By Ejiro Umukoro
Fifteen years old Tosin (not her real name) is afraid. In an interview she tells how a man in her neighborhood in Alimosho is fond of molesting young girls, touching them inappropriately and physically assaulting them. And since the lockdown, she says it has gotten worse. To prevent the constant harassment from him she says “me and my other friends in the area avoid him and we have refused to run errands for him.”
The man whom she is afraid to name wields great influence in the community and whenever he chances upon them, Tosin says “he beats us for not running errands for him.”
To complicate matters, Tosin complains that parents in the communitywere fond of saying to the man: “I will give you my daughter to marry you.”
And whenever the under-age girls frown at the idea of marrying the man, Tosin says “they [parents] will just be shouting at us: “don’t you know he’s your husband!”
When asked if she had reported the matter to her parents, Tosin says: “My father will just get angry and scold me. Even my mother will not listen to me.”
FolukeAdemokun, a Gender Equality Advocate of the AjokeAyisatAfolabi Foundation (AAAF) says that “many children want to report [sexual harassment], but they are afraid of backlash. And for those who speak up against an abuser, they are often labeled as a prostitute. Some parents even rebuke victims telling them ‘You must want something from the man before he can approach you! That is why he is coming after you! Are you the only girl in the compound or street for him to be coming after you’?”
This kind of attack on the victim, Ademokun says is not only unfair, but enables an abuser to do even worse.
For Chiamaka, she shudders when she remembers how she had been sexually groomed when she was a little girl by a woman without realizing it. “It happened to me when I was around 5-years-old.We lived in Pompumari, behind Prison, in Maiduguri,”Chiamakasays. She explains that a neighbour of theirs, who she fondly referred to as ‘Aunty’ “would always ask me to sit on her laps.She used to visit my mother and they would gist and gossip about her school and things happening in the neighbourhood every time she came aroundbecause we all live in the samecompound. Me and Aunty were more like playmates even though Aunty was 25-years-old then.”
Chiamaexplains how Aunty would lavish her with gifts, and after some time, “Aunty started asking meto suckle her breasts.”At the time, Chiamaka says“I was not uncomfortable doing so because I remember also playing with my mother’s breasts.”
Now in her early twenties, Chiamaka regrets not speaking out when Aunty started abusing her as little as she was. She believes the abuse that started as a child would not have continued until her late teens.
Sexualisation of children in Nigeria is commonplace.And since the lockdown, sexual grooming of adolescents experiencing puberty has spiked. According to a 2014 study titled:Child Sexual Abuse Among Adolscents in Southeast Nigeria: A Concealed Public Health BehavioralIssuebyManyike Pius C, ChinawaJosephat M and Chinawa T. Awoere, conducted with adolescents in Southern Nigeria, 40% of the respondents (199) have been abused. According to the study, the commonest form of abuse was to look at pornographic pictures, drawings, films videotapes or magazines. The study notes that family members and relatives are perpetrators of child abuse.
According to a 2019/2020 Mirabel Centre,a Sexual Assault Referral Unit (SARC) report, 80% of children who were sexually abused by perpetrators were known to the victims but unknown to their parents or relatives.
The same report shows that the national incidence of child rape shows that 43.1% of rape cases reported from 2015 to 2017 were victims under 18 years old with 85% of rape victims being female.
According to child experts, to sexualize children is not the same as sex education. FolajaiyeKareem, a Clinical Psychologist and Mental Health Advocate describes the situation Tosin and her friends found themselves as“sexual grooming.” This he explains “is a preparatory process in which a perpetrator gradually gains a person’s or their household’s trust with the intent to be sexually abusive.”
SarimaWorgu, a Psychologist and Child Therapistagrees. She explains that abusers or perpetrators of child abuse “would have earned the trust of a child and other people around the child, especially with the parents, or caregiver of the child.” She highlights,“sexual grooming is a gradual process through which the offender, or the perpetrator [tries] to build trust with the child.”
In the age of internet and cyberbullying, Worguexplains that when physical meeting is not feasible at the onset, “perpetrators groom the child through social media first. They work on earning the trust of the child in order to gain access to the child.” she says.
