With the increasing number of child-pregnancy issues, rapes and abortions in children and adolescents, the question of sexuality education has also come up. Sadly, parents (most especially Africans) often shy away from this truth.
Ruth Olurounbi asks whose blame it is when a child engages in sexual activities without having the right knowledge about harms he/she is getting into, and whose job is it really to provide such information, among other issues.
IN Nigeria, cases of child abuse, with emphasis on defilement (adult having sexual relations with a child below the age of 12) and rape (an adult having sexual relations with a child between the ages of 13 and 17) have been on the increase and becoming worrisome so much so, that the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), a department under the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, raised the alarm over the increase in cases of child abuse and rape in the state. The Director of OPD, Mrs Omotola Rotimi, said at a press conference held in Lagos recently, that between January and March this year, 39 cases of child abuse had been handled by the office while 15 cases of rape and 17 cases of defilement had also been treated.
“Since inception of the OPD in July, 2000; the office has been able to resolve over 34,000 matters covering both civil and criminal cases. Almost on a daily basis, we receive cases of defilement of children by people who sometimes are very close to their families,” she said.
Earlier this year, a nine-year-old girl was raped by a 25-year-old man in Lagos State. The culprit, one Adeniyi, who worked within the area where the girl’s school was situated, allegedly took her to his home after school hours and forcibly had carnal knowledge of her. A few weeks ago, another nine-year-old girl was allegedly raped by her class teacher – these cases being few of many reported and unreported incidences in the country.
In Calista Ezeaku’s Curbing Rape Incidences In Nigeria, he wrote: “Of all rape cases, the most worrisome is the raping of innocent child by adults. Research showed that between 2008 and now, the Police in Kano State have dealt with over 60 cases of child rape and made over 60 related arrests.”
In a bid to curb the menace, Rotimi urged parents to be more vigilant about their children. But a social worker in the country said parents’ vigilance may not be the only tool required in curbing the increasing child defilement in the society. Echoing what Patricia C. Wass, the Coordinator of Sexual Assault Crisis Services in Connecticut once said, it is “only by opening up the discussion about sex, and by beginning to talk to children at a young age, will we ever be able to protect them from abuse.”
A social worker in Ibadan, Dr Olayinka Oladipo said child sex education would go a long way in protecting children from sexual abuse.
While the government has instituted the Child Rights Act to protect children from all forms of abuse, Dr Oladipo said it was imperative that children were protected from the abuse in the first place. Wass, who gave various types of child sexual abuse, from “inappropriate touching, fondling, voyeurism, exposure to pornography, to full forced intercourse and sadistic acts,” said “abuse may consist of a one-time incident or be ongoing perpetration which continues throughout childhood into teen years. Victims may be infants as young as two months, although the average age of child sexual abuse victims is nine.”
She added that although most of the high profile cases of child sexual abuse that make the news were stories about weird, creepy strangers who prey on children and often murdered them. “Most child sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows: a parent, a sibling, another relative, a family friend, a neighbour, teacher, a member of the clergy. It happens in every socio-economic class, every ethnic community, and among all races.”
And like Dr Oladipo, Wass’ contention was that children and teens need good information about sex, sexual relationships, reproduction and birth control, sexually-transmitted diseases, and sexual abuse. “Information is power, and in this high-risk day and age, children and teens need all the information they can get. To withhold information about sex and the possibility of sexual abuse, as well as information about reproduction and disease, puts all children at risk.”
Refusing to talk about sex, Wass said, did not mean that" children are safe, that nothing bad will happen to them. Only by opening up the discussion about sex, and beginning to talk to children at young age, will we ever be able to protect them from abuse. Ultimately it will only be when sex and sexual abuse are commonplace topics of conversation will perpetrators be held accountable. Only then would our society ever truly be able to prevent one of the most tragic things that can happen to a child.”
However, there are a number of reasons parents are reluctant to teach their children about sex. Prominent being, according to Chidi Ebere, the co-founder of Child Aid Survival and Development International (CASDI), the preservation of virginity, prevention of premarital sex, illegitimate pregnancy and abortion, religion and culture, as well as maintenance of family honour and dignity, among others. Contrary to this assumption, he said “a number of surveys have shown that girls who were not educated about sexuality, including changes during puberty are more likely to embark on sexual indiscretion and become pregnant during their teen years than those who were educated about sex."
While there is a great debate as to where sex education should take place and who should be saddled with the responsibility, experts are saying it should “ideally start in the home where parents should engage their children as active participants in their development process. This education continues at school in a way that preserves the family values while embracing societal realities.” Ebere, in Breaking the Barrier: The importance of sex education for adolescents, said “sex education that begins at school could have an untoward effect of these young children not understanding the position of their parents, leading to sexual licentiousness and catastrophic experimentation. The social development of young people is a product of family and society partnership, where these children are active participants in their own lives. He added that, "education is by no means an enemy of humanity but ignorance is."
Question is: at what age should children be exposed to sexuality education? Dr Oladipo suggested that parents should start early, but should not force the conversation. "Teaching a child about sex requires gentle and continuous flow of information," she said, while urging the parents to make sure that they start earlier before the children start to grasp wrong information from the available sources. “When you teach your toddler about body parts such as whereabouts of his/her nose and teeth also tell your child that this is your penis or vagina. Later, you can gradually keep on adding on the subject,” Bushra Kafeel, a sex educationist advised.
Kafeel also suggested that parents inform their children about basic rules such as passing the basic ground rule of sexuality education for children not to touch each other below the waist. “Certain rules for children of a small age group often help them to understand the basic dos and don’ts,” Kafeel added.
