By: Ayodeji Oluwaseun Osowobi & Dr Shruti Kapoor
“On this fateful day, like every other day, I had entered into my grandparent’s landlord’s house to play. One of those men with no blood relations you had to refer to “uncle” because they were older and close to the family asked that I sit on his lap. My innocent five year old self did, oblivious to the constant pokes in my private part alongside the push and forward movement my body had been subjected to. The experience continued to haunt me as I could not understand and reconcile how my body changed, turned. Growing up, however, with the comprehension of the concept of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) I understood what this incident was” – Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi.
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a form of child abuse whereby an adult uses a child for any form of sexual relation/activity. Child sexual abuse in Nigeria is one of the most silenced and under-reported forms of violence perpetrated against children. According to a research carried out by UNICEF in 2015, six out of ten children in Nigeria experience emotional, physical or sexual abuse before the age of 18. This is compounded by the inability of children to identify what crime has been committed against them. Sex education is one of the issues parents fail to discuss either due to lack of awareness on the discourse or their belief that it is alien to us. Many times, children are unable to express such abuses. Many cultures in Nigeria, for example, place hyper emphasis on the need to respect elders, this is often pushed to the point of shunning children whenever they attempt making reports against the older ones – a culture many abusers thrive on.
Parents, sometimes fail to teach their children proper names and functions of their sexual organs making communication of abuse from the child to the parents difficult. A child, who for example, is taught that his penis is called wee wee could be misunderstood when trying to describe sexual assault to his parents, such will be dismissed as a called to use the toilet or potty to “wee wee”.
Unfortunately, CSA is not only a Nigerian or African issue, it is a worldwide epidemic although the context varies per country. During #Sayftychat (a weekly twitter chat conducted by Sayfty) on Child Sexual Abuse, it was evident that this issue encompasses various elements such as touching, watching of ponography with underaged children among other things. According to Jodie Ortega, one of the Sayftychat participants, ‘In Philippine culture, there’s the widespread habit of physical contact. No boundaries.’ While in Canada, on the other hand ‘there is the – hug, highfive or fist bump options’. Another also relayed how Child Sexual Abuse by family members is a “legacy” in her family. Complaining about this always met with silence and caution on the need to accept this as “normal”.
It is important to note that Child sexual abuse is not gender specific, male children are also abused. Countless boys have opened up to Sayfty on the abuse they faced from a tender age from housemaids, uncles or other relatives. Each handling the abuse differently, some have come to normalise it, others have built walls around themselves as a form of denying the occurrence of the incident.
How can CSA be curbed?
Creating awareness on CSA to bring a shift in behaviour is key as many people do not have proper knowledge on what child sexual abuse entails – comprehensive sex education is a necessity.
For instance, organisations like Stand to end rape (STER) initiative in Nigeria recently launched a FREE self-defense class for girls of all ages to enable them disarm any prospective or abuser from gaining access to their bodies. This is in addition to providing support services to victims of sexual violence, while also changing community perception on the discourse. In India, Sayfty is educating and empowering women and girls against violence through its self-defense workshops and online campaigns. We must also educate parents on the importance of comprehensive sexuality education for children, both male and female between ages 4 and above, which cannot be overestimated.
There is a need to change the culture of “silence” on CSA and taboo on comprehensive sexuality education. This responsibility does not only rest with parents alone; Churches, Schools and the community at large have this responsibility too. Discussing sex to raise the child’s awareness on abuse as well as building their capacity to make informed choices should not be a taboo, the lack of it, should be.
Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi is the Executive Director of Stand To End Rape Initiative in Nigeria, an organisation raising awareness on sexual violence and working to end this through education, support for victims of rape, and changing community perceptions towards sexual violence. She is a 2015 Vital Voices Fellow and a highly-commended runner-up of the 2017 Queen’s Young Leaders Awards.
Dr. Shruti Kapoor is the Founder of Sayfty, an organization that educates and empowers women and girls against all forms of violence. She is India’s 50 Rising Stars and a member of the UN Women’s Interagency Network For Youth and Gender Equality Working Group.