According to child experts, the goal of sexual predators includes several key elements such as targeting the victim, securing access to, and isolating the victim’s trust and controlling and concealing the relationship. Experts note that with the lack of proper values and drop of morals in our society, many predators now openly sexually groom their victims with society’s silent and tacit approval.
In the first week of June, the Lagos State Police arrested a suspect, AdeyeyeOluwatosinBabatunde publicly kissing a minor as an adult would another adult on a viral video. The suspect claimed his action was done in the presence of his family members and neighbors in the compound he lives in Shagamu but no one raised an eyebrow about his inappropriate behavior.
His arrest came on the hills of a lady who saw the video on his WhatsApp profile, copied it, and raised alarm. In this exclusive video where he confessed at the Police Station during interrogation shared here,Babatunde says “I never thought what I was doing was wrong,” making a public appeal to Nigerians to forgive him.
BABATUNDE’S CONFESSION (use codes to embed on your site)
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Babatunde’ssexually suggestive video is not an isolated case of probable sexual grooming. In the second week of June, a disturbing video trending on social media shows three children, two boys, and a girl, between the ages of 6-9 having a threesome. Journalists in a particular group, especially women, had a fit fueling a debate on poor parenting and family values, many wondering where and how these children came to perfect the scene that played out. An effort is been made to uncover who those children are.
According to OluwatoyinNdidiTaiwo-Ojo, Founder of Stop The Violence Against Women and Girls, she says: “From my experience, I realized that when it comes to sexual abuse of children we have more men being perpetrators. This too may not be a true picture because in Africa, and Nigeria, the issue of boy-child abuse is common but most boys are shy coming forward to say that a woman has abused them.” She highlights, “during workshops and training with men, many male survivors say their first experience of a sexual nature was rape. They were raped by a woman: an aunt, the housemaid, friends of elder sisters…”Taiwo-Ojo says.
CHILD-ON-CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE (COCSA)
Joshua in an interview recalls how, when he was 6 years old, his older sister who was then 13 years, bet with her girlfriend that she could not make his pippy stand. All five female teenagers in the room watched as one of the girls toyed with Joshua’s penis. From that day, Joshua became so traumatized that he started hiding from his mother and elder sister. As he grew older, he became curious about his body and that of other children and role-playing —mummy and daddy in bed became his main interest. The image of his parents in the act on different occasions, usually at night when everyone else was asleep preyed on his mind. Now in his 50s, Joshua is addicted to sex and regularly sleeps with at least two to three women a day. His friends tell him he’s addicted but he explains to them that he never forces any woman against her will.
Child-on-child sexual abuse, COCSA, according to experts occurs when a prepubescent child is abused by one or more children or adolescent and since the lockdown there has been a spike of this incidences.
Clinical Psychologist Folajaiye Kareemsays “prior to lockdown, child-on-child sexual abuse isn’t usually reported because it is either dismissed or unknown by members of the public. However, during this pandemic we’ve seen evidence of COCSA more frequently and at a disturbing rate.”
Child Therapist, SarimaWorgu agrees. “There have always been child-on-child sexual abuse. It has always been there. Just that many are now shocked after being in denial that their children are victims or even perpetrators of the act. What they failed or denied to see earlier, they are now exposed to during the lockdown.”
Shesays “prior to lockdown, thenumber of child abuse cases [received] was 25-27 per month. But since the lockdown in April, it increased to 30-35 every month in our child advocacy centre.”
Folajaiye Kareem was quick to point out that “since the pandemic. We have seen evidence of COCSA more frequently and at quite a disturbing rate as a result of several risk factors that exposes children to sexual abuse. Some of them include re-current exposure to adult content in the media, especially at a time when children have less to do outside the home.”
Kareem emphasizes “negligence and unusual exposure by parents and guardians in the home, repeated witnessing sexual activity and unresolved child abuse, where the child who has been abused becomes the perpetrator.” as some of the reasons enabling the surge.
