A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the Basilica of Grace, Gudu on the topic above. I am so proud of how the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has decided to address this issue from the pulpit. No child (or even adult) should be subjected to any form of abuse, molestation or rape. Here are some excerpts from my talk.
A person’s childhood is meant to be a beautiful part of life where an individual enjoys being nurtured and looked after by the adults in his or her life, however sadly many children are suffering due to abuse, molestation or rape. Indeed; child abuse, molestation and rape are some of the society’s gravest ills and a lot of destinies have been truncated and almost ruined due to this most unfortunate scourge. Before we go any further let us look at some definitions.
Child abuse: Child abuse is the maltreatment of a child by a parent, guardian, or any other adult especially those who should be responsible for his or her welfare. This is not only limited to sexual abuse but could be severe beating, psychological trauma, cyber bullying or anything that threatens the child’s well-being.
Molestation: This is sexual abuse of a person, this may not involve sexual intercourse. Examples are touching someone private parts.
Rape: This is a form of sexual molestation that involves sexual intercourse against a persons will.
More children are abused by people known to them than strangers. So while stranger danger is real; abuse by close family is far more real. Here are some startling statistics
According to UNICEF 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys are sexually molested before they attain the age of 18. Even worse is that over 30 percent of girls say their first’s sexual encounter is as a result of rape.
According to the 2014 Nigeria Violence Against Children (VAC) survey by the National Population Commission, UNICEF and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, six out of 10 Nigerian children experienced at least one form of violence before they reach 18.
About 88% of those who abuse children are well known to them. They could be family members, neighbours, domestic staff (helps) and teachers.
Abuse or molestation occurs at all times of the day. For instance for sexual abuse it occurs one out of seven times during the day.
There are a few factors that have been shown to increase the incidence of these societal ills. Some of them, are Poor Parenting, Poverty and Lack of education. These and more play a major role in exposing our children to abuse, molestation and rape. However, for the purpose of this presentation I will focus on poor parenting and poverty.
Poor Parenting: Now when we speak about poor parenting, no one is trying to be critical of other parents but the truth is that in some cases these ills are mostly associated to homes where the parents are negligent, careless or uninvolved in the life of the children under their care. In fact in some cases some parents abuse and molest their own children. Yes, as shocking as it sounds, there have been many cases of children and wards being abused and molested by those who are meant to protect- their parents and guardians. As I mentioned earlier most molestation and rape is by people known to these children and not strangers and the police have received reports of such cases severally.
Therefore, poor parenting is definitely a major factor which cannot be excluded. Poor parenting can be described as Ostrich parenting as described in Job 39: 14-16;
‘’For she leaves her eggs on the ground and warms them in dust. She forgets that a foot may crush them or that a wild beast may break them. She treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers; her labour is in vain without concern.’’
May we never be like the ostrich and may our labour never be in vain in Jesus name. I will give you a classic case of poor parenting where a house help abused 10 year old twin sisters for over 1 year. In the words of the perpetrator “I was so close to the family that the children were free with me and took me as their elder brother. One day, they came straight to the shop, and one of the twins, not minding that I was there, removed her school uniform and changed into another one”. He then went on to narrate how he asked one for sex in exchange for money, she agreed and to his shock when he was done the other sister also said she was interested. That was how he was sleeping with them for over a year. The mother would always drop them in the shop after school and she never told them not to change in front of the opposite sex. Even when the children started bleeding she didn’t thoroughly investigate what could have been wrong. It was only when she caught the girls arguing over the money the boy gave them that she found out what had been happening. What a sad story! There have also been stories of children who subjected children to all sorts of torture (like severe whipping or putting pepper in their private parts) under the guise of discipline.
However, I must state at this point that even in some cases where parents have been outstanding and done their best their children end up being violated. This is why we must watch and pray over our children because like we are reminded in Psalm 127 : 1;
‘’…unless the Lord watches over a city, the guards stand watch in vain”
May the Lord watch over our children always.