In answering the question on who should give sexuality education and where it should be given, therein lays another question: why is it important? The Department of Health in the United States of America said, the objectives of sexuality education are to help children understand the body structures of men and women and acquire the knowledge about birth and to teach them to establish and accept the role and responsibility of their own gender by acquiring the knowledge of sex. “Understanding the differences and similarities between two genders in terms of body and mind will set up a foundation for the future development in their acquaintance with friends and lovers and their interpersonal relationship,” it added, saying that sex education teaches an individual about self-acceptance and the attitude and skills of interpersonal relationship. It also helps an individual to cultivate a sense of responsibility towards others as well as oneself.
To protect children from paedophiles, the society needs to educate children of the 21st century more on their bodies and body imagery, sexual abuse and high-risk sexual behaviours and other exploitative behaviours, experts have said. “Until the society, both in advanced and developing nations make sex education a common public discourse and encourage families to embrace the idea, sexual abuse and exploitation will remain a common threat to our children,” Ebere, the co-founder of Child Aid Survival and Development Interna-tional, said.
Honourable Omowumi Olubunmi Ogunlola, an Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) member, representing Ijero constituency at the Ekiti State House of Assembly, is the Chief Whip and chairman, House Committee on Information and Civic Orientation. She speaks with Tunde Ogunesan on her politics and fashion sense. Excerpts
I attended Ansar Ud Deen Primary School, Itire, Lagos State and Otun Comprehensive High School, Ekiti, before proceeding to Ekiti State University to study Law. While working at the Ministry of Justice, I had a diploma certificate in Law before I bagged my LL.B and proceeded to the Law school in Abuja. I worked in the Ministry of Justice for 27 years, having joined in 1983. I am married and the marriage is blessed with children.
It took a strong determination in me to pursue a degree in law after retiring from the civil service. To some, it came as surprise but I knew what I was out to achieve. That was what made me to retire voluntarily because I have a vision and I thank God today that I'm on the right path though I am not there yet.
Journey into politics
I retired voluntarily having put in good 27 years of service. With my background in the judiciary, I decided to join politics at the State House of Assembly level. In Ekiti State, women participation was not encouraging. I was ready to brace all the odds and get elected into the House, today, the rest is history.
Though, it was not easy, I defied all odds to get elected. And I want to say that politics itself is even made for disciplined minds because to scale through the process, you must be brave and be self-disciplined. I don't consider my working background- judiciary as being more disciplined than politics. Each vocation or profession has its own task which requires brave approach in order for one to excel. So, politics is not meant for the rif raffs as being insinuated in some quarters.
When I wanted to contest, some people advised me against it, thinking maybe I'm not cut for it. But I told them, I have a vision and mission to accomplish which is not under the influence of money or anything, it is a resolve to prove a point that Nigerian women and professionals can fare better in Nigerian politics, especially at the law making level.
Career influence on politics.
No doubt about it, my career has greatly influenced my ability to function well. Being around at the judiciary for over 27 years really positioned me for the task ahead. If I may say, law professionals seem to be better on the floor of the House than from other professions. Not that we have not had women in the state House of Assembly, but in my own case, I have not come to add to the number. I want to make my impact felt both at the house and in my constituency. Despite the fact that in Ekiti State, we don't collect constituency allowance I have been responsive to my constituents' yearnings.
I have refused to lose focus. Currently, I have two bills in the pipeline- Disability and Provision of Public Cemetery bills in the state.
Ekiti House of Assembly
In Ekiti State House of Assembly, our cultural traits guide our character. Ekiti people are honourable people. What we do define our person and we're a set of people that places emphasis on dignity of man. You can cross-check, since this house resumed, I can confidently tell you that our focus has been to better the lot of the masses that's why we're less crisis ridden.
We've been able to achieve this as a matter of fact because we've not abandoned our constitutional functions for inferred jobs. In Ekiti, we understand that it is not the duty of lawmakers to execute projects, it is the function of the executive. The lawmakers are to make laws. So, if lawmakers collect money for constituency project, it is unconstitutional. Here in Ekiti, as lawmakers, we don’t collect a dime for constituency projects. It is an abnormal thing and that's why Houses of Assembly today are in disarray. We must get our focus right, know what the constitution says on any issue and ensure that we abide by it.
By that, politics will be free of unnecessary bickering that normally arises between the executive and the legislature. Constituency projects money is unconstitutional.
Though constituency allowance was not given to lawmakers in the state, it has not constituted barriers to us to make impact in the lives of the people of our individual constituencies.
High point in career
High point? I'm not yet there. I can't refer to anyone as my high point now. I'm just starting now, I'm not yet there.
My professional background has greatly influenced my mode of dressing, I don't believe in flamboyant outfit. However, occasions most times determine what I put on, but must be moderate. I prefer coffee brown colour and wine, in all, cool colours. That's why I said my profession had swayed my dress sense.
I don't have favourite designer, I don't worship names. I put on whatever suits me.
I decided to start from the House of Assembly and equip myself. My ambition is to go places that's why I said earlier that I don't have my high point yet.
Perception of Nigerian politics
Nigerians themselves don't have good perception about their political office holders, so it makes it difficult when someone from a particular professional background decided to venture into politics. You will have more people discouraging you than those who would support you. Even if we have some bad eggs, that does not mean that that is how the whole system is. We've had other professions who had had their turbulent times or even people.
Irrespective of such, Nigeria's political serene is disciplined. You can only survive when you're a thorough bred. One who can hold sway all the time just like we have in business. You're a successful business person if you're able to survive all weather. It's a long time thing, so Nigerians should change their perception about our politics so that many who have lots to offer will see the environment as one where they can serve.