Biologically, a child is said to be a human being between the stages of birth and puberty, or between the developmental period of infancy and puberty. Also, the legal definition of child generally refers to a minor, otherwise known as a person younger than the age of maturity. Basically, children generally have fewer rights and lesser responsibilities than adults. They are classed as unable to make serious decisions, and legally must be under the care of their parents or another responsible caregiver at every point in time. Taking the above definition into cognizance, one can rightly say that the wellbeing of a child cannot be overemphasized, since the child is not able to make serious decisions, owing to the innocence, semi-developed mentality and vulnerability at this stage of human life.
Thus, adults, whether parents or other caregivers, who as a matter of fact, make decisions on behalf of the child, should also ensure that the child is protected and safeguarded from all forms of harm at every given time. Judging from occurrences of violence and abuse against children which is on the increase in various parts of the world, the United Nations, UN, put in place laws to protect the child. The child’s Right Act of Nigeria (2003), also the guarantees the rights of all children in Nigeria. Child protection is the safeguarding of children from violence, exploitation, abuse, and neglect. Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides for the protection of children in and out of the home. One of the ways to ensure this, is by giving them quality education, the fourth of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in addition to other child protection systems.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also looks out for neglect, abuse, general welfare and well-being of the child, which includes health, safety and happiness. Addressing the forms and degrees of violence and abuse children are exposed to, Rev. Fr. Anthony Godonu, Director of Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, delivered a paper titled, “A Child: Morality, Security and Communication”, on the occasion of the maiden webinar on the initiative “Fight it”: campaign against all forms of sexual violence on children and vulnerable persons Saturday, November 22, 2020. Quoting Pope Francis on World Children’s Day that every child needs to be welcomed and defended, helped and protected, from the moment of their conception, Fr. Godonu said that in recent times, the place of the child in the family and society has become jeopardized by so many factors, which include moral decadence, insecurity, and lack of communications among other things that have degraded the life, rights, and sustenance of the child in the family and society.
He said: “It is based on these that it has become necessary to delve into research and media education of the child at this point in our human history. And here permit me to thank the Convener and organizers of this webinar with the initiative, “Fight It”. “Let us begin here by asking the question, who is a child? A child is any person who has not yet attained eighteen years of age; an adult who habitually lacks the use of reason; or a person of any age who lacks the capacity to give consent due to a mental or developmental condition or disability is considered here to be a child. According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is “a human being below the age of 18 years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. This is ratified by 192 of 194 member countries. “This also has been ratified by the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended in the 1999 Nigerian constitution.
However, according to Child biological development stages, an abuse on a child can be categorized into two: Pedophilia and Ephebophilia. Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or an older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children while Ephebophilia is the primary sexual interest in mid-to-late adolescents, generally ages 15 to 19.” The Priest defined morality in general terms, as a set of norms or actions that are socially acceptable in a culture. He further defined it as a particular system of values and principles of conduct. “In other words, morality is the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong, or good and bad behaviour. Of course, morality may differ from culture to culture. “But for the purpose of this webinar, let us remain on the above definition of morality. As for Security, we can say it is a state of being entirely safe; safe from all form evils, crimes, vices, and so on. Indeed, ‘the state of being free from danger or threat.” He defined communication as a process of information exchange between individuals.
He said: “Communication (from Latin communicare, meaning “to share”) is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviour the function of pheromones in insect communication also: exchange of information.” Speaking on child protection and safeguarding in relation to morality, security and communication, Fr. Godonu defined child abuse as any form of maltreatment meted out to the child. He said: “Here, we shall be looking at the child protection and safeguard in relation to morality, security, and communication, and rightly so because of child abuse. What then is Child Abuse? Child abuse refers to any form of maltreatment of a child which includes abuse or neglect of a child by inflicting harm or by failing to act to prevent harm. Some examples of Child abuse include emotional, physical, sexual and child neglect.” He said that the rate of moral decadence and lack of decency in the society, especially in the family, has exposed the child to lots of violence and abuses. “Today, we have rape and incest flourishing in the immediate family of the child, especially the girl-child.