Poverty: One may ask how poverty contributes to abuse? Well, It is only poverty that will make a women send her underaged child to hawk on the dangerous streets and thus be exposed to sexual predators. It is poverty that will make a parent give out their 10 year old to be a house help of a total stranger and it is poverty that will make a family allow their 12 year old daughter get married to a 50 year old man. Recently, I read a story in the newspapers where a man narrated how he came across a young 11 year old girl he saw hawking under the rain. She begged him to please buy the groundnuts she had as her Mum would beat her if she came back without selling. Out of pity he bought all the groundnuts she had left and as he drove off the girl asked if she should follow him. He was shocked and when he questioned her more she revealed that whenever men bough all her groundnuts they usually asked her to follow them and then they would have sex with her. I am sure her mother did not know this was happening but poverty had blinded her to the risk of sending an underaged girl to hawk food. In fact this case was one of poverty coupled with poor parenting as a more mindful mother even in the face of poverty would not force a child to hawk on the street without educating her on the dangers to ensure she was as safe as possible.
However, poverty is no excuse to be a careless parent and some parents have been able to protect and raise their children even with their meagre resources.
What does the Bible say?
There are a few incidences of rape in the Bible like the Rape of Dinah in Genesis chapter 34 and the Rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 and in both instances there were serious repercussions. Our God is loving and compassionate so there is no doubt that he does not want any of his children to go through the pain of abuse , molestation and rape.
Furthermore God is just and as we are reminded in Psalm 103: 6
“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed”’.
His laws concerning rape are also clear as stated in Deuteronomy 22. The Bible totally condemns these societal ills and is against any hint of them in the form of lewd or inappropriate jokes as clearly written in Ephesians 5 :3-4;
“…fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” .
This shows that God does not tolerate such behavior. Therefore we should not be afraid to report people who are responsible of abusing of defiling children to the appropriate authorities. Some may say forgive and I agree that offenders should be forgiven but forgiveness does not stop them from facing the full wrath of the law. Forgiveness is necessary but so is punishment.
How to Prevent abuse
Now this is crux of the matter, how exactly do we prevent abuse? There are several things we can do as parents to protect our children as much as possible. Those listed below are by no means exhaustive;
Presence: As parents we must spend time with our children. Many times we are busy chasing money or engaged in other activities but we must prioritize and ensure we spend quality time with our children. Remember being a present parent is more important than buying your children presents. There is no duplicate for what you can achieve when you spend time with your children. Remember that they require presence over presents. One thing that this pandemic has given most parents is the unquantifiable gift of time with their children. This is a good time to be there for your children as much as possible. Spend this time bonding with them and it will help you notice anything strange as well as be a good time to impart more knowledge in them. In Luke 10 :41-42 Jesus said;
“…Martha , Martha you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (41, 42)
Let us be like Martha and ensure we spend time with our family.
Information through Education: As a parent we must get the proper information regarding what to tell our children. In order to do this we also must also be informed parents as you cannot give what you don’t have (nemo quad non habet).As parents and guardians we must be one step ahead. The Bible enjoins us to get wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 4:7) and warns in Hosea 4 : 6 that;
“ people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’’.
We must not be like an ignorant ostrich that keeps its head buried in the ground, rather we must be like the mother hen who not only protects her chicks but is very aware of her environment. We must be aware and well informed by finding out what is going in the world, being technologically aware and finding out how to safe guard our children. I am grateful for conferences such as this, as they play a vital role in ensuring mothers get the right information. Remember Ignorance is certainly not bliss.
Once we have the right information we must them teach our children. Now when you say to you 12 year old “’when your period starts and a boy touches you fiam you will get pregnant”’ that is not completely true. Instead educate your child accurately and give age appropriate sex education for every stage of their life and back this up with Bible based education.
