Nigeria: A look at child sexual abuse across Africa

By Correspondent Chinyere Ogbonna – It has become a common trend across Nigeria and elsewhere in the continent like South Africa for adults to abuse minors. In some cases fathers abusing daughters along side other adults.

Child sexual abuse is grim fact of life. It is more common than most people realize. Girls and in a few cases boys, can be sexually abused by adults or older children who they know closely. The offender is usually known in eight out of ten reported cases.

He or she could be an authority figure that the child trusts and respects. Most times, the man convinces the child to engage in sex by means of persuasion, gifts or tricks.

What really amounts to abusing a child sexually? A Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr. Olufunke Ogun explains that child sexual abuse is like an umbrella term that brings together certain sexual anomalies against children.

She described child sexual abuse as a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation.

Dr. Ogun listed forms of child sexual abuse to include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities, regardless of the outcome, indecent exposure of the genitals to a child, displaying phonographic pictures to a child, actual sexual contact against a child, physical contact with the child’s genitals, except in certain non-sexual contexts such as a medical examinations, viewing of the child’s genitalia without physical contact, except in nonsexual contexts such as a medical examination, or using a child to produce  pornographic films.

Children have often been cajoled by their sexual abusers not to tell anyone about the act. In instances where abused children tried to report what transpired, the stories are usually sketchy and incomplete.

In the last few months many cases of child sexual abuse have been reported across the country. Some of them involved fathers and daughters, adult neighbours and minors to mention a few.

Experts say that abusers usually have sexual unsatisfactory relations with their partners. Sometimes, their sexual relation may be violent, inadequate or non existent and the girl child becomes a convenient substitute.

A Clinical Psychologist, Mr. Wale Adeyemi describes men who abuse children as mentally unbalanced. Many sexually abused children have had their live disrupted after going through the ugly ordeal. Those who pass through the trauma in their early adolescence tend to remain deflated and depressed through the years.

Besides the psychological aspects of the anomaly, experts say the health implications are quite grave. They list the effects of child sexual abuse to include depression, post traumatic tress disorder, anxiety, propensity of further victimization in adulthood and physical injury to the child, among other problems.

Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest they say, and can result in more serious and long-term psychological harm, especially in the case of parental incest.

Psychological effects of child sexual abuse can result in both short-term and long-term harm, they include psychopathology later in life, Psychological, emotional, physical, and social effects.

Others are general psychological distress and disorders such as somatization, neurosis, chronic pain, sexualized behaviour. School/learning problems; and behavior problems including substance abuse, destructive behaviour, and crime in adulthood and suicide

According to experts, a specific characteristic pattern of symptoms has not been identified and there are several hypotheses on the causality of these associations.

A medical expert, Dr. Oluwatosin Oluwasonmi advises that minors who have gone through rape as well as the abuser should seek immediate help of psychologist.

Medical experts say the initial approach to treating a person who has been a victim of sexual abuse is dependant upon several important factors: These include Age at the time of presentation, circumstances of presentation for treatment, and co-morbid conditions

The goal of treatment is not only to treat current mental health issues, but to prevent future occurrence.

A good number of Nigerians believe that legal provisions to ensure that rapists are prosecuted and convicted appear to be hampered by societal stigma.

Mr. Emmanuel Otobo, a legal practitioner explains that there are punishments for anybody who indulges in such acts.

It is difficult for parents alone to protect the girl-child from sexual abuse without help from neighbours and the society at large.

However, a good starting point is for parents to teach the girl-child what to do when trapped in rape situations like shouting.

Beyond reporting the incident to their parents, the girls should be encouraged to talk to their priests and pastors or anyone they think can help them.