At the recent launch of the Nigerian version of National Survey on Violence against Children recently, the issue of increasing violence against children and how to tackle same dominated the event, writes JOYCE REMI-BABAYEJU 

Recently, UNICEF in collaboration with the National Population Commission, NPC, presented the findings of the Nigeria Violence against Children Survey in Abuja and today, the 15th September, President Muhammadu Buhari will officially launch the ‘’Year of Action to End Violence Against Children, in the nation’s capital city, Abuja.

The official survey findings show that almost every second, a Nigerian child is being violated either physically, sexually or emotionally. At a press conference to present the findings to the public, stakeholders, policy makers and the media, on 10the September in Abuja, the UNICEF Country Representative, Jean Gough noted that in 2006, the UN Secretary-General launched the global report on Violence Against Children, VAC, in an attempt to document the experiences of children around the world and countries were urged to undertake their own surveys in order to develop context specific actions to tackle violence against children.

To answer this urgent call to develop a legal instrument to help government make policies to end VAC and save the Nigerian children, the Federal Government of Nigeria, in 2014, embarked on this groundbreaking survey. This makes Nigeria the first West African country and the 9th globally to carry out a survey on child violence as it joins the international community to put an end violence against childre

Nigeria’s call to End Violence Against Children is with the theme: “It”s time to take Action. Together Let’s End Violence against Children.’’ Gough had congratulated the Nigerian government for the groundbreaking survey venture on VAC and for being the first country in West Africa and the 9th in the world to do so. Gough said, “the findings of the survey show that violence impacts millions of children’s lives every year across Nigeria.”

According to her, when people think of physical, sexual and emotional violence against children, people often think is happening to others and not themselves, but she added that it is a problem that transcends social and economic status. “It impacts rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and out of school children. The findings of the survey highlight the fact that violence is not confined to poor families, or to marginalized children or children living in the shadow of conflict”.

The Goodwill Ambassador of VAC, Professor Chidi Odinkalu said, “children are the biggest assets so we have a responsibility to hand over something that they can run with but if we destroy them by violence, it becomes impossible for them to manage whatever we hand over to them. That’s why it must be grounded also in the African culture.”

According to the summary report of the findings from a National Survey (2014) which was presented by the Director, Planning and Research, National Population Commission, Dr. Samson Olanipekun, delivering an overview on the Findings from the National Survey to the media and other stakeholders, noted that it is designed to provide information to guide policies against children, estimate national lifetime prevalence of sexual, physical and emotional violence against children.

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He noted that the survey which was carried out in 2014 on a total of 4203 respondents between the ages of 13  and 24 has been also carried out in countries like Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, Haiti, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malawi. NPC survey shows that there is a high prevalence of VAC in Nigeria with statistics showing that before the age of 18, six out of every 10 children have experienced some form of violence. One in four girls and one in ten boys have experienced sexual violence. One in six girls and one in five boys experience emotional violence by a parent, caregiver, or adult relative and half of all children have experienced one form of violence which often starts at a young age.

Also, according to the survey, for children who are victims of violence before the age of 18, over half have had first experience between the ages of 6 and 11 and those who have experienced sexual violence before the age of 18, a third of girls and nearly 1 in six boys experienced their first incidence of sexual violence between 14 and 15. One in five girls experience their first incidence of sexual violence at 13 years and younger and approximately half of children first experience emotional violence before the age of 12.

Findings on prevalence of VAC girls are significantly more likely to experience both sexual violence and physical violence than other combinations of violence. Boys were significantly more likely to experience both physical and emotional violence than any other combinations of violence.

Findings reveal that even though more children are being violated, most times they are not disclosing their experiences, seeking or receiving services. This is because children have low awareness of people or services from which they can seek help. Of those who experienced sexual or physical violence, 6% sought help and less than 5% receive help. And children who do tell someone are much more likely to tell a friend or relative than a service provider or people in authority.

And most disturbing is that violence has serious impact on girls and boys’ lives. There are instances where emotional violence is associated with mental trauma and feelings of suicide. Sexual violence causing sexually transmitted diseases, STDs, and unwanted pregnancies and even mental distress. These findings show that the girl- child is more abused and violated on the three counts of violence against children in Nigeria.

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A representative of the chairman of NPC, Mr Gunde Lakoju, had said the high degree of VAC in the country necessitated the survey. Lakoju noted that apart from sexual, physical and visible violence inflicted on children, cultural violence was yet to be addressed and regretted children were rarely permitted to participate in adult discussions and other issues on adulthood thereby creating to lack of self confidence when they grow older.

“There is another aspect of violence which is yet to be intercepted and that is cultural violence because children according to stereotype are not allowed to participate in adult discussions. That is the reason why our children grow without self confidence and once you lack self confidence, you are in trouble how to go in life,” he said.

He noted that most children who grew up in our communities were burdened with lack of confidence which limits their level of performance at the global standard. Chief Child Protection, UNICEF, Ms Rachael Harvey, noted that “violence is a practice in close families and communities which the findings showed that it had affected millions of Nigerian children. VAC is a problem that transcends social and economic status, it impacts the rich and the poor, the rural and urban, and it impacts children who are in school and children out of school. VAC is not somebody else’ problem, it is everyone’s problem and it is not just carried out on children in conflict areas,” she said.

Harvey pointed out that ending VAC was highlighted as part of the targets under the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, to be adopted by member states at the UN general assembly to hold later in the month. She said that the inclusion of ending VAC in the SDGs was of optimum significance, adding that it showed that violence impacts Nigerians as a whole. According to her, ending VAC is a critical role to be played by the federal and state governments, religious groups, traditional groups, NGOs, communities, families and all citizenry.

Mr Dennis Onotu, Prevention Branch Chief, Centre for Disease Control, CDC, said the findings from the survey would be used to launch the National Response Plan on VAC. Onotu added that the findings from the survey also required the galvanisation of stakeholders to ensure that children were rightly protected from violence.

Stories of children abused, bruised, raped and even killed through violence all over the world is increasingly becoming a daily phenomenon. And so the echoes of violence against children who are the vulnerable group of the human species keep tearing the hearts of people all over the world and that is what informed this survey to put an end to barbaric attitude towards children in our society.

Children are weak and innocent by nature and so there is need to nurture and guide them through childhood to adulthood. But there is a turn of events surrounding the life of children as they increasingly become endangered due to violence perpetrated on them by those who are expected to protect them, parents, relatives and strangers. Nowadays children are increasingly exposed to dangers of violence in and around their homes and environment. Such  incidences of violence against children is of even more prevalent in crisis regions such as insurgence zones in the North – Eastern part of the country and  other war-torn zones like Syria and other Arab nations.

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The rights of the child has been specified in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by General Assembly Resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989 entry into force 2 September 1990, in accordance with article 49. Article 49 in part recognizes the rights of every child to life and states that parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Part 1. Article 2 states that parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination, punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or belief of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Article 3 (2) states that parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into accounts the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians or other individuals legally responsible and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures. Article 6 (1,2) states- 1. parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life. 2. States parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 7 (1) States- the child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be care for by his or her parents. UNICEF said, “All Nigerian children have a right to grow and free from all forms of violence- sexual, physical and emotional. Inasmuch as the UN Convention specifically stipulated the rights of children to life, they are perpetually under the shadow of war, conflict, migration and death.

The Nigerian Child Rights Act, 2005 is yet to be domesticated in all the 36 states, but the launch of End to VAC by President Buhari, is a sure hope that the remaining states would be forced to join the cue to protect the rights of every Nigerian child in respective of their social, economic and religious background.