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SPECIAL REPORT: Abuse, Rights Infringement Top Sokoto Girl-child’s Woes

Sokoto girl Abuse caricature

July 18, (THEWILL) – TUNDE OMOLEHIN looks at the rising incidence of child abuse and gender violation in Sokoto State and how the non-domestication of the Child Rights Act has denied female victims access to justice.

On May 13, 2021, residents of Sokoto State were shocked to learn that a 12-year-old girl identified as Joy was allegedly locked up in a room by her guardian for eight months in the Dadin Kowa area of Sokoto, the state capital.

Neighbours, who are witnesses to her ill-treatment in the hands of her guardian, Mrs Esther Emmanuel, told THEWILL that joy was left without food for most of the period she was locked up. The girl’s suffering, they added, got to a point where they had to report to the police who eventually rescued her.

The police arrested Mrs Emmanuel and her husband, Emmanuel Bassey, as well as their children, all of who allegedly conspired to inflict pain on the young girl.

Investigation by THEWILL showed that Joy dropped out of Yahaya Gusau Primary School in the Sokoto South Local Government Area of the state in Primary Five. Some of her classmates, who spoke with our reporter, said she was last seen in school in 2019, just before the outbreak of the Coronavirus.

Joy’s case reflects the ugly situation in which many young children in Sokoto State, who are living with their relatives, instead of their biological parents, without a tangible arrangement for their welfare, have found themselves.

“Her (Joy) case was a typical spotlight on both parental neglect and our inability to implement protection laws for children in this country,” said Wale Sunday, a psychologist.

While Joy is a victim of her supposed caregivers, the case of 12-year-old Fatima (not real name), who was gang-raped by seven men who lived together within her mother’s neighbourhood in Panawa, a suburb of Sokoto town, seems slightly different.

Fatima’s alleged assailants, it was gathered, were almost as old as her father, if not older. Her mother’s outcry led to a court suit that is currently before a competent court in the state. Sadly, she was forced to drop out of secondary school due to trauma and the fear of being stigmatised by her schoolmates.

A similar case was recorded by the police a few months later. The culprit, it would be recalled, is a young man, who was arrested for luring a 16-year-old girl (name withheld) to a hotel and unlawfully having carnal knowledge of her.  He was also alleged to have filmed the girl’s nude body in an 18 seconds video clip. The incident resulted in the termination of the victim’s wedding, which was already scheduled to take place within the period the video was circulated on social media.

The pathetic stories of these young girls were not part of the over 400 cases of rape and child abuse exposed by the Save the Child Initiative, a non-governmental organisation campaigning rigorously against the menace. Similar statistics from the Sokoto office of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) indicates that no fewer than 151 survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) were so far recorded in this year.

The figure showed that 103 victims were girls, while 48 were boys, all of who were abused in one way or the other. Data obtained from the agency’s Research and Programme Development Unit showed a surge in cases of child violation amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Such violations, according to the agency, include cases of rape, sodomy, child abuse, child labour and sale of babies.

Giving an insight into the distressing act, the Head of Evacuation and Implementation, Rabiu Gandi, described the development as a societal issue. “Women are being abused and girls are being abused on a daily basis. Women are victims of abuse. Boys are also being abused. But young girls are most prevalent among them. So, it is a societal issue,” he said.

Gandi blamed the parents of the victims for failing to fulfill part of their responsibility to the children. “I always say that no child has the predominant knowledge of who will give birth to him or her. Parents are the ones that ask God for a child. But most of them have failed to take care of these children,” he said.

He noted that child protection must start from the parents, while government at all levels should put in place mechanisms that will help to protect the children through a vibrant justice system.

“The government must complement parents’ efforts with their responsibility for these children. Also, the society should always serve as the watchdog to ensure justice against any child predators. But if this measure fails, our children’s rights will be abused,” Gandi explained.

Experts say the rise in the incidence of child abuse is unconnected to the increase in of out-of-school children in the state. However, the Sokoto State Government has said that it recorded mass enrolment of schoolchildren since the inception of the present administration.

The Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Muhammadu Bello Guiwa, said 247,884 children have been enrolled in school from 2016 to date, adding that, based on the schools’ census statistics in 2020/2021, the state government now has 2,065 primary schools with a total of 965,535 pupils, comprising 546,675 boys and 420,860 girls.

The statistics, he stressed, shows that the state government has a total population of 1,179,781 in all the schools, compared to 742,679 in 2014/2015. But THE WILL investigation has revealed a sharp decrease in the successes achieved by the state government due to the high rate of insecurity in the state.

It would be recalled that in January 2021, the state government ordered the indefinite closure of boarding schools situated within the border towns in the state, in response to the incessant abduction of school children by armed groups in some states.

One of the affected schools, a N1 billion secondary school in Balle in the Gudu Local Government Area of the state, was built with the purpose of improving girl-child enrollment. Kabir Shagari, an educationist, believes the repeated closure of schools in the state, due to COVID-19 and non-existence laws that could protect the girl-child from incessant rights violation, has hit girl-child education hard and threatened to roll back several years of progress in the state.

Aisha Maina, Special Adviser to the Governor on Female Education, was indifferent when approached by THEWILL to speak on the state government’s efforts on goal-4 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, as well as promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Jerry Ameh, who heads the Centre for Media Advocacy and Community Reporting, a non-profit organisation, urged the state legislature to speed up the process of the Domestic Child Protection Law presented by the executive to mitigate many gender issues in the state.