OPINION: Tackling the menace of child abuse in the Nigerian society

By Onubuleze Ukamaka Anthonia.

Alarmingly rising reports of child abuse, and an expanding corpus of Child Abuse literature and public declarations from adult survivors of abuse are a proof of the high rate of abused children all over the world.

This illicit act continues to trend unabatedly every minute that passes by. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act 1988, succinctly defines Child Abuse and Neglect as, “at a minimum, any recent or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results to death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm”.

The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act, 1989, defines Child Abuse as “the harming (whether physically, sexually or emotionally) ill-treatment, abuse, neglect or deprivation of any child or young person”.

In 2003, Nigeria followed suit by formally adopting the Child’s Rights Act known as the Children’s Rights Act 2003, for the protection of the rights of the child. Simply put, child abuse is the physical, emotional or sexual molestation of a child.

Although there are frightening cases of child abuse in Nigeria, it has, however, continued to receive little attention especially from government and agencies responsible for prosecuting offenders of this heinous act. This is probably due to the emphasis placed on the role of religion and culture as highly tolerant of child-labour, early child marriage and the general practice of child indiscriminate abandonment in Northern Nigeria. Another possible reason usually adduced is the general assumption that in every African society, the family system is responsible for providing needed care, love and protection for children. Yet this traditional system is notorious for entrenched abuse such as child rearing practice without responsibility as to how to cater for the needs of the child.

This has severely affected some children as they are left to the hostile mercy of nature. Such purposeful neglect or abandonment is customarily wide-spread in Southern Nigeria’s rural areas and hinterland, while it has found expression in the notoriously celebrated almajiri street urchins in every corner of the Northern states with a far-reaching implication.

With the recent transformational sweep in the societal structures brought about by rapid socio-economic and political developments, various forms of child abuse have been accentuated and are identified, particularly in urban areas. This worrisome menace has been attributed to poor parenting, broken homes, ignorance from guardians and failure of social norms triggered by greed, jealous, and crude notion of wealth accumulation. These abuses include deliberate abandonment of the “child”, human trafficking, child-labour, child prostitution, rape and increased psychological exploitation of the child through rosy promises of better life in urban cities by wealthy families who, sadly, turn the child into a domestic slave.

Having established the above, it’s pertinent to note the dimension of Neglect which is seen as a pattern of behavior which occurs over a period of time and results in impaired functioning or development of a child. It is the failure to provide for a child’s basic needs, and has been lucidly captured as follows:

1. Physical – failure to provide necessary basic needs like food, shelter and clothing.

2. Medical – failure to seek, obtain or follow through with medical care of the child.

3. Abandonment – leaving a child in any situation without arranging necessary care for her and with no intention of returning.

4. Neglectful supervision – failure to provide developmentally, or inability to provide appropriate care to a child.

This social malaise, untamed, has become a norm in Nigeria. Many unreported cases of child rape is prevalent. And when reported, it’s treated with levity or as deserving no attention by the State. In the past few months, hundreds of cases involving child rape and domestic violence with most of the victims losing their lives had been reported. It was, however, observed that genuine concerns were not given to this issue of abuse. If given, it’s treated in the Nigerian way where everything is shrouded in secrecy. This is appalling.

In developed climes, issues bordering on child abuse, especially rape and sexual molestation is stringently treated with a detrimental preemption. For instance, in 2018, a former United Nations official was arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned for sexually abusing children in Nepal. Peter John Delglish, 62, from Canada was detained near Kathmandu and convicted. He was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment for abusing a 12 year old boy and for molesting a 14 years old boy. Many priests have resigned, and are facing prosecution due to child abuse. Fresh in our memory is an American billionaire who is presently facing criminal prosecution for taking advantage of a number of children.

It has been established in several cases that child abuse is done by someone closely known to the child and people with reposed-trust, often a parent or other relatives and neighbors. To avoid discrimination and stigmatization, the victim of abuse is made to feel guilty or ashamed of this act through undue influence, or threat of violence if s/he divulges or confides to anyone. S/he may also be afraid to tell anyone about the abuse especially if the felon is a parent, close confidant or other relatives, family or friend. However, the scar of this stigma is ever haunting, and may play out itself even after years of silence as being recently seen in Nigeria where accusations and counter-accusations of molestation is rearing out their ugly faces

This is why parents should watch for “red flag” such as, gradual or sudden isolation or withdrawal from friends or usual activities by their child(ren). Changes in behaviour such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity or changes in school or academic performance may also be indices indicating (that) all is not well.

Depression, anxiety and usual fears or a sudden loss of self confidence, an apparent lack of supervision, frequent absence from school, reluctance to leave school activities as if s/he doesn’t want to go home, attempt at running away, self harm or attempt at suicide will suffice some wrongs. Caution must also be taken that the presence of these warning signs does not necessarily mean that a child has been abused.

Sometimes, a parent’s demeanor or behavior triggers off red flag about child abuse. Some parents show little concern or none at all to their child which distraught the recognition of physical and emotional distress in a child. Verbal abuse such as the employment of negative terms as “worthless” or “evil” are all spheres of abuse. Harsh physical and disproportionate discipline or punishment, hostile demands of inappropriate level of academic performance, severely limits the child’s contact with others and may lead to acute social marasmus. For this reason, child health experts have condemned the use of violence in any form and under any pretext since children are inquisitive and emotionally sensitive to the spanking that comes directly from their parents and this might cause the pain, physical injury or emotional trauma even when it is done in the name of discipline.

Research has shown that child abuse may result in behavioural alteration – abnormalities (premature death, physical disabilities, learning disability and substance abuse), behavior issues (delinquent behavior, abuse of others, withdrawal, suicide attempt, high risk of sexual behavior, problem in school, limited social and relationships skills), emotional issues (low self-esteem, difficulty establishing relationship, unhealthy views of parenthood, challenges with intimacy and trust, inability to cope with stress), mental health disorder (eating disorder, personality disorder, depression, anxiety, unrestful mind, and post-traumatic stress disorder).

Active steps, therefore, must be taken to protect children from exploitation and child abuse. The sure aim is to protect, provide a safe, stable and nurturing relationship. This can help children realise their potential and fulfil their dreams. A healthy home, they say, leads to a healthy nation. It can come in the following ways:

Tender love and attention from parents: parents should nurture their child(ren), listen and involve them in active life of trust and good communication. A supportive family environment and social network can foster a child’s self esteem and sense of self-worth. Parents are advised not to give out their children as they may end up turning to objects of abuse. Also, they should avoid leaving a young ward home alone, check references for babysitters and other caregivers.

The government and agencies responsible for prosecuting culprits are also called to active participation in setting the wheel of justice into motion by seeing that the various laws against child abuse are effectively deployed to punish offenders and discourage any form of child abuse. This will engender a better future for the child, and a healthier society for humanity.


Onubuleze Ukamaka Anthonia writes from the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus.




DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on our opinion page are those of the writer and do not represent the position of INSIDER or any of its reporters/editors.

One Reply to “OPINION: Tackling the menace of child abuse in the Nigerian society”

  1. The raging scourge of child abuse is an issue that calls for cancern. Today, this issue has metamorphose in shape and form, threatening our common heritage. It’s time to properly act collectively and defeat this problem.

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