Incest: Scourge Of A Taboo
A new born baby must not go mad while an elder is in the market square, says a Nigerian adage. But what happens when the elder is the reason for the baby’s madness? No doubt a parent is to a child a provider, protector, guardian and one he or she looks up to. The absolute trust a child bestows on a parent emanates from the belief that such a person can do no wrong. But when that trust is broken through sexual molestation by the same parent or guardian, the child is not just left traumatized but is kept in a position where he or she feels there’s no one to turn to.
Amongst several sexual assaults the issue of incest is becoming common and widespread. Incest can be said to be the most atrocious of crime that could be meted on one’s flesh and blood, thus leaving a psychological torture on the victims. The act which does not only defile young minds but incite speculations of the “end of the world” has become a global issue of concern widely reported on both the electronic and print media.
In most countries of the world, incest which is a sexual experience with a blood relation is regarded as a taboo, an abominable offence and in some cultures even punishable by death or banishment. In Nigeria, incestuous relationship is a crime by virtue of section 3, subsection 1, sub-subsection B of the Matrimonial Causes Act. The Matrimonial Causes Act, Cap 220, Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 1990, lists the prohibited degree of consanguinity to include that between father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister, uncle and aunt, niece and nephew.
Likewise, section 214 of the Criminal Code Act Caption 77, Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) prescribes a minimum of 14years imprisonment for those found guilty of incestuous acts, which is referred to as “offence against morality”. However, despite these laws and frown by even the Holy Book against such immorality, many Nigerians have lost their once cherished values of decency and responsibility by indulging in such ungodly acts.
Amongst other reports, the tragic case of the 13-year-old Ochanya Ogbanje who was sexually assaulted by her guardian, Andrew Obuja and his son, that resulted in her death few weeks after battling with Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF) at the Benue State Teaching Hospital in 2018 was an eye-opener to the evil called incest, and rightly provoked a national outcry.
Also in February this year, a 13-year-old girl who was impregnated by her 42 years old father in Edo State, was delivered of baby girl at the Benin Central Hospital with the help of the state government and the Ministry of Women Affairs.
In Unguwa Uku in Kano State, there was the case of a father who slept with his 14-year-old daughter and got her pregnant on three different occasions, forcing the victim to undergo several abortions. while a 15-year-old girl painfully narrated her ordeal of how her 42-year-old father Idowu, gives her N500 each time he forces himself on her.
Although those unlawful practices cannot be said to be new as incest was said to have occurred in the days of old according to biblical stories, it has however become more pronounced lately especially with the advent of technology and exposure to carnal sites. Our society which was once guided by customs and morale has gradually lost its values. While one may blame the devil, as well as depression, emotional imbalance, poverty, sex-deprivation or even lack of confidence as the stimulators of such madness, the truth is we cannot generalize the cause of incest as perpetrators tend to come up with ugly excuses for their actions.
An especially awful effect of the menace is the demand to lead a double life for many years. To know that it is forbidden to know; to remember and definitely forbidden to tell what is being done to your body. Many adults with an incestuous past recall that it happened when they were minors (ignorant to understand a full grasp of the entire concept of sex) and this continued till they were able to leave the clutches of their predators or grow to say “No”.
Some are erroneously engulfed by the belief that their predator holds their life in his or her hands. Such people grow up acting different and moving with the wrong crowd in order to kill the pains, but sadly that doesn’t help.
Runchama Weiss, a psychologist posits that aside the physical pain, the main suffering that afflicts victims of incest is the feeling of the secret, and the deep understanding that he or she does not understand or even know what happened to them. This experience was impressed on the victim by the attacker over many years, and only the community that is willing to listen to and believe terrible things can help her confront the falsehood, concealment and erasure.
“We are in need of communal trust, just as one wandering in the desert in need of water. We are one in seven. We have no interest in inventing such a tragic biography for ourselves. No one implemented these stories in us. We do not fantasize abuse, and certainly not out of deception”.
These are no doubt the ordeal of incest victims as there is nothing needed more than compassionate recognition and confirmation in reality, especially as they are most times not believed.
“The horror of incest is not in the sexual act but in the exploitation of children and corruption of parental love”. Besides medically, it has dire consequences because in cases of pregnancy the offspring would be very predisposed to having serious congenital defects and is likely to die early.