Why Child Pornography and Child-on-child Abuse is on the Rise
Child on child sexual abuse (COCSA) is a form of sexual abuse that occurs when a child is sexually abused by one or more children either as a result of emotional or physical coercion.
According to child experts, child-on-child sexual abuse can occur even without coercion especially when the initiator plays on the victim’s ignorance of the sexual act and its consequences.
SarimaWorgu says “a child who is more aware or more exposed, [can] begin to play on the ignorance of a child who is not exposed and the child who doesn’t know what is being done to him or her, plays along without knowing the consequences of what is being done to them.”
She emphasizes, “the point to note is that there is usually inequality in age, physical, mental or social abilities.”
Since the lockdown, with more parents and children now at home than ever before, many parents agree that they are paying more attention to the goings-on around them than they used to.
Alero, a mother of two who lives in Abuja says “I’m at shocked at what I see happening. The videos of child abuse is scary.”
Stephanie, a civil servantwho lives in Asaba, Delta State says “I called a member of the Child Rights Committee to come and handle a case and was shocked to find out the children were the ones abusing themselves!”
With viral videos of child-on-child surfacing, many parents are becoming weary.
SarimaWorgu says “since the lockdown people now take note of, and pay attention to things they probably didn’t notice before now, or were too busy to take not of.” She points out that“more responsible adults are beginning to speak up as the lockdown did a good one by putting everyone in check and helping us pay attention to things that we wouldn’t ordinarily pay attention to.”
Regarding the reasons for the increase of child-on-child abuse or abuse of minors by perpetrators Worgu says“a lot of parents and adults have always being in denial of the concept of child sexual abuse or the ability of their child or children to cause harm to other kids. For instance, you hear parents tell you they didn’t even know that their children have entered the pubescent age or already experiencing the phase of puberty.”
But why have these videos gone viral?SarimaWorgulists three main reasons. “One of them is ignorance on the part of those circulating this on social media. But such videos are rated as child pornography, and as such, should not be in circulation at all. It is a crime to share a video of a child who is being molested, especially child-on-child sexual abuse.” She emphasizes that when such videos “go viral, [it] is regarded as a child pornography.”
The second reason she says “is because people who share these videos and images believe it is a way to bring awareness or sensitize the public on issues of Child-on-Child abuse even though there are better and suitable ways one can go about that.”
She adds a caveat: “It’s usually only case sensitive when people take that video when it is needed for legal purposes and after that, such videos should be deleted. They should not be on social media because these children will grow up and understand that this harm was actually being done by the society and people who were meant to be protecting them.”
The third reason she highlights “is because child predators also use this to satisfy their sexual gratification and ego. So most of these videos also go viral especially when the perpetrator is an adult and filming the child carrying out this act then go on to put it out there, which like I said is a crime and should not be.”
Child Curiosity vs Child Abuse
According to child experts, children’s natural curiosity about their bodies cannot be definedas child-on-child abuse.
Clinical Psychologist, Folajaiye Kareem emphasises “child-on-child sexual abuse should not be confused with normative sex play or the anatomical curiosity children have.”
The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourneexplains that when children are between the ages of 0-5 years, their curiosity about sexual behavior becomes an obsessive preoccupation. Exploration becomes a re-enactment of a specific adult sexual activity. Such behavior, the center goes on to explain can involve injury to self, coercion, threats, secrecy, violence, aggression, or developmentally inappropriate acts. By age 6-9, it is not uncommon forchildrento still ask questions about sex differences, functions, and sexuality. At this age children are more disposed to hearing or being told ‘dirty jokes’ or words.
SarimaWorgu agrees. “There are two categories of sexual development and behaviour in children. The first category is for kids who are simply displaying more developmental sexually related behavior where they are just being curious about their bodies and that of significant others such as their parents, siblings and peers. Here they are exploring difference in body appearance in both gender, for instance a child could ask ‘why is the thing in between a girl flat but that of a boy is longer?’”
She explains further, “children display innocent behaviour such as touching their mother’s breasts, moving naked around the house, touching their private parts in a non-sexual stimulating manner.” This she says “are child sexual behavior that are harmless curiosity or harmless exploration.”
