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The girl-child: Sexual/domestic violence and subdued leadership dreams By Nnedinso Ogeziechi

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It is exactly one year this November that Nigeria launched its first National Sex Offenders Register. It signposted the launching of a sex offenders database of those convicted for sexual violence since 2015. Sadly, of the 36 states in Nigeria, only two states, Lagos and Ekiti have launched their own Sexual Offenders Register. Names have been published in Ekiti. Three men, Ajayi Peter, a 51-year-old man, who was convicted for raping a 12-year-old girl, Basiru Adeyanju for the sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl and one Rev. Asateru Gabriel for sexually violating a 7-year-old.

All their details including addresses have been published and in the Sexual offences register in Ekiti state. It is curious that the other states including the Federal capital territory, Abuja has not deemed it appropriate to domesticate the law which in the very least can serve as deterrent to some future rapists, pedophiles and Incestuous sexual perverts. The lockdown periods recorded an increase in the number of victims of sexual and other domestic violence against girls, women and sometimes young boys too.

The Roundtable Conversation in digging into reasons for the lack of gender parity in political leadership in Nigeria has discovered that beyond some socio-cultural and religious factors that discourage women from full participation in politics in the country sexual violence from very early age has been discovered as one danger that socially and psychologically beat down the girl-child. The mental consequences of sexual violence on the girl-child and women are enormous.

Dr. Ann Okigbo, a former Health Specialist at the World Bank and an International Consultant on Social and Community Development expressed shock that just like many policies that are not followed through to implementation, the National Sex Offenders Register seems not to appeal to a lot of state governments seeing that they have not done anything since last year that it was launched. Having been in the health sector for many years, she believes that successive Nigerian governments have not really taken the health sector seriously enough given that despite the 26% UN global benchmark for budgetary allocation to the health sector, Nigeria has always done below 10% which invariably shows that a lot is left undone and adolescent sexual health gets affected too.

According to Okigbo, successive governments seem to always appear lethargic in implementing treaties and global agreements that they are signatories to. She insists that governments must realize that girls grow into women and if they must contribute to leadership or be optimally productive in the country, their sexual health must be taken care of. Girls and women must be protected by the state from sexual predators and although the laws are there, the issue of implementation does not always get the needed fillip.

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She points out that being a signatory to the Child Rights act, Nigeria must make sure that every child’s rights are protected fully. However, there is the erroneous assumption that sexual rights of children do not matter but they actually do. Studies have shown that sexual violence in all forms against the girl-child is one huge emotional stumbling block against full development. There is a defeatist attitude that mentally traumatizes every child for life after being sexually abused.

According to her, the trauma of sexual violence leads the girl-child to self-disqualify. The child whose innocence is stolen grows up with very low sense of self and sees leadership aspirations as belonging to only her ‘conqueror’ – the male. It deprives the girl-child of any aspiration for leadership roles because a false sense of power had been used to subjugate them. In an era of increasing pedophilia and incestuous relationships often covered by some close family members, most victims get too traumatized to even carry out routine exercises of life. Some of them either self-harm or commit suicide or become perennially suicidal.

Dr. Okigbo believes that some women are enablers of sexual violence as in most cases they either choose not to believe some reports of sexual abuses or they prefer to keep their marriages than hand over sexual offenders to the authorities. To her, the girl child must grow in a condusive physical and mental state and be availed basic education to fully participate as the second viable engine for any economy. When only men are involved in leadership, it is akin to a plane running on a single engine.

Priscilla Usiobaifo, a gender advocate who runs an NGO that promotes women’s Sexual and Civil rights especially in the rural areas. Their area of emphasis includes young and adolescent sexual health. Serving in the Edo State Service providers Accountability Resource Committee (SPARC) , she has been in a position to interface with young and adolescent girls in the rural communities and has seen the impact of sexual violence on the young girls and fears that if drastic and urgent actions are not taken, the gender gap in Nigerian politics would continue to widen for generations.

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Priscilla feels that governments can surely do more to provide for the sexual and reproductive health of the young ladies because most of them do not have the luxury of home mentors and some are so poor they cannot even avail themselves of sanitary items for their monthly periods and in most cases their mothers are too poor or ignorant to pursue any case legally. It is always embarrassing to the young ladies and it does affect them psychologically.

According to her, her organization has intervened accessfully in the prosecution of over 200 cases of sexual abuses and secured a paltry 16 convictions of sexual offenders in Edo State. Unfortunately, one of the most pathetic cases her organization succeeded in getting a conviction for, a man convicted of incest recently escaped during the recent jail brake in Edo Correctional facility. She feels a personal sense of loss over that incident.

As one involved in the Adolescent and young people’s sexual health advocacy, she believes that governments at all levels must as a matter of urgency activate the plans to protect young girls. Part of the works her NGO does is to sensitize young girls to aspire for leadership in all areas and grow up to be active participants in the leadership of their communities and country.

They teach them to be confident and assertive and make their voices heard at home and in school. However, they were shocked when a ten year old girl stood up and narrated how the father has been violating her sexually and that singular voice led to more of the girls coming forward with series of sexual violations by adults. So invariably the average young girl is endangered as young boys and adults harass them in various ways sexually.

Having heard those cases, Priscilla said they decided to open the door of their offices to document and handle sexual abuse and harassment cases and it is bone-chilling the reports and the number of young girls that have come in to narrate gory and bizarre cases to her organization. So invariably the girl-child is a victim of parents in some cases, victim of neighbours or relations, some youth corpers serving in their schools etc.

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So to her, better protective plans must be made by all governments because the cases are legion and once there is a violation, the victim needs medical attention, social security, psyco-social support, police investigation, legal aides etc. and no one NGO can handle all these given the number of cases on a daily basis.

Both Dr Okigbo and Priscilla believe that the governments at all levels in Nigeria have to stop playing the ostrich by pretending not to know the effect of sexual and domestic violence on the girl-child. Sexual violence happens as a show of physical, economic, social or religious power. Many girls across the country are victims of sexual and domestic violence and their development is often stalled.

It amounts to shooting themselves in the foot to continue to ignore the devastating psychological impact of sexual and domestic violence in the country. A beaten-down girl can never have the confidence to raise her voice when it matters most. If the governments do nothing to curb sexual violence, only men would continue to bear the burden of leadership in the country and no mono-governance economy progresses as much as an inclusive leadership where opportunities exist for both male and female children on equal basis.

Investing in education and re-orientation of the people is a key step to take. However, it is curious that most governments in the country do not think of the long term implication of the sexual violations of the girl-child and women. Something as ordinary as the domestication of the National Sex Offender’s Register one year after the launching has like most things been like the idiomatic onion on hot oil noise which is very transient. It might not be the absolute solution but it could serve as deterrent.

That the country is today the poverty capital of the world is traceable to the absence of more women in leadership positions. Ironically again, the same men inflict sexual and domestic violence on the girls and women. Sadly too, the life expectancy of Nigerian men is very low, in fact one of the global lowest because the economic and social burden seem too much on the men – a problem they bring daily unto themselves. Is this not a case of one cutting the nose to spite his face?

The dialogue continues…

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