Speak Out: Child Rape a public concern
What! When did this happen? The stainless cup in my hand dropped as I screamed. He broke the news with mixed feeling; he knew it would make news of real concern for me. He was sympathetic with Hauwa (not her real name) for going through such an impious ordeal with the police. I rushed to the table to get my phone to read the news in detail. I pulled up the Google mobile app and typed "16 year old girl raped by policemen in kano state." I found the news. It was true. It happened. Policemen!
As the Christmas celebration drew near, while others were rejoicing, others were despairing. Hauwa was one of those who celebrated with mixed feelings. She felt sadness for the dirty ordeal she went through and also thankfulness to God for being alive to tell her story.
She had been abducted for days by uniformed men called police. She escaped from the dirty room and the news broke out. It was breaking news of a 16 year old girl raped by Policemen. Hauwa was returning from her mother's place by motorcycle that evening. Her mother had married another man after her father's death. The driver does not have a headlight, so he slowed down as soon as he saw the police check point. They were stopped by the policemen at the check point. The Policemen wanted to know why he was driving at night without a headlight and carrying a little girl. Yes, they were right. They were doing their duty. After accusing the driver of driving without a light, they asked him to leave her. They dismissed him and promised to take her home in their patrol vehicle.
The driver left trusting in their words and leaving Hauwa in police care. As the waiting became endless, she pleaded with the officer in charge to let her go home alone but he refused. They finally set off at about 2am and instead of taking her home as promised, they drove with her into their barracks and ordered her into a room. She was there for 28 days and was subjected to a series of rapes by six policemen. As if that were not enough, they collected money from civilians who also took part in raping the little girl. Her virginity and innocence was traded for money. The news broke out on the 11th of December, 2010 after she managed to escape.
The Nigerian Police
On the 3rd of January 2008, Police and government officials in northern Nigeria’s city of Kano reported an upsurge in incidents of child rape and said that young girls are now unsafe in the city. The victims are mostly girls ages 3-11, while the suspects are usually between the ages of 45 and 70, IRIN report.
This is the same kano city with a high rate of child rape and the same police who raised the initial alarm. ‘When a man is bitten by a dog, whose voice for help should be heard? Is it the dog or the man’?’ The man is silent trying to find a way out while the dog is barking and calling for help. This is the case of the Nigerian police and the people. They commit the crime and make the loudest noise.
To the UN, Nigerian police officers belong to one of the best police forces around the world, but back home they are nothing to write about. They have been reduced to zero because of their attitude toward the people. Maybe, it is the saying that a prophet is not recognized in his own land. Something is amiss somewhere. It is common to hear how innocent people are being shot to death by police officers because of illegal N20 compliance on the numerous illegal roadblocks they mount on high ways. There are loyal and faithful police, but bad eggs cannot be managed with good eggs. The bad overtakes the good.
Which way Nigeria! Should the police be the perpetrators? What are their roles? To protect the citizens, isn’t it? Police are your friend, the advertisements read. Like this? I ask. Raping young girls? I wondered, should I see a policeman and run for my life. If I run, he might shoot at me and say I am a thief. If I stay, I may be raped even in custody or I may be protected. I hope the police protect me.
Child Rights Act
The Act defines a child as one who is below the age of eighteen years. It categorically provides that such a child’s best interests shall remain paramount in all considerations. A child shall be given such protection and care as is necessary for it’s well being, retaining the right to survival and development and to a name and registration at birth.
In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to bring under control the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The law was passed at the Federal level and the 36 states of Nigeria were expected to pass the act. Some states have passed the act but even if the 36 states pass the act in Nigeria, what difference does it make? How many citizens know that the act is in existence? Few. It is the many who are in charge. Who should I go to when the need arises? I don’t know. Even if I know, will I get the true justice as it is on paper? Nigeria always talks about its policies as some of the best in the world. Then I ask, best in action or on paper? Are they locked up in one minister’s cabinet and dusted when it is needed to be presented to foreigners? One sad thing is that despite all these laws, children are still deprived from enjoying the full privilege of their basic rights.
The people and the news
To my greatest surprise and disappointment, 9 out of 10 people, (7 female and 3 male), who I spoke with about the 16 year old girl raped in Kano by the police responded that they did not hear the news. It was in the newspaper and online. Is it that child rape is no longer news? Is it a daily occurrence in the society and has been viewed as a normal act? A middle aged hairdresser said, ‘I did not hear it at all, this is a serious case, government should punish those involved’. I said, ‘The officers involved have been dismissed from duty but the case is still in court’. She replied, ‘Dismissal is not enough, they need to be sent to life imprisonment and allowed to die in prison so that others can learn. If they dismiss them from the job alone, they can get another job and continue to rape little girls.’ As I rose to leave her face brightened and she said a warm thanks.
Why should Hauwa be raped and it does not a breaking news. Is it because she is a girl or she is a child and does not have a voice? It could be because she is from a poor home, no father, and mother living with her. What would her grandparent whom she is living with do? This is injustice to the core. This ought to be breaking news, but it is not. I know that if I continue to interview more people, I will get no response. One of my interviewees said ‘they cannot, (government), put this one in the newspaper because they have to protect the image of the police. Also, poor power supply is a major problem for people to listen to news.’
My husband is a daily news reader, he broke the news to me and I went online to read more. Maybe, I wouldn’t have heard as well, if he did not inform me. I think Nigerian women have a poor reading culture and more women need to be trained and encouraged to become journalists as world pulse is training us today.
Hauwa does not have a voice, so I want to be her voice. This is all I can offer to her and to so many wounded hearts like her out there. To speak for the speechless.
Trauma of Rape
Child sexual abuse is an international issue with public attention and has become one of the most high-profile crimes. It affects the very foundations of faith and trust the child receives from the society. Child sexual abuse is widespread, cutting right across any economic, social, political, religious or race boundary.
From experience, some of the traumas of child rape are withdrawal, fear and depression. Having worn the shoes hauwa is wearing now, I could imagine what her state of mind. Her shoes are even tighter. Abducted for 28 days is enough pain before facing the big shot of several rapes. I wonder what will be the outcome for her. She definitely needs a special therapy or maybe constant counseling and medical attention. The counseling sessions should be continued for a longer period of time to allow the child to reconnect socially and start life anew.
The attention of the presidency has been raised in this case and human rights activists has also intervened to make sure she gets justice. So, I ask what amount of compensation will restore her virginity or will erase the memory of all that happened to her. The social stigma of rape is so strong that the child lives alone with scars and guilt all through their life.
Although allot has been done to tackle child sexual assault including the passing into law the child rights act yet there are still daily occurrences of child rape all over the world. Encouraging affected ones to share their experience could be a lesson for another. Being silent and living with guilt and fear could slow down activities to combat child rape. Rape is a silent killer. It kills the future of the girl; she grows to frown at the society, and withdraws from what she is sure she can do well. She is stigmatized and called names; she finds it difficult to raise her head because her strength is dead. She can be strong again, she can face the world again and she can be bold again, but she needs someone to lead her by her hands and teach her to think positively about life.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.