Taking into account the high rate of sexual abuse being perpetuated against minors in the country, Media Concern Initiative (MEDIACON), has said it was time the three tiers of government, demonstrated strong political will to tackle violence against children as well as ensure that violators faced the full wrought of the law.
The Director of the organisation, Dr. Princess Olufemi-Kayode, made the call during a Child Protection Workshop organised by CEE-HOPE, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Lagos recently, which brought together many civil society organisations and media practitioners.
The workshop with the theme: ‘’End Child Sexual Abuse: Justice For Ochanya’’, apart from being a forum to discuss strategies to prevent and curb child sexual abuse, conversations was also used to focus on plans to ensure that justice would be served in the case of Ochanya who lost her life to the sexual abuse she experienced for five years.
It would be recalled that 13-year old Miss Ochanya Ogbanje, native of Ogene-Amejo village in Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State, died in 2018, from sexual abuse against her. A Polytechnic lecturer, Mr. Andrew Ogbuja, and his son, Victor had allegedly sexually abused the victim for five years.
The high point of the workshop was the launch of ‘Reflections On The Child Sexual Abuse In Nigeria’, a magazine compiled/edited by Betty Abah, a CEE-HOPE Publication. The magazine details the ordeal of Ochanya in the hands of her violators, her sufferings culminating in her untimely death and current the struggles to achieve justice for her and her family.
Describing child sexual abuse as a global epidemic in which Nigeria was catching up based on the high rate of cases taking place in the country daily, the executive director of MEDIACON said it was a big issue that was costly to victims, families and society at large. Also, she stressed that it was time the menace was addressed holistically with a view to curbing the trend.
According to her, several abuse have led to the untimely death of victims, while many others have suffered physical pain, psychological and mental challenges including stigma. Sadly, Olufemi-Kayode lamented that majority of violators were left off the hook based on weak operational systems that could not hold them accountable. Besides, the pervasive silence culture significantly limited the number of cases that were reported, she added.
Even with the current statistics on reported cases of child sexual violence in the country, experts said it was a drop in the ocean because people were not coming out to report/complaint. For instance, over 10 million would have experienced child sexual abuse even before attaining 18 years and over 22 million would have experienced damage.
“There is need for political will to tackle the problem at the federal level,” she said.
On the contrary, the executive director of MEDIACON said part of activities to fight the menace was ensuring that the nation had a police force that can respond to child sexual abuse. Other factors, which could help to address the menace are creating massive awareness about the danger it poses to victims, the need to end the violence as well as raising the consciousness of the larger society on their responsibility to speak out about the menace.
Speaking on “Where We Are on Ochanya’s Case’, Ameh Ejekwonyilo and elder brother to Ochanya who was present at the occasion, commended the efforts of several civil society groups, especially their advocacy, which drew local and international attention to the case of Ochanya, saying it was their collective efforts that prompted the intervention of both the federal and state governments.
According to Ejekwonyilo who is a journalist, when the Ogbuja was first detained in connection with the case of Ochanya, some powerful people got him released in August last year. He thereafter initiated an out of court settlement. When this failed there were threats to parents and relations of Ochanya who insisted that justice must take its course.
Ejekwonyilo said the involvement of the social media and civil society groups put the case on the front burner, drawing world attention to the crisis as well as prompting the intervention of the Benue State Government and other concerned groups including the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA). “Without these efforts the state government would not have taken any in the prosecution of perpetrators, which is currently ongoing.”
However, he affirmed that the society has a duty to protect children, especially ensuring that those who sexually violate minors and other vulnerable kids must be held accountable.