Ms. Angela Okoye is the Public Relations Officer for Child Protection Network (CPN), The NGO is working to ensure that the rights of Children in Nigeria are protected under its 6+1 services. In this interview with KEHINDE OSASONA, she speaks about efforts being made to consolidate on the organization set objectives and sundry issues.
Human trafficking and forced prostitution still happens and it’s is becoming a threat in Nigeria and other climes, what is your take on this?
Human trafficking is a menace that has in the recent past assumed a frightening dimension. Stories by Libya returnees shows that trafficking in persons has become an organized crime syndicate with perpetrators going as far as taking victim through occultic oath swearing to ensure that their secrets are never revealed.
It is also disheartening that several of the victims are lured away as children (under 18years) with promises of a better life in foreign countries only to be forced into prostitution. Even those that are trafficked within the country are engaged as prostitutes in brothels with their “Madam” collecting almost all their earning, leaving them with its attendants effect like STI and HIV and very little stipends to barely survive.
What agitation is your NGO putting up as regards domestication of the child rights Act? Are you satisfied with the statistics of people that have so far been prosecuted?
The Child rights Acts was domesticated in Nigeria in 2003 with the intention of protecting the rights of the Child and giving them a voice. It is however sad that till date only 24 States of the Federation have so far domesticated this law, and even States where the law has been domesticated it cannot be said to be fully operational. Of great concern are States in the core North who are yet to domesticate this Act, this is of serious consequences considering the high prevalence of child marriages in these States.
In Kwara State, the law has been domesticated but, it is still challenging getting the law to work 100%.Not only that, the rate of prosecution of offenders can be said to be low. Nevertheless, our umbrella body, the Association for Orphans and Vulnerable Children NGOs in Nigeria (AONN) is not resting on its oars. Going forward; let me also say that NGOs are doing as much as they can with resources at their disposal so that government can do the needful.
I will also like to stress that the issue of stigma as it relates to children who have been violated makes it difficult for several of these cases to be prosecuted as most incidences are never reported and even when cases are reported most are settled out of court to avoid “stigmatizing the child” especially in cases where the offenders are the parents or close relatives. Also the lengthy time which most of these trials take is a put-off for victims in some cases. As CSOs we always advice that justice is sought, no matter the relationship of the offender to the victim
Why are NGOs not doing enough sensitization and awareness to stem this scourge, could there be challenges?
The economic situation in the country also makes it difficult to enforce strict compliance against all forms of child labour. We are not saying children cannot be involved in helping their parents/ legal guardian’s in their chores or business, but what we are saying is that task given to a child must be such that does not cause any harm to the child physically, emotionally or spiritually. In other word, we frown at any form of child labour in exchange for reward in cash/kind to the parent/ caregiver.
As trafficking has become hydra-headed globally now, Tell us, who is vulnerable?
Trafficking is indeed a global menace. As for who is vulnerable? I would like to say that all children are vulnerable. I know the popular notion is that the girl child is most vulnerable but these days you find a lot of boys being used as cheap labour and petty thieves. Trafficked girls are most often than not used as sex slaves.
In the past vulnerability was perceived to be due to poverty and a search for a better life. That has however has been found not to be entirely correct as even children of the perceived middle-upper class are sometimes caught in the web due to peer influence or rebellion.
Why is it easy to lure a girl-child away from home?
The girl child is an easy target for traffickers because the girl child by nature is easily trusting. Strained communication between parents and their children often times open up a child to trusting strangers who may not have good intentions for them. Relatives or friends that act like concerned or sympathetic benefactors may also exploit less privileged families with promises of assisting with the education and social welfare of the child.
What is government not doing right in this regards?
Poor implementation of policies and treaties i.e UN Convention on the Girl child, have put the Girl child at a disadvantage. The government has a critical role to play in reducing the vulnerability of the girl child to all forms of discrimination and abuse, especially child labour. It is a known fact that in several States in Nigeria the enrolment rate of girls is usually low compare to that of boys. Also the rate of school completion of the girl child is lower than that of boys.
Government agencies should create more awareness on the need to educate the girl child and discourage them from going into early marriage. Governments too can also encourage girls to stay in school by providing sanitary facilities to ensure that girls are comfortable going to school even when on their periods. Most government owned schools lack these basic facilities
Let us talk about the agencies that brings househelp, are they registered with your NGO?
I must state emphatically that no agency is allowed to hire out a child in Nigeria. It is against the rights of the Child to be used as labour, it is therefore illegal. No government agency is permitted to consent to child labour in any form. Employment agencies might be registered under the Ministry of Labour or its equivalent at State level, but they are in no way allowed to hire out children for labour.
Is there any form of monitoring by the NGO’s on ways to curtail under-age marriage, child labour, street hawking, rapes, abduction of girl-child etc?
As a CSO, we are actively involved in creating awareness on the dangers inherent in under-age marriage, child labour etc. We encourage victims to speak out and in several cases we support victims through the process of litigation. There is a case of a girl that was raped and afterwards set ablaze by her assailant in the State. Child Protection Network (CPN) in collaboration with FIDA stood by the victim and her family for over two years while the cases lasted.
Just last week the victim got justice with the assailant being sentenced to 14 years imprisonment with 100,000 naira fine or additional 6months imprisonment in lieu of payment of fine for the offence of rape. He was also sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for the offence of attempted murder. Both sentences are to run concurrently.
what should be the parent responsibilities in all of these to save their wards from horrors?
Parents and legal guardians owe their wards the duty of being the first circle of protection. Parents are also expected to create a comfortable atmosphere within the home to ensure that children can easily express themselves and report any case of molestation or abuse. Parent should take time to educate their wards on how to identify potential abusers and encourage them to speak out whenever such is noticed.
What collaboration do you have with legal aids council or women lawyers towards defeating the scourge?
We have a very robust relationship with agencies such as Legal aid council, FIDA and even the Human Right Commission. We also work closely with the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development who is saddled with the responsibility of handling all issues affecting children.