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Denying and Recycling Child Abusers

Ethan Regal reports from Nigeria
WARNING: This article contains content many will find distressing

Two years ago an article in Leadership (Nigeria’s ‘leading newspaper’) reported “an exponential rise in cases of paedophilia” in this country. Various media here have been bringing this issue to light over recent years but little concrete seems to be being done to tackle it. If anything, the situation seems worse now, with articles about child victims of rape in the paper almost every day.


A survey undertaken by the National Population Commission (in collaboration with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development, UNICEF and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) says 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys experience sexual violence. If this is true, most cases must be going unreported, perhaps because the children are too embarrassed or afraid to speak out, or because when they do tell someone, even informed adults often refuse to believe the allegation and may scold the victim, especially when the accusation is against a family member or a prominent member of the community.


A social worker in Osun State, speaking to Leadership anonymously, had another explanation for the low rate of reporting: the relevant ministry “has found it difficult to prosecute offenders because the parents of the victims are usually unwilling to play along with government… Parents are reluctant to prosecute such cases because most of them are not only afraid of stigmatisation, but express the fear that the case may drag on for long.”


There is a lot of ignorance about these matters here in Nigeria, as there is everywhere. For example, many people are unaware that most abusers are known to their victims (abuse by strangers is far rarer), or that most children won’t mention abuse unless they are asked. So correct information and education are key, for both parents and children, and it’s of the utmost importance that children everywhere know that they can speak openly to their parents (or another trusted adult) and will be believed.


Even the most loving, attentive parents can’t be with their children all the time and can’t always guarantee their safety, but they can be aware of warning signs, (for example, a child may become secretive and reluctant to share information) and keep positive, open communication with their children regarding all safety and wellbeing issues. And when you can’t be with them, be aware of who is caring for them because abusers generally look for children whose parents are less involved in their everyday lives. Equally importantly, children need to be properly educated, in an age-appropriate manner, about their bodies and right to safety.


Fetish traditional beliefs, such as men raping young girls because they believe it will cure their HIV, and the persistence of underage marriage (particularly in the northern part of the country), also contribute to child molestation, incest and other shocking behaviour here in Nigeria. Many other Muslim countries (including Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt, Jordan, Senegal, the Sudan, Tunisia, Somalia, Algeria, Libya, Mali, Syria and Afghanistan) have specifically banned child marriage, paedophilia and child rape in their various constitutions and laws. 


Our federal government passed the Child Rights Act, which forbids marriage to anyone under 18, in 2003 but it has not yet been ratified in all of our 36 states and, perhaps as a result, even some of our government class seem to feel they can ignore it: In 2010, Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima came under scrutiny in our Senate for allegedly marrying a 13-year-old Egyptian girl, the daughter of his driver. Local media claimed that he paid a $100,000 dowry for his bride; he apparently justified his actions by citing the prophet Mohammed: “I am only following prophet Mohammed’s footsteps, who married a nine-year-old girl, Aishatu,” he reportedly said, according to a source used by the UK's Guardian. "I do not work with such law that runs counter to my religion. For clarity, I do not have to obey the Child Rights Act so long as it contravenes my religious belief and I’m sick and tired of repeating myself all the time. I hope I can be left alone now.’’ The Guardian also reported that “three years later he persuaded his fellow Senators to defeat a motion that would have removed a constitutional loophole that means girls under the age of 18 are considered adults as soon as they get married.”


There’s also a widespread culture here in Nigeria of teachers (usually male) taking advantage of young and naïve pupils, which I have personally witnessed. The consequences include unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, emotional upset or trauma and even mental health issues.


Sometimes students are in awe of their teachers and this can transform into illicit affairs and relationships; some teachers require sexual gratification as the price of good grades. And illicit relationships don’t just happen between male teachers and female students – consider all-boy schools.


Teaching is meant to be a vocation: Teachers are called into the profession to safeguard and protect the children in their care, as well as to educate them, and this involves creating an environment that encourages children to actively participate in, and enjoy, their education, rather than creating a climate of fear and intimidation.  


When I was at a private boarding school, there were teachers there who would molest girls. Most of the time these girls reported the cases and the teachers were fired; however, they weren’t sent to jail. I later discovered that these teachers found jobs in other secondary schools and continued to abuse their students. It’s a small (and therefore unscientific) sample but eight out of ten of my female friends report that they were sexually harassed or abused while growing up and much of this was at school. For all we know, there could be a significant problem with Nigerian schools recycling paedophiles.


The Nigerian governing class needs to start talking about these problems and providing solutions, education and information to effect a cultural transformation here. For example, a register of known paedophiles, like the one they have in the UK, would enable organisations that educate (and/or work with) children to avoid hiring known child abusers in any role. But, in a country where 7-year-old victims can be locked up while suspects in their case are allowed to go free (see case study below), it may be a while before our children are much safer from molestation.




This image is used for illustrative purposes only - there is no suggestion that these pupils have been affected by the issues in this article.
Detail from 'Children at school in Nigeria' (cc
) Dolapo Falola via Wikimedia Commons


Case Study


WARNING - Although the details of the abuse in this case are too distressing for us to report in detail here, you may find this summary upsetting anyway.


ADDITIONAL WARNING - The original source is far more graphic than our account and gives much greater detail. It is here should you wish to read it.


In early 2013 Vanguard, another Nigerian newspaper, published an article about a 7-year-old girl who was repeatedly and seriously sexually assaulted by three men: Kassim, Tobi and James. One especially shocking element of this case was that, when it was heard in court, the girl was remanded in protective custody and two of the suspects released on bail.


It started out with Tobi and James visiting the victim at her uncle’s house and assaulting her. It soon got worse.


Kassim was introduced to her another time. Kassim had a knife and used it to threaten and silence her.


Over and over again these men abused this 7-year-old girl and these horrific incidents would have gone unheard had the victim's aunt, Ngozi, not found blood stains on the girl’s underwear. Ngozi reported the case at the local police station.  The police interviewed the girl and James was arrested. James’ father defended his son, claiming “he could not have defiled the girl since he, the father, is a pastor”. 


Despite his father’s status, James was detained and arraigned before a magistrate’s court. According to Ngozi, James confessed and even wrote a statement at the police station but his father allegedly maintained that he made the confession under duress. He was granted bail.


Two weeks later, Ngozi learnt about Kassim and Tobi. However, the police were apparently reluctant to arrest the suspects, stating that Tobi’s parents has gone as far as alleging that Ngozi was trying to extort money from them, while Kassim’s wife claimed that her husband was not in Lagos at the time.


According to Ngozi, the police were no longer working in their interest, even when Tobi was arraigned before a magistrate’s court.  The police prosecutor, who was supposed to be working for them, made an application for the victim to be remanded in a Child Correctional Center, claiming it was necessary because her guardians could not take proper care of her.  A judge granted the application whilst she released Tobi on bail.


We have not yet found a report about what happened next...

Ethan Regal

About the Writer

Ethan is a freelance writer and fashion designer from Abia, Nigeria. While studying Economics with Politics at the University of Buckingham, he began writing short stories on inequality, injustice and the unlimited desires of humans. His creative works have appeared in World City Stories, Fiction on the Web and his blog.


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