We have had the news of a father sexually molesting or even impregnating his own daughter. All over the pages of our national newspapers and on our television screens, we read and see the news of a grandfather raping a sixmonth-old baby. The list goes on and on” he said. He noted that the boy-child is too is a victim of sexual abuse, adding that many of them were lured into homosexuality by teachers and peers in the boarding school, and have invariably grown into the act because of the threats they get from their abusers. “It should also be noted that boy-child too has not been left out as is the case in many single boarding schools where many boys have grown into homosexuality because of abuses suffered under teachers and fellow students. It is sad to say that the moral conscience of many are almost dead if not entirely dead today. Some of the adults who are culprits, see this sexual violence as a moment of control and domination, with the consequence of threats and death sometimes.
The cleric noted that family insecurity and lack of proper communication, among other things, are underlying factors that are aiding the social evil of sexual harassment and abuse in the society. “Family insecurity which is further caused by poverty and ignorance has made the child highly vulnerable to sexual predators who are often crafty and tactical in perpetrating their act of evil. Many families today cannot afford essential things of life and so, they live at the mercies of evil men and women who come to them like wolves in sheep cloth”, he said. He categorized abusers into two groups namely, frequent and non-frequent abusers. He said: “In the principle and procedure of Child-Safety and protection, it is said that the child abusers can be categorized into frequent and non-frequent abusers. Frequent abuser is an addicted child abuser who could go any length to perpetrate his or her evil crime. Such a person may employ the tactics of grooming which may take days, months or even years before committing the actual offence.
Such a person may be a member of the family or a family friend. Non-frequent child abuser on the other hand is the one who has had an emotional or sexual encounter with a child. This is nonetheless child abuse. While calling on parents to communicate with their wards, he advised them to look out for people their children are friends with, and things they consume online. “Lack of communication between the child and his or her parents or guardian can breed child abuse in the family without the knowledge of those who are supposed to safeguard the child. Hence, it is important for parents and guardians to pay proper attention to their wards watching out for body language, moods of the child as clues to such evil in their environment. Since, we are in the era of social media, it is important for parents and guardians to take special interests in the number and kind of friends that their children are meeting online in the social media. This can be done by a frequent check of their Facebook, Instagram, and twitter accounts”, he said.
The Reverend Father advocated for child safety and protection policy in the individual families, schools, church, organizations and the society at large. He said: “In this age and time, it is particularly important that every family, school, church, organization and indeed the society at large, establishes a policy for child safety and protection. This requires regular public enlightenment and initiatives such as the “Fight It” initiative. “Personally, every adult, male and female must take responsibility to forestall the spread of this social malaise. It is said that in a relationship between a minor (child) and an adult, three denominators must be present: one, it must be Public. Two, it must be Appropriate, and three, it must be Non-sexual. Such encounter with a minor or a child must also be well documented in terms of management and administration of every institution or organization.” While alerting adults involved in leadership and care of children the Danger of Dual Relationship, DDR, Fr. Godonu advised them to by all means, avoid the temptation of abusing the children kept in their care.
He said: “Most importantly, it should be clear to everyone that “a minor or a child cannot and can never say YES to sex”. This is boldly enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as ratified by the Nigerian Constitution. In addition, every adult must beware of DDR (Danger of Dual Relationship) which is common between a therapist and a victim of child abuse (client). To be professional, every adult involved in leadership and some form of care for children and vulnerable people must take this danger seriously. “Another aspect which must be noted in a child-adult relationship is Power Dynamics. This means that in a relationship with a child or even a vulnerable person, you will be culpable to prosecution in the case of any abuse. This is because you have a higher moral faculty and authority to say NO. All these above are to be considered when setting up a policy on Child safety and protection. It is served as a Code of Conducts or Ethics. ” Finally, there must be a conducive environment or openness to give and receive feedback without fear of threats or intimidation. There must be honest assessment in every family and organization. Hence, the need for public enlightenment for information and knowledge.”