Child Battery: Threat To Child Rights Act Blessing Aseminaso

Battery, assault on a child that causes bodily injury and threat to life is a felony that attracts serious penalties, but practiced in many homes in Africa. Extreme forms of physical child violence in homes, school, care systems, communities, etc have provoked international concern.

Studies around the world suggest that up to 80% of children suffer physical punishment in their homes and it is estimated that 57,000 children under the age of 15 die as a result of physical abuse per year. Physical abuse can range from minor bruises to severe fractures or death as a result of punching, beating, hitting, burning, shaking, or any other form of harm to a child.

In Africa such maltreatment occurs at the hands of parents, guidance and care-givers. An example is that of a disturbing footage in 2014, which showed a housemaid in Kampala, Uganda bashing and torturing an 18-month-old toddler, that attracted over 12.7 million global viewership, as well as the 2017 ten minute video of an enraged Jamaica mum mercilessly beating her 5 year old daughter with a belt while she throws the child to the ground. These intentional uses of physical force against children continues to be a worrisome occurrence.

Statistics from the 2014 Nigeria violence against children survey conducted by the National Population Commission with the support of the United States carters for Disease Control and UNICEF revealed a high prevalence of violence against children in all states of the nation, with 50% of all children experiencing physical violence at some point before age 18.

While this is seen as troublesome, there is far more social uncertainty around the situation since the aforementioned is usually promoted by certain culture, tradition and belief to be an act of discipline, which thus makes it difficult to distinguish what behavior is truly abusive and infringes on a child’s health, survival and development.

Can the recent case of a pregnant woman who stabbed her little housemaid over hair gel in Imo State be said to be an act of correction; or that of a 16-year-old victim, Aishat Sheriff in Lagos, whose limbs were burnt by her biological mother for lying, be justified as punishment for misbehavior.

These are signs of a defective society where homes no longer portray love, protection and care. Apparently, people no longer decipher the difference between punishment, correction and total disregard for a child’s right. Children are battered everyday under the guise of punishment, in which some have lost their lives, which others  have been disfigured for life.

Although the saying “spare the rod and spoil the child” has to an extent contributed to the use of  the cane as a corrective means, at home, schools, and even church, you also hear of children being maimed in the name of corporal punishment.

These abuses are unacceptable because hitting children in a bid to correct them is ineffective in the long run because punishment do not have to be physical before they become punitive.

Protecting the right of a child is vital in every modern society, because a society’s future and the world at large are dependent on the proper development of all children. Indisputably, the pattern of upbringing of a child fashions his/her personality as well as his output to the nation. Which is why victims of such abuse grow up to extend same harsh treatments to their partners, children and other members of the society, as evident in stories such as the ‘wife stabs little boy’ ‘husband kills wife’ ‘woman flogs maid and rubs pepper on her’ that often splatter all over on a daily basis.

In 2003, the Child Rights’ Act was enacted to respect and protect the Nigerian child from vindictive punishments and other acts of violence. However, the delay by state governments to domesticate the said Act for implementation has been disheartening. Only 24 states out of 36 have so far signed on to the Act, which to an extent shows a poor political engagement towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end violence against children in 2030.

Chief of UNICEF, Bauchi field office, Bhanu Pathark, posits that failure of the states to domesticate the Child Rights Acts has affected the implementation of many United Nations’ Children Fund (UNICEF) and other agencies programmes on children because there are no laws backing them in the states, even though progress is being made. Besides, even where such act is domesticated, its implementation to protect the rights of children has not been fully achieved.

Child Protection Hub (a children’s right non-governmental organization) says there is an extreme weakness of child protection systems in the country. The organization’s survey on knowledge, attitude and practice to gauge the prevalence, awareness, and responses of Nigeria to incidence of child abuse in 2017, revealed that there are not enough children’s rights organizations providing support to children despite the spate of abuse in the society.

In the same vein, weak attitudes in reporting such cases by the citizenry show a clear case of neglect of the Nigerian child. Not only have our society invested relatively little research on children, we have invested even less in the fight against child maltreatment, which has grown to epidemic proportion today. Child maltreatment is not a new problem, but necessary service and policy attention towards it is just beginning.

When children violate the law, it is vital to remember that the essence of justice administration is to change (correct) and not destroy (punish). The goal is to ensure that such child is sound enough to be reincorporated into the society as a decent human being, useful to oneself and the society at large.

As Haim G. Ginott, a child psychologist said “I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized”. As adults, we have the ability to differentiate corrective measures from deliberate inducement of pains on children.

It is imperative to note that “misbehavior and punishment are not opposites that cancel each other; on the contrary they breed and reinforce themselves. Punishment does not deter misconduct but rather makes an offender more skillful in escaping detection”. It is true that kids are naturally prone to misbehavior. However, our job is not to punish, but to train by educating them about their mistakes (logical consequences of their actions) in a way that encourages them to learn from it. Although mild spanking in some cases can be considered.

What can be done? Clearly, this is not an issue to be treated lightly, therefore, we must all collaborate to battle and ultimately eradicate the peril as each one of us is responsible “for creating a world where children feel safe, protected and empowered to speak up for themselves”. Thus efforts to raise public awareness of individual cases and societal trends to improve the reporting and tracking of child maltreatment must be intensified, while also punishing adults who deliberately harm children or place them in life threatening situations, because the more people are informed, the fewer battery cases there will be.

It is also mandatory for the government and non-governmental organizations to increase efforts to ensure that policies on child rights protection are implemented, because today’s children are tomorrow’s future.

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