By Emeka Nwokocha
Following rising incidents of child abuse, domestic violence and sexualization of children in Delta and Nigeria in recent times, renowned investigative journalist, Lady Ejiro Umukoro, has called on Delta State government to take immediate action to renovate and build juvenile centres including Government-PPP run Safe Shelters for victims of sexual and gender based violence, especially children, including domestic violence.
Umukoro, made the call while speaking as a guest speaker at the National Seadogs Association Vito Corsica Virtual Event that held recently. The multi award winning broadcaster and internationally recognized Investigative Journalist unveiled shocking statistics of abuse in Delta State and Nigeria as detailed in her investigative series, titled Broken Boys and Girls – Trapped In COVID-19 Lockdown, published by the Premium Times, The Guardian and amplified by the Pulitzer Centre in The USA.
Speaking on the topic: Child Rights – The House-help as a Metaphor of Abuse, she highlighted critical gaps in the orphanages, private shelters, and remand homes currently run in Delta State and Nigeria. Recalling the horrors ‘houseboys’ and ‘housegirls’ in Nigeria go through, Umukoro however noted that, “the ‘house help’ is the most dehumanized person in Nigeria with no protection and defense.”
She described the discovery of absence of shelters in 16 states of Nigeria by the Prohibition of Persons Trafficking in Persons as disheartening. Continuing, she said, “the Director General of the National Agency NAPTIP, Julie Okah-Donli Esq, in an interview stated that the national body in charge of protecting and providing social shelters for victims have only 338 shelters in only 10 states across Nigeria while the remaining 26 states where regular reports of abuse and human trafficking have been recorded lack such shelters.” She further stated, “at present NAPTIP shelters are overwhelmed and private-owned shelters since the lockdown have been worst hit with lack of funds, support and ease of modalities to handle the overwhelming number of abused victims.”
Relying on her investigative report in 2020, Umukoro noted that 46% (94 million) of Nigeria’s population estimated at 206,139,587 people are children and half of 94 million (47 million) children under the age of eighteen are exposed to sexual violence from adults every year, even as she noted that more than 23 million girls are victims of early marriage thus, making Nigeria the country with largest number of child brides in Africa.
According to Umukoro, the incidents of violence against girls and women (VAGW) have been on the increase in recent time. She said, “according to Dr. Kemi Da-Silver Ibru, Nigeria records 10,000 daily reports on violence against girls and women (VAGW) incidences such as rape, sexual assault, and human trafficking among girls and women across Nigeria. She further stated that the Violence against Children Survey (2014), first of its kind in West Africa, conducted by the National Population Commission (NPC) and UNICEF, revealed that 1 out of every 3 Nigerian girls experiences sexual abuse before she turns eighteen; while 1 in 10 boys in Nigeria experience sexual violence before they turn eighteen. “It is estimated that the figures may be closer to 1 in 6 boys, even as two-third of these children who face violence and abuse never speak out, and only 4 out of 100 received any form of support,” she lamented, adding that more than 70% of these children experience sexual violence not once, but repeatedly, often over a period of days, weeks, months, and sometimes years and often multiple types of violent abuse.
She continued, “a report by Prof Isabella Okagbue highlighted in Ejiro Umukoro’s investigative report also revealed that the cumulative loss of earnings as a result of productivity losses across diﬀerent types of violence against children in Nigeria was 967 billion Naira (US $6.1 billion) accounting for 1.07 percent of Nigeria’s GDP. Despite The Children and Young Persons Act, the juvenile justice system in Nigeria exposes children to horrendous abuse, extreme violence, and maltreatment while in police custody and remand homes.”
In the vein, one of the discussants, Patricia Gbemudu, Chair Woman of the National Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ Delta state, while noting that Delta State has domesticated the Child Right’s Law, said, “the Child Rights Committee needs to respond more quickly to cases, follow-up on cases reported and have more visibility across the state,” noting that the Committee is relatively not popular among many Deltans and residents of Delta state.
On a final note, the discussants at the virtual session agreed on the need for more stringent laws and monitoring of orphanages in Delta State and Nigeria as evidence of abandonment, maltreatments, abuse have severally been documented in orphanages and homes.
Recommendations and solutions were proffered by the discussants as follows: properly addressing helpers by their names removes the stigma and pejorative now attached to the word house-help. According to the Child Rights Act, it is against the law for anyone to refer to any child or adult as house-help.
Eugene Azuka DG, Orientation Bureau called for more support from CSOs; Bridget Anyafulu, EA to Governor Okowa said, “it is the responsibility of the government to provide social amenities.” She offered Ejiro Umukoro the opportunity to head the Delta Central axis of the Child Rights Committee, in the area of media support and partnership, to bridge the gaps highlighted;
Hajia Rafatu Salami, called for a framework to address the needs of house-helps in terms of labour laws, terms of contracts, rest hours, entitlement to holidays, etc., while ensuring that at no time should minors be engaged in such business of house-helps; Moses Onoriode Agwere, Esq. emphasized need to have committee on house-helps, stressing that orphanages must be accessed by government to get data across 25 L.G.As in Delta State to help CSOs, the media and other organizations have open access to the data;
Umukoro called for a Foster Care System Bill to be sponsored at the State House of Assembly to bridge the gap of roaming children, street trading by minors and teens, emphasizing need for more monitoring and scrutiny of all orphanages. She also called for a Bill for the implementation and enforcement for Government-PPP Initiatives across all 25 LGAs in Delta State and for speedy domestication and passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act still “lying”at the state’s House of Assembly. She also suggested that the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa-led government should enact an emergency executive bill to address these gaps immediately to protect children living in Delta.
According to Umukoro, “the Child Rights Law states unequivocally that no child should be held in slavery, servitude, or abused.” She highlighted that, “many parents, guardians and adults hide under the guise of capital punishment and ‘do not spare the rod’ principle to mete out untold savagery on minors and teen while in fact they are committing serious child abuse and domestic violence on such persons.”
She called for more enforcement of stringent punishment on parents and other adults who commit domestic violence on minors.
Present at the virtual session were Eugene Azuka Uzum, Delta State’s DG on Orientation, Bridget Anyafulu Esq, Executive Assistant to Delta State Governor on Special Duties/Focal Person NSIIP, Moses Onoriode Agewere Esq, Director Civil Service Unit, Delta State Ministry of Justice, and Hajia Rafatu Salami, Journalist/Convener, OKENITE Foundation for Special Needs Children.