Senate recently discussed the alleged rape of a two-year-old baby girl, Chinwendu Onwudiwe, by a police corporal, Mr. Anthony Onoja, in Mararaba, Nasarawa State. The senators who spoke during that session were not just angry but horrified. The police had come under attack for allegedly shielding the accused officer from justice several months after the act. But the police spokesman, Mr. Frank Mba, responded that the police were not shielding him, but had sacked him and charged him to court.
This case got more attention because the Nigerian Television Authority in its Newsline programme had reported it and had been giving updates on it every Sunday. Secondly, the crime was allegedly committed by a law enforcement officer.
Paedophilia or rape of children has become a regular occurrence in our land. Almost every day, newspapers report cases of rape against children by adults.
What is fuelling the paedophilia in our land? What would make an adult to be sexually attracted to a child of two or five? Not surprising, the dictionary defines paedophilia as a psychiatric problem.
I don’t know if there is a sharp rise in paedophilia or that parents of victims now prefer to go to press unlike before when such crimes were kept secret because of the stigma victims and their family members suffer. Annoyingly, every time these sick men are caught, they claim that it is the work of the devil. One wonders why they always notice this so-called devil only after committing the crime.
The most frustrating thing about these rape cases is that the offenders, even after arrest, hardly ever get punished. Even when they get sentenced, their sentences are nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Interestingly, Sections 31 and 32 of the Child Rights Act make the case a criminal offence with a penalty of life imprisonment or 14 years in jail, depending on the nature of abuse.
It is as if our society does not see the rape of children or minors as a serious crime. That explains why our judges too seem to see it as “a minor offence” or “a mistake.” Most times, offenders are given the go-and-sin-no-more treatment by the law courts. But a paedophile cannot go home and sin no more. He is not in control of his faculties. He will look for the next child to defile, and he will continue raping children until he is caught again. A paedophile can only be kept away from children by being in prison, or being castrated. The third option is miraculous healing, which cannot be dismissed as impossible, even though the percentage may be infinitesimal.
The irony is that the people who prey on these little ones are those whom they trust the most: uncles, teachers, religious guides, instructors (of sports, music, dance, etc).
Children, especially the girl children, who are more vulnerable, need more protection from the law and parents. Parents must not trust anybody completely with their little ones. Paedophiles don’t bear any signs on their foreheads. On the contrary, they are the coolest, gentlest, quietest, most genial and seemingly most harmless men around. Children love to play with them because they “love” children. That is the cloak of deception they use to gain the trust of parents and children. But this does not mean that any adult who is good to children is a potential paedophile. It is just a warning that since there is no way to differentiate between a paedophile and a good guy, one needs to be extra cautious.
Parents must not allow their little girls to sit on the lap of any “uncle”. No man should also be allowed to call any little girl “my wife”. Little girls must not also be allowed to go into an apartment where an adult or teenage boy lives. It does not matter if such a man or teenager lives with other people. The danger is that he can hatch a plot to be home alone at any time just to lure the little girl in by telling her to buy something for him or to come in and see a film.
But most importantly, children, especially girls, need sex education, closeness to their parents, freedom from fear, martial arts training, and other things that will equip them against predators. The amount of sex education a child should receive at any given time depends on the child’s age. As the child grows, the sex education deepens. But the basics are to let the child know: “My body belongs to me, and nobody has any right to touch any part of my body or undress me without my permission. And whenever anybody attempts such, I must say no in a loud voice and report to my parents.”
Paedophiles use blackmail to get their victims and keep them quiet. Expressions like these are common: “If you don’t allow me, I will tell your daddy/mummy that you stole some biscuits or broke the plate yesterday”. “If you tell your daddy/mummy what I have done to you, you and your daddy and mummy will die.” Parents who rule their children with fear and intimidation and parents who rarely discuss with their children will never gain a child’s confidence to make her say certain things that happened when the parents were away.
Rape psychologically affects a child for life. An adult that was raped during childhood may become a danger to society if not properly treated. Victims need to be given psychological therapy by an expert, not just prayers. Our people have not understood the need for psycho-therapy for people who have gone through traumatic experiences like Rape Trauma Syndrome. We always believe that once such issues are hidden or prayed over, that is the end. But in addition to prayers, victims of rape should be given professional psycho-therapy so that they will heal and continue their lives normally.
Parents must protect their children from seeing movies that are rated 16, including music videos that promote eroticism. Unfortunately, most of these music videos are played during lunch time and evening time when children watch TV, especially when they are home during the holidays. The National Broadcasting Commission should start rating music videos just like movies and ensure that those rated 16 are not shown till 10 pm.
Parents must also ensure that their little children are not unusually exposed to the Internet. Preys lurk there. The mobile phone is also another source through which paedophiles get their young victims.
Furthermore, we must stop blaming victims or stigmatising them. Any time someone is raped, the tendency in our clime is to blame the victim. Blaming the victim in whatever form worsens the trauma faced by the victim. Rapists do not need any provocation to attack their victims.
Also, we must not join in covering offenders because of the need to protect the “family’s name”. Any paedophile shielded from punishment is a threat to other girls.
One reason why rape is rising in our clime is that rape victims are stigmatised. This makes victims or their families unwilling to disclose their identity. Ironically, the rapists are sometimes regarded as heroes while the victim is stigmatised. Most times, the victims refuse to report the crime to the police.
The penalty for rape must be made severe. Some have suggested that convicted rapists be chemically castrated to avoid a repeat, as is done in some states in the United States, Israel, and Argentina. Chemical castration has been shown to be effective especially for rapists who have no control over their sexual urge. These are rapists who, no matter what punishment they get, any time they have the freedom to be with some potential victims, they will still lose control and rape them. Chemical castration, which is actually a misnomer, does not really castrate people nor sterilise people; rather it is a drug administered to reduce a person’s libido and sexual activity.