In Nigeria, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
What comes to mind when you read these words? Let me make it a bit simpler to understand.
In Nigeria, over 9 million children are sexually abused every year.
That amounts to 90 million children sexually abused every decade. What comes to mind when you read these words instead? Bear in mind that these statistics are not specific to how many times each of these children is abused.
It’s a large number isn’t it?
It’s also possible these figures will increase if nothing is done about it. But let’s not jump the gun. Before we can discuss How to combat child sexual abuse, we need to first understand what it is.
So, what is child sexual abuse? Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) refers to all forms of sexual activity directed towards a child by an adult to satisfy the adult’s sexual desire or interest. Sexually inappropriate behaviours also take place between children, especially when one of them is more mature or exerts power or influence over the other child. A child is anyone under the age of 18. This is the general age range of young dependents.
A common assumption people have is that child sexual abuse only involves non-consensual sexual intercourse between an adult and a child. This is FALSE. There is a wide range of actions which fall under the category of child sexual abuse. In fact, there are so many of them, that we’ll only be able to discuss a few of them. Sexual abuse is both physical and non-physical. Meaning, an adult does not have to physically touch a child for it to be considered as sexual abuse. If an adult touches a child inappropriately or touches her/himself in front of a child, or makes the child do the same, it is sexual abuse. If an adult exposes his/her body parts to a child, it is sexual child abuse. Also, if an adult exposes a child to pornography or inappropriate videos and films, it is considered as sexual abuse. Furthermore, if an adult has sex with a child, it is considered as sexual abuse.
The last point mentioned above has created controversy among people who wish to validate their sexual fetishes. These people argue that as long as a child consents to sex with an adult, it is not sexual abuse. This is also FALSE. Children cannot give consent to sex. For emphasis, let me repeat that. CHILDREN CAN NOT GIVE CONSENT TO SEX! The reason is simple, children are too young to understand what sex is. One might argue that this does not apply to 17-year olds, but it does. There are dimensions to sex that children cannot fathom and therefore cannot be involved in, which is why their consent is not valid.
Now, there are children who are aware that they are being sexually abused but still remain silent. They refuse to tell their parent/guardian or report to anyone for help. Why? Because some children are being threatened by their abusers. In order to get the children to remain silent, some abusers threaten to kill the child or their loved one if they speak to anyone about the abuse. Children also fear being punished or reprimanded if they are not believed after speaking up. There are also children who remain silent because they, or their loved ones, are emotionally attached to the abuser. In fact, statistics show that 1 in 10 girls is being abused by a family member while 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 3 boys are being abused by a neighbour. Therefore, after the child is sexually abused, because the abuser has gained the trust of the child or their parents, the child does not want the abuser to be taken away or punished. This all boils down to who parents and guardians expose their children to.
I understand that all the information up to this point has been gory, disgusting and very heart-breaking, but this is the reality of child sexual abuse. The good news is, it can be prevented. The number one rule when one discovers or recognises sexual abuse is: DON’T STAY SILENT. If you see a child who is possibly being abused, look for someone trustworthy, be it the child’s parent/guardian, the police or the community leaders. Our first priority should be to protect our children, who are the future. Therefore, if a child reports abuse to you, do not yell at them and do not assume that they are lying. Neither should you blame them. The first thing to do is comfort the child. Afterwards, report the case to the police or appropriate authority who can take action. Support the child and help them seek medical and legal aid where necessary. Also, seek counselling services for the child, preferably from a professional who is more experienced and capable in handling children.