Protect both genders: Please note that when it comes to protecting our children from any form of abuse I am referring to both boys and girls. Boys are also abused and it is important we educate them the same way we educate our girls. We cannot afford to pay more attention to one gender to the detriment of the other. The amount of young men who were sexually defiled by househelps is alarming but most times they do not report this abuse. It is therefore our duty to protect both our sons and daughters. Most young men who are abusers were also abused so let’s break the cycle and ensure both genders are adequately protected.
Communication: Proper communication is at the core of ensuring your children or wards are safe from sexual molestation. This is because a child who has a healthy rapport with their parent will be more confident to report any signs of abuse before they even manifest. When a child knows that they can trust you to take action and not to blame them then they are more likely to come to you. Healthy communication is the bedrock of the parent child relationship and as Godly parents we should ensure our children can communicate freely with us.
Reaction: This is part and parcel of communication and can make or mar it. Now when your child tells you a he likes a girl how do you react? Instead of shouting “is that what I sent you to do in school?” why not use that as a time to teach him about sexual purity, platonic friendship and Godly association? If your son or daughter tells you an uncle or aunty is trying to be inappropriate how do you react? When your child tells you and adult has touched his or her private parts do disbelieve your child or do you take it up? Do you ask them to keep quiet and not to report the case of abuse? Your reaction will go a long way in ensuring that any signs of sexual abuse or misconduct are stopped and that going forward your child opens up and is bold enough to raise an alarm.
Observation : We must be very watchful when it comes to the children under our care. Diligence will ensure we notice any strange signs that may show our child is being abused in anyway and we may be able to nip it in the bud. Look out for the signs of a noisy child becoming quiet or a quiet child becoming even more withdrawn. Let us prayerfully watch out for any suspicious signals that something may be wrong and not hesitate to act on them.
Wards : Sometimes we are careful only when it comes to our own children but careless regarding our other wards. The truth is that once any child lives in your home you are acting in locus parentis over that child i.e. you are acting as a parent. You must therefore take care of these children under your watch. You must not abuse them or allow them be the subject of abuse. You must educate them about sexual abuse in the same way you would educate your own child. There have been so many cases of people who maltreat their househelps, like the recent case of a couple who use a hot iron to torture a little girl under their watch amongst other vile and inhumane acts. If you know that you cannot care for another person’s child please send them to their parents, also you should actually hire adults as househelps not children, as children being minors are prone to make more mistakes and are truly not qualified for such jobs. A child as much as possible should be in the care of their parents, so if you must have a minor in your home then be a parent to that child.
Report cases outside your home: We have become so modern and developed that we fail to look out for those outside our home. When we see a child being abused let us be bold enough to report such cases to the authorities so that the society is safer for us all.
Prayer is the Key: After all is said and done, the truth as I mentioned earlier is that we need God to protect us. We need the Holy Spirit to guide and show us how to prevent our children from being abused.
In Conclusion the truth is that abuse of all types against children occurs even much more than we know as a lot of cases are under reported. The Police have reported a marked increase in the report of such cases during this pandemic as more parents are spending time with their children and as a result noticing abuse which may have been happening for a while.
As parents we have a duty to protect these gifts that God has places in our lives. We must love, nurture and protect them from harm. We must be aware that the enemy is on the prowl looking for who to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). However, with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ who has come to give us life more abundant our children will be saved. We must however remember that faith without works is dead (James 2:26) so our deeds should show evidence of a believer and we must be diligent to do our part in protecting these children.
Also, our Law has stepped up as there are now some recorded convictions against people who abuse or molest children. Apart from the Criminal Code, the Penal Code and the Child’s Rights Act (CRA), various states have been updating their laws to ensure that children and other vulnerable persons are protected e.g Kwara State has announced the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill will be passed swiftly. There is now an offender’s register which can be accessed at Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Nigerian Police the Nigerian Police has also started a Police Rape Victims Project to help victims of rape. There are also government agencies like NAPTIP, The Nigerian Police Force and several NGOs such as the Mirabel Center that assist people who have faced such trauma and also help convict perpetrators.
As watching and praying parents may our children be protected in Jesus name and for anyone that may have been subject to such abuse I declare that the Lord will fully restore you.