As the world celebrates the International Day of the Child today, The Interview speaks with Princess Olufemi-Kayode, executive director of Media Concern for Women and Children and a prominent child rights activist. She shares her experiences in the fight against child sexual abuse in Nigeria:
You’ve been working on child sexual abuse for almost two decades now; how has it been?
It has been awesome. You have to love what you do…and one way to know is when you can do it effortlessly. However, every sector has its challenges and it is solving the riddles that keep me going.
Challenges are my tonic and there is a whole lot of it in this sector. The challenges include the societal perception of how this affects everyone’s reaction including the persons working in sensitive areas like criminal justice sector, which comprise the police and other law enforcement agencies, medical practitioners working with survivors and child victims, social workers, public prosecutors and defense attorneys, magistrates and judges.
Other challenges include stigma, which could sometimes lead to depression and suicide, and low professionalism among caregivers.
The more people like you work, the more we see more cases out there; do you see an end to these issues ever?
There won’t be an end. It is making sure we can reduce them to the barest minimum. This is in addition to making crisis response cordial and effective.
All forms of violence against children and against women are not new to mankind. There is nothing new under the sun. We need to put systems in place, so that regardless of who is in government, it works.
Then we can begin to review, update and tweak. Right now, we are still at the baby stage. Sad, but the sector is not the same as it was a decade ago. It’s better. Just that we still have a long journey ahead.
All forms of violence against children and against women are not new to mankind. There is nothing new under the sun. We need to put systems in place, so that regardless of who is in government, it works
Can you share with us one of the worst cases you’ve had to deal with?
There have been many worst cases, but what criteria are we using to measure? Is it how badly victim or survivor was physically affected?
Perhaps family/neighbourhood intrusion? How pathetic? Criminal Justice management of case? I can go on…Let me share a few.
A teenager, I think she was between 13-14, who was violently raped in her grandma’s shop in daylight. She had over 20 stitches, lost a lot of blood. It would have been gang rape, but a neighbour who was passing by saved her. Victim advocates were on ground immediately to guide them.
Then, they also reported at the police station. She was rushed to hospital. After a few weeks, the suspects were caught, charged to court and the girl’s mother who had abandoned to her father’s family, came from no where and took
the girl away from Lagos State. Case was struck out after a few adjournments. We learnt a few lessons. In another case, there was a girl whose father made to her perform oral sex on him.
The girl’s mother discovered by chance and reported. She was thrown out of her home, no care. With three daughters, she had to start life afresh under our care. It’s painful.
Your organisation has won a number of cases for victims. What are some of the challenges you have in prosecuting some of those cases?
First, ignorance. The public does not know how the legal process works. This is one area our victims advocacy has bridged.
Second, handling of investigation and report of investigating officer. Third, sentimentality, emotional drive and spiritualising of everything by Nigerians.
The whole village and its elders will show up. The parents will be told that they don’t know God and are evil if they refuse to forgive.
Fourth, the long adjournments by the courts. Fifth, media reports…we had cases where some stories were taken down online platforms. Sixth, finances; and lastly, lack of training of key response agencies
Being a survivor of sexual abuse yourself, what‘s the most important thing you would want to say to a victim?
It’s very difficult to look over and pretend nothing happened. Find support PLEASE! It is irrelevant when it happened, either you think you are fine or not…Join a support group…Get help.
You can win this and still have a fabulous life. Only you can decide to take your life back and there is help available. I am here. You can overcome too.
Any parent, guardian, caregiver and educator who is not knowledgeable about child sexual abuse and it’s dynamics in today’s world should face a disciplinary panel
How did you cope with the after effects of being sexually violated and also emerged stronger?
I did not know that a lot of what transpired in my life was as a result of negative consequences of sexual abuse. My curiosity led me to research and study the subject.
This helped a lot and was a journey of discovery and enlightened. So for me, it was first and foremost God Almighty.
Then therapy and support from loved ones and other survivors. My strength comes from the fact that there is still much work to do. My assignment is not completed.
What is the most important factor people, especially parents, guardians and teachers should know about child sexual abuse?
It is a plague as my colleague once described it.
Any parent, guardian, caregiver and educator who is not knowledgeable about child sexual abuse and it’s dynamics in today’s world should face a disciplinary panel.
You have to make an effort and be intentional in studying and reading up on the subject. Development has with it, its own challenges. Update yourself. Ask questions. “I reject it.” Or “God forbid” is not enough.. Get knowledge…enrol in a class.
How best can we protect our children from sexual abuse?
We can keep preferring to short interventions. There’s no magic wand. It’s a holistic effort.
Everybody’s hand must be on deck. Religious leaders, community leaders, professionals, corporate bodies, parents, extended families and entire society have to come together to decide we don’t want this.
And begin to contribute what can work here in our nation. It’s about our people after all.