Abiodun Baiyewu – Teru, an activist and executive director of Global Rights posits that government’s failure to safeguard children and systematically end the impunity associated with sexual violence and child abuse, is a major reason for the growing cases of incest in the country.
“When children are born in Nigeria, apart from issuing them birth certificates, no one provides state oversight over them, or prescribes a minimum standard of care that caregivers must provide. Whether they go to school, are denied essential medicine, subjected to slavery, trafficked, or sexually violated, the state does not concern itself with these important obligations that Nigeria subscribed to by ratifying the Child’s Rights Act”, she said.
It was noted by Dr. Abiola Adimula, former chairperson of Kwara State branch of the International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA) and chairperson of Women and Child Watch Initiative, that cases of incest are hardly reported while the few which are reported most times, are dropped by the complainant in the process of prosecution in the name of protecting the family name and possible stigmatization.
Incest is associated with so much secrecy and is concealed in the family. The victim is either encouraged to keep shut or face the family’s wrath. “I think what the society can do to curb such practices is just to speak out, by reporting such cases to the appropriate authority like FIDA, Ministry of Women and social Welfare or the Police.
Although the problem with the police sometimes is that when such cases are reported, they tend to trivialize it and it becomes double jeopardy to the victims. They sometimes say it’s a family matter without remembering that such cases are criminal. However, if we can do more of advocacy and people have the courage to report; and violators are brought to book, it will serve as lesson to others”.
It is necessary to also emphasize the importance of mothers taking care of the welfare of their female children especially absentee-mothers who are divorced or separated from their husbands for one reason or another. This is imperative in order to build strong relationship with their daughter to help forestall incidents of such nature.
This is based on some incest reports of victims from dysfunctional homes, like the 2010 case of one 53-years-old John Awah who was arrested for having serial incestuous relationship with his daughter Chinyere in Lagos State.
According to reports, Chinyere had always lived with her mother after her parents divorced and on her visit to the father after 17years she was molested.
Awah who claimed his daughter never resisted him and had thought she gave him a “green light” by always undressing in front of him, goes a long way to show a huge level of psychological derailment especially when he told the Lagos state police command that “I only did it six times” as though he had a right to such attempt in the first place.
Mothers should endeavour not to trust their wards (females especially) in the hands of any man, as the emerging trends have shown that even blood relatives cannot be trusted in such cases. This perhaps was the reason Williams Shakespare posit that one cannot read the mind’s construction on the face because we cannot identify a criminal by his looks.
In Nigeria, mothers are mostly blamed for any negative occurrence or behavior in the lives of her children. Mother blame is more likely to be an issue if the perpetrator is the father or father figure in the family.
Over generalization about mothers in incestuous homes has been the norm in the past, and still lingers till date. Negative stereotypes set mothers up as villains in the victim’s life.
Assumptions exist that mothers knew or should have known that their children were experiencing sexual abuse prior to the disclosure. But blaming the mother is similar to blaming the victim which indeed is outrageous because “child molesters are highly skilled at deception, manipulation, grooming and are well able to keep behaviours secret from everyone (mothers included) except their victims”.
It is also necessary that the females are taught the importance of keeping themselves by not exposing their cleavages or undress in the presence of the opposite gender (adult males especially) as well as jumping on or sitting on male adults. But while we read about incestuous acts between fathers and daughter a lot more is also happening between siblings, cousins, and other relatives.
A typical example is the report of 17-year-old Chikaodi Ezibekwe who-wedded her 23-year-old brother Chiadikobi Ezeibekwe in their elder brother’s church in Anambra State with the support of their parents and claims that their marriage was a divine instruction from God.
No doubt this height of insanity pictures a society that is gradually drawn into destruction if adequate actions are not put into place.
Shouldn’t we all rise and insist on the prosecution of these incidences we read in our dailies every day? Stringent conditions must be imposed on the culprits, and such abnormalities must be stopped.
We need a society with values; with responsible adults and secured minors. The fact that culprits admit guilt and blame the devil for their actions means everyone is conscious of the fact that such act is bad. Unless we address these cases by fighting against incest in our society, it will not just continue, but the despicable legacy of such menace would likely be passed on to our next generation.
Everyone must be a part of this by ensuring that abnormalities are reported to appropriate authorities because not all normal families are truly normal.
The judicial system should be child-friendly; for except perpetrators are made to face the consequences of their actions, sick men and women will continue to take advantage of young, defenseless children and other vulnerable persons.