In this piece, JACINTA NWACHUKWU takes a look at the need to introduce a method to promote child rights in schools, adding that parents and school authorities ought to encourage school same.
By most accounts, the duties of school principals, teachers, counsellors and career advisers in secondary schools include the provision of pragmatic guidance to the students. Psychologists maintain that these education officials also strive to create safe schools that are conducive to teaching, learning and schools which are free from any form of violence and discrimination.
They, therefore, insisted that all government and private schools should have, as part of their regular staff, trained school counsellors or guidance officers.
“This is because school counsellors always work with students, parents or carers and teachers in various ways such as counselling students and assisting parents or carers to make informed decisions about their children’s education.
“Others includes assessing students’ learning and behaviour; assisting schools to identify and address disabilities that affect students’ learning as well as liaising with other agencies concerned with the well-being of students, among others,’’ they added. In line with these responsibilities, stakeholders urge school counsellors and parents to always strive to protect children from any kind of abuse.
Mr Napoleon Abgaidu, Head of the Abuja office of Save the Child Initiative (STCI) Nigeria, an NGO, explained that capacity building, involving training on child rights and trafficking in persons for school guidance counsellors, would enhance efforts to protect children from abuse.
“Thus, when they are well enlightened and empowered, rendering their own quota in protecting Nigerian children from all forms of abuse will become achievable in the school system,’’ he said. According to him, child protection efforts are a collective task which requires the contribution of different stakeholders.
Abgaidu said that concerted efforts in addressing issues relating to child abuse will go a long way to prevent cases of child abuse and promote the protection of Nigerian children. He said the rising wave of child abuse in schools is quite alarming, noting that it is more prevalent in government-owned schools.
He cited some cases in which some students were not allowed by their guardians to get treated for their health conditions. He, therefore, called on the Federal Government to brace to such challenges and work in tandem with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and other relevant agencies to put an end to such aberrations.
Moreover, Abgaidu urged school counsellors to create tangible awareness on the ills of child abuse among the students, adding that many students are being abused without their knowledge. He said this can be done via billboard information on the notice board, during students’ assembly periods, group counselling and Parents Teachers Association (PTA) meetings, among others.
He also believed that school counsellors should look out for signs and symptoms of child abuse and interact with students, suspected to be victims of child abuse, so as to elicit detailed information from them.
Abgaidu insisted that school counsellors, after identifying instances of child abuse, should contact appropriate agencies or commission responsible for handling such cases and refer the matter to them.
“They should as well carry the school management along always because child protection is definitely a team work,’’ he said. However, Ms Charity Anaja, the Programme Officer of Paulash Community Development Initiative (PCDI), underscored the need for both parents and school counsellors to be closer to the children in their personal engagements.
Anaja bemoans a situation in which some parents stupidly cede the care of their children to caretakers and housemaids.
She said that violence against children in Nigeria is very high, insisting that there is a high prevalence of sexual, physical and emotional abuse as well as neglect of children across the country. She observed that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are rarely strangers but persons who the children actually know. “Our children are the leaders of tomorrow and this underscores the importance of securing their future by protecting their rights.
“Efforts should be made to protect the children’s rights to survive; their rights to develop and their rights to have the best enabling environment that will enable them to realise their full potential in life,’’ she said. Anaja reiterated that more attention should be paid to the children’s education, health and protection from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Similarly, Mr Ibrahim Umar, Secretary, FCT Education Research Centre (ERC), said that school counsellors should always strive to educate the children and their parents on the need to break the perceptible culture of silence on child abuse.
He said school counsellors should be able to sensitise parents during PTA meetings to the importance of exposing their children and wards to sex education. “Also, parents should be able to condition the mind of their children on how to behave toward a stranger. Children, especially girls, should know how to respond when a man asks them to sit on his laps or entice them with gifts.
“When a child is well-trained and educated by his or her parents, the child will always know the right thing to do in specific situations at any given period,’’ he added. On child rights and trauma awareness, Trauma Awareness and Resilience Initiative (TAR), an NGO, said that secondary school counsellors should be trained on child rights and trauma management, as part of efforts to handle traumatic experiences among students.
Mr Francis Onyekwue, the Coordinator of TAR, explained that child traumatic stress refers to physical or emotional responses of a child to events that threaten life or physical composure such as accidents, natural disasters and gang shooting, among others. He said that other traumatic experiences include the loss of someone who is very dear to the child, adding that such persons could be parents or siblings.
Onyekwue said that counsellors should adopt a care practice which covers traumatic experiences and behaviours in order to effectively manage the trauma of affected children. He said that counsellors could promote child safety by establishing safe physical and emotional environment where basic needs are met, while discouraging behavioural elements that provoke new traumatic experiences.
He also underscored the need to understand the fact that nurturing safe, authentic and positive relationships could aid efforts to heal and restore trauma survivors. Onyekwue explained that traumatic stress symptoms can be mild or severe, adding that severe symptoms may indicate that a child is undergoing post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
He said that children suffering from traumatic stress conditions generally have difficulty in regulating their behaviours and emotions. “Children react to traumatic stress in emotional ways such as expressions of panic, intense fear, horror and helplessness, among others. There is also a physical reaction where the child manifests trembling, dizziness and rapid heartbeat rates,’’ he added.
Onyekwue, however, maintained that children’s reactions depend on certain factors such as the severity of the trauma, their personality, the way they cope with stress and the availability of support. He also claimed that it is common for children to regress in their behaviour, express fearful avoidance and phobic reactions after a trauma.
“For instance, some students may seek to avoid all reminders of the trauma by withdrawing from others, refusing to discuss their feelings, or avoiding activities that remind them of the trauma. Feelings of irritability, anger, sadness or guilt may often emerge and complaints such as headaches, stomach-aches or sweating are not unusual,’’ he added.
Onyekwue, nonetheless, encourages school counsellors to understand that recovery is possible for everyone regardless of how vulnerable the children may appear. All the same, stakeholders insist that parents and school authorities ought to encourage school guidance counsellors to play defined roles in efforts to protect Nigerian children from all forms of abuse. NAN