Anambra: This is beyond child abuse!

CASES of abuse of minors are rampant and rather routine across the country, but certainly not a few Nigerians would have been left perplexed by the story of a yet unnamed 11-year-old maid who was allegedly battered and fed with human waste and cockroaches by her employer in Anambra State. According to reports, the girl was rescued by an activist, Gwamnishu Harrison, in Awka, Anambra State, and is  currently receiving medical attention at Amaku General Hospital, Awka. According to the activist, “A concerned citizen reached out to us on the case of an 11-year-old housegirl locked up, beaten up and fed with cockroaches and faeces. We quickly swung into action, got to Awka and rescued the little girl from the dungeon where she laid helpless with septic wounds and scars all over her face and body.”

It is indeed distressing that anyone would batter an 11-year-old for whatever reason, but the fact that the victim in this case was fed with solid waste and cockroaches speaks volumes about the alarmingly high regime of cruelty that children from poor and disadvantaged homes are being subjected to across the country. To all intents and purposes, the story of the yet unnamed victim in this case is far from being an isolated one. Across the country, young children employed as housemaids in defiance of the laws of the land are being given such harrowing treatments as would easily rival the chilling and blood-curdling details of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Only this month, officers of the Lagos State police command arrested one Mrs Mary Idowu for locking up her maid, a minor, in a cage at the Isheri area of the state. According to reports, the girl, identified as Blessing, was locked up after she decided to quit working as a domestic help. Last month, one Mrs Mariam Hafiat was arrested in Alimosho, Lagos, for burning her 13-year-old maid’s stomach and lap with  hot electric iron for allegedly mismanaging N500. In July, the Anambra State police command arrested one Charity Effiong in Awka for allegedly putting pepper in her housemaid’s private parts after accusing her of stealing N26,000. The 12-year-old housemaid was reportedly battered in the process of eliciting information from her over the missing money. The victim, who hails from Ebonyi State, was said to have been stripped naked by the boss, then given the pepper treatment. Narrating her ordeal, the victim, who had torture marks on her body, said: “She [Effiong] always flogs me with an electrical cable. She has her own children but she hardly beats them or sends them on errands.”

Last year, one Mrs Nkeiruka Ngwu, 36, was arrested by the police in Ikeja, Lagos State, for battering her 10-year-old maid with heated iron and hot water. However, horrendous as these cases of cruelty to minors were, the current story of a maid fed with solid waste and cockroaches represents, perhaps, the harshest level of depravity yet by child abusers in the country.

It is high time the government enforced the law on child protection. In 1989, the world made a historic commitment to the rights of children with the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a convention according which childhood is separate from adulthood, and lasts until 18. According to the convention, in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. In 2003, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration enacted the Child’s Rights Act (CRA) to codify the convention and protect the country’s children. Many of the country’s 36 states have since followed suit by domesticating the law.

Sadly, in all the reported cases of abuse of minors, the focus has been strictly on the maltreatment meted out to them by their employers. Yet the fact that enforced child labour is illegal in the country cannot be stressed loudly enough. Against this backdrop, we call on state governments across the country to carry out massive enlightenment campaigns on the rights of children while prosecuting offenders, including parents who give out their children as domestic servants, profiting from the labours of minors. Given the pervasiveness of the maltreatment of minors, it would not be out of place for state governments to open a ‘hall of shame’ record for convicts. In this way, a very strong message would have been sent that the government would not condone the abuse of minors in any form. With regard to the current case, we urge the Anambra State government to take more than a passing interest in the case of the minor in question. It should either take up the responsibility for her upkeep or reunite her with her parents, in case she is a victim of kidnapping. Every effort must be made to ensure that she gets proper care from now and henceforth. On the other hand, her abuser must be treated in accordance with the laws of the land.

No country that wants to make progress will condone the abuse of minors. Such abuses often leave psychological scars that may take ages to heal, or never heal. Practices that rob children of the joys of childhood must be resisted with all the political, social and economic arsenals available to the state. Needless to say, the states that are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act must do so without delay.

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