In contrast, “the second category” she says “is when kids display sexual behaviour problems that may pose a risk to the safety of the child and significant others such as their parents, siblings and peers.”
Sexualisation of Minors, a Global Pandemic
According to the WHO report of June 2019, it estimates that globally, up to 1 billion children ages 2-17 years have experienced sexual, emotional, or physical violence in 2019. And since the lockdown, daily and weekly reports of sexualized children and child abuse inundate the public’s senses.
In Germany at least 15,000 minors were victims of sexual abuse in 2019 with more spikes expected during lockdown. According to German Police officials, a reported 12,000 cases of distribution, possession, and production of images of child sexual abuse was also recorded in the lockdown, while organized crime dropped.
According to NSPCC, a British children’s charity, around half of 11 to 16-year-olds have seen pornography online, mostly by accidents, according to a 2016 study, the Economist reports.
In Italy a massive investigation combating online child abuse in July 2020 unearthed images and videos ofsexual violence in which victims were mainly babies according to the Italian State Police (Polizia di Stato).
While in China revelations of sexual abuse of school children in rural areas by teachers was disturbing.
According to Forbes, there has been a huge spike in online child exploitation complaints from 983,734 according to CyberTiplinereports of suspected child exploitation in 2019, rising to 106% in 2020 hitting at 2,027,520 in the same month in March as revealed by the U.S.-based non-profit the National Centre for Mission and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Sweden and Brazil have also recorded an alarming rise in domestic and sexual violence against children. While in India, the Childline India helpline reported that it received over 50% more calls than usual during the first 11 days of lockdown. VikasPuthran of Childline says “we conducted 4,800 interventions where we physically went to the child in need.” He goes on to add that in a year “we get about 9 million calls.”
Back in Nigeria, in another trending video, a woman beats her 2-year-old in public in the busy streets of Idumota, Lagos for sleeping with a much older man. When queried the woman, who is also the mother of the child said “the girl is a prostitute! Why does she keep going to meet the man?” Shehad stumbled on the man sexually molesting her daughter. Rather than hold the man accountable and report him to the police or referral center, she beats her little daughter almost blinding her eyes.
The Lagos State Government in response to that video, through a rescue operation carried out by officials of the Ministry of Youth and Social Development rescued the children from their mother who lives at Oniru beach. According to the Permanent Secretary, Mrs. YewandeFalugba, she explains that the woman’s two children, “believed to have been abused, have received medical examination and treatment and are currently being cared for in a government-approved orphanage in the state pending completion of the investigation.” While the mother of the children, she explains, “who was discovered to be mentally imbalanced, has since been taken to the State-owned rehabilitation center for mentally challenged persons.”
In the second week of June during the lockdown, a 50-year-old father, Peter Ayemoba was apprehended by the Niger Police Command following his confession on incest with his two daughters since 2013. He was taken into custody by the police after a relative, with the help of the two girls, reported their father to the police. The daughters, now 22 years and 23 years were sick of their father’s constant abuse since they were 15 and 16 years respectively. The abuse began shortly after their mother died. Ayemoba, their father says he began having sexual relations with his daughters in response to his grief in losing their mother, his wife. However, he kept on abusing his daughters even after he remarried. When I spoke with the PPRO, ASP AbiodunWasiu on the matter, he says “the suspect has been charged to court and prosecution ongoing.”
In late April, 30-year-old Ahmed Shelle, a male tailor in Niger State was arrested by the Police Command in Niger for sodomizing two boys when he was caught in the act by suspecting neighbors within the same business plaza who reported him to the police. Before the lockdown, Shelle has been using his phone filled with sex videos to lure children, specifically boys between the ages of 8-13 years for over four years. He sets the scene then acts out his fantasies with the boys. In his confession Shelle explains how he took each child one after the other until he was caught in the act by and was arrested, according to The Nation.
