic violence affects children’s development. Even if the child is a witness of domestic violence, they can become scarred for the rest of their lives.
Younger children tend to get more anxious because of domestic violence. They throw tantrums, wet their beds at nights and complain about the tummy aches. It might also be hard for them to let go of their ‘nicer’ parent when it is time to go to school.
Older kids have different reactions. Some might become more disobedient and aggressive, while others might become quiet and withdrawn. Their self-esteem can significantly worsen, and they might choose a similarly abusive partner in the future. Many abused kids turn to illegal substances and alcohol to cope with their trauma.
The essence of marking Children’s Day today is for urgent action to be adopted to protect and end violence against children. It is our responsibility to create a world where children feel safe, protected and empowered to speak up for themselves.
Fortunately, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal to end all forms of violence against children by 2030, Nigeria has launched a Campaign to End Violence Against Children by that year, which reinforces the presidential call to end such violence first made in September 2015.
Since 2015, Lagos, Cross River, Benue and Plateau States have launched state-wide campaigns. The Federal Capital Territory, Gombe and Kano states, among others, have also carried out similar campaigns to end violence against children.
To drive the implementation of the national campaign, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development should work with key government partners, civil society and faith-based organisations to develop a National Plan of Action that will set targets and milestones to end violence against children in Nigeria by 2030.
Nigeria adopted the national Child Rights Act in 2003 to domesticate the international Convention on the Rights of the Child. So far, and regrettably too, state-wide Child Rights Laws have been passed in only 24 of the 36 states, with Enugu reported to be the most recent to enact the law.
This is, therefore, a call on the State Assemblies of the remaining 12 states to urgently pass Child Rights bills and on governors to sign those bills into law. It is also a call on governors of the 29 states who are yet to launch state-level campaigns to end violence against children to do so. We all must work even harder to make these rights a reality for children in Nigeria.
Violence against children is a very serious issue that often ends up forgotten. We can never forget about the safety of our kids. It is hoped that one day we will be able to live in a more peaceful country, where every child is safe and happy. Until then, we need to love and protect these precious beings from harm in any way we can.