The rate at which children are being abused in Nigeria (and globally), is alarming. Without a doubt, this leaves scars - some visible, others not. It is a heavy topic but it has to start from somewhere. In order to commemorate Children’s Day which falls on May 27th 2016, the Social Welfare Network Initiative (SWNI), in partnership with UNICEF, National Orientation Agency (NOA) and WE fm called for an end to violence against children.
Gede Foundation attended this mind opening and thought provoking seminar which was held at Merit House, Abuja, FCT. Needless to say, the event was attended by a lot of partners and the most important being the young children from Oak Heights International School, Lugbe.
Furthermore, the event presented other ways in which the mental health of children is either adversely affected, taken for granted or harmed. It also brought into question the mental health or mental state of the adults that inflict abuse on children.
The seminar kicked off with a chilling revelation from the National Co-ordinator, Country Programme Manager for SWNI, Emmanuel Olisaeloka Osemeka about his own experiences of abuse as a child and how this has helped him fight for children's rights. This was followed by a welcome address and a score of goodwill messages from representatives of various stakeholders.
The seminar was fully interactive and started with the children performed a musical drama that they had prepared. In the drama, they stated the various ways that children are abused and echoed the theme of the day which was ‘SAY NO TO CHILD ABUSE AND CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE’. Some of the examples that stood out were hawking on the streets, tribal marks, rape, calling them worthless, and generally exposing the children to situations where they are in a lot of dangers. The kids’ performance was interesting in that it clearly depicted that long after the physical scars have healed, they still have to deal with emotional, and even sadder, mental torture.
UNICEF also had a presentation. Their video, which can be viewed by following the link, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMq10fCal3s) shows the horrifying ways in which children are abused and, sadly, often by those that ought to protect them.
Thereafter followed a panel discussion and an interactive Q and A session. The children were very active and asked questions such as, “why would a grown man rape a small child” and also “Why would a pastor, prophet or Imam, label kids as witches and wizard?.” Questions relating to mental health were also raised. UNICEF informed the participants that they have programs that help, educate and heal children that have been abused.
In conclusion, children are the future. To quote one of the speakers, kids are very vulnerable and very impressionable. It is up to the adults to make sure that there is safe communication between the children and those they trust, to make sure that children are comfortable enough to speak out and not suffer in silence. Parents and adults alike were encouraged to be vigilant, to look for signs of abuse in children and to seek help where the need arises. It is the children’s right to be protected from physical as well as emotional abuse. Children may be resilient and physical scars may heal, but this does not mean the emotional and mental scars are healed too.