The Mirabel Centre, a Sexual Assault referral Centre in Lagos since its inception in 2013 to date has received and treated over 5,400 cases of sexual abuse. Of this number, over 3600 cases are children. For victims of sexual abuse, Juliet Olumuyiwa-Rafai, the Centre Manager, says the centre “provides free professional psycho-social support and medical care to survivors of sexual abuse”, adding that “from our statistics, majority of reported cases involve minors, children, who were survivors of sexual abuse.”
In Anambra State, NkechiAnazodo, Director of Child Welfare Services in the State Ministry of women affairs, Children, and Social Welfare during the launch of the Integrated Child Protection Community Sensitisation Campaign supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund explained that between “May and April no fewer than 80 rape cases have been recorded” as against 32 cases that had been reported before lockdown. According to her, commonly reported cases are incidences of “fathers raping their daughters”.
Responding to this upsurge, Mrs. Anazodo says the ministry is embarking on a 10-day state-wide campaign in all 21 local government areas of the state.
Signs and Enablers ofSexual Grooming in Children
FolukeAdemokun, Executive Coordinator with AjokeAyisatAfolabi Foundation, explains that in some cases, in homes with single parents or amongst widows, “during the lockdown, cases of mothers exposing their children to adult acts have increased.”
According to Ademokun,“sexual child abuse is common amongst families who live in small or cramped spaces living together with no boundaries – this overexposure, when not handled properly, enables sexual abuse within such environment.” She also adds that “incest is common in homes where there are no set boundaries in values and morals.
Ademokun observes that “in middle and lower class homes, lack of proper sex education and respect for privacy where children are exposed to each other’s bodies could also trigger interest in the other sex. When children are not monitored closely, especially during their raving adolescent and teens years when sexual urges are high, siblings can be caught experimenting with their bodies.”
In a highly sexualized society where children have access to seeing their parents engage in acts of sexual encounters, online videos, and the internet, it has been found that some children go out to try and experiment with other children. When spotted, and not addressed properly, these children grow up having no sense of wrong in what they do.
Child experts observe that child sexual abuse by adult or child-on-child grooming is more when the perpetrator is much older than the victim of the act. Grooming is done through developing relationship with the child.
According to SarimaWorgu, “when a child is being groomed for sexual exploitation, the perpetrator often provides and gives attention to a particular child, doles out gifts and privileges to the child, encourages secrecy in the child, use emotional manipulation, and presents sex and sexual abuse as acceptable or normal.”
To spot signs of sexual grooming, Worgu suggests to parentsto “watch out for distorted relationships with children. Ask: what is my child learning from the older teen or adult? Watch out when a child talks about a particular person then try to learn and know who this person is and the values this person is teaching your child or can inculcate in your child. Watch out for adults in other children who frequently initiate or create opportunities to have exclusive time alone with your child or with certain children. Watch out for why are they always wanting to be alone with this child.”
In addition, she says “look out for excessive touching, hugging, kissing, tickling, wrestling or holding of children even when the child doesn’t want this physical contact or attention from that individual. You know how children would sometimes say: “oh mummy I don’t want to go to Uncle’s house anymore”, yet you insist that they go because of your busy schedule and they have to be there because you have to be somewhere. Find out why the child doesn’t want to be in such environment.”
She emphasises, “look out for people who pay certain attention or preference for a child, a certain gender, a certain age, etc.”
More sings to look out for she says includes: “pay attention to the words thatcomes out of your child’s mouth after they spend some time with a particular child or adult. This is because these groomers speak in very sexual tone or manner and the child copies them. When that happens, then the parents have to be on the lookout.”
Worgu warns, “whenever another child is making suggestive jokes with your child or an older adult is making such jokes with children, you have to be on the lookout. When an adult says something to a child that is not age appropriate, and you are around or in that environment, and you don’t see it as age-appropriate, you politely let them know that you don’t think this is age-appropriate.”
She highlights that giving special attention to certain children, or displaying favouritism towards certain children at certain age or sex are some signs to also look out for.
While it may not be true that everyone who gives a child a gift is a perpetrator, parents and responsible adults are cautioned by child experts to always be on the lookout for the interest of the child.