Children are a very important part of the future as they carry on their parents’ legacies, thereby perpetuating the human race. As such, children need to be celebrated as valuable resources to the nation. It is on this premise that the Children’s Day celebration marked every May 27 derives its importance.
However, some recent incidents have called urgent attention to the need to protect children. The school kidnapping incident at Igbonla Model College, Epe, Lagos state on May 26, a day before the celebration, appeared determined to dampen the spirit of the celebration. Six pupils of the school were abducted by gunmen who gained entry into the school premises through the creeks at the back of the college. While ten pupils were taken initially, four were released by the assailants after profiling their parents. They escaped with the remaining six pupils identified as Peter Jonah, Isaiq Rahmon, Adebayo George, Judah Agbausi, Pelumi Philips and Farouq Yusuf. Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that some pupils of the same school were abducted seven months earlier by gunmen who accessed the school premises by breaching its walls but were later released.
Another incident was the suspected poisoning incident at Queens College, Lagos in February where two pupils died and about 50 pupils fell ill after they ate spaghetti and drank polluted water served in the refectory. An epidemic of diarrhea was said to have broken out as the students started vomiting and stooling. The deceased were identified as Vivian Osuniyi, a JSS 2 pupil and Bithia Itulua, a JSS 3 pupil.
These and many other cases have revealed the need to reevaluate the safety and security standards in our schools. For very long now, children have become preys of dare-devil agents of wrongdoing, including abduction, kidnapping and rape, in the country. As part of Children’s Day events, teachers, parents, school owners, government and all other stakeholders involved need to act fast and implement strategies to keep the children safe.
A child safety specialist, Ugochi Obidiegwu, highlighted the need for collective effort from all parties involved to make a head way in child safety in the country. According to her, the government needs to improve in its technique to tackle security and create more awareness and parents should imbibe the culture of inculcating relevant safety tips in the minds of their children.
“It is a collective effort from all parties involved. It is a collective effort from parents, teachers, the society and the government.
“The government needs to make safety education formal. It is one thing for parents to just tell their children about safety casually. It needs to be a part of education as a standard.
“Let people begin to grow with that knowledge so we also have children that are safety conscious. Government need to go to schools and check. Are people complying with the laws that have been set?
“I found out that we have a lot of laws in this country but nobody is enforcing it; and then because nobody is enforcing it, the school owners and teachers relax. But if they know that somebody is actually going to come and check. Maybe once in or month or twice in a month, we have people that come out and you will never know when they will come. They will always be on their toes.
“Parents need to make their children safety conscious. They need to talk to them. Give them information. For example now, we have cases whereby some families have passwords.
“For example, when I go to drop my child, then I tell my child, ‘before you leave school. If somebody that you did not know comes to pick you, ask for the password. If the person did not give you the password word, do not go.
“So families are beginning to imbibe that technique of using password so that it reduces the rate at which their children relate to strangers.”
Obidiegwu, who is the pioneer of Safety Chic, a safety firm aimed at improving safety awareness in the society, added that teachers and school proprietors needed to be vigilant and watch out for lurking dangers in the environment.
She said, “Teachers also need to make an effort to be a bit knowledgeable about this things and be watchful and keep information. School owners themselves need to create a system in their school where for example somebody does not just come into the gate and pick a child.
“You have to go through certain processes. They need to ensure that the environment is secured. Is your school close to a waterway? Are your fences in order? Do you have enough security? These are things that we need to consider. If your fence is broken and you are close to a waterway, anybody can walk in because there is no perimeter fencing.”
Meanwhile, sexual harassment and assault is also another problem faced by children both at school and home. Many children most especially girls have been defiled despite being in the closest and safest places available. The convents of their homes are no longer a safe place to keep them; and even schools are danger zones.
Recently, a four-year-old Nursery One pupil of Victory International School, Maraba, Nasarawa State was allegedly rape by the proprietor of her school, 42-year-old Mr. Elias Oyeke. The little girl had reportedly been raped on several occasions after which the suspect gave her sweets. She said the suspect threatened her each time that she would get into trouble if she informed anybody of the acts.
Few months ago, a five-year-old Rachael was raped by her mother’s neighbor in Igando area of Lagos. Although, the police delayed the prosecution of the suspect, he was eventually arrested after intervention from child rights activists and later charged to court.
With all these menace putting children at risk even in the safest of places – under the nose of a watch both at home and school, where else could children turn to for safety?
In an interview with Safety Record Newspaper, the Founder and Program Director of Safe Schools, Mrs. Ike Aigbogun-Osho, explained that sexual harassment remains a major problem among others in school.
“It has always been there. There is nothing happening now that has not been happening before. People now know about it because of social media. Somebody rapes a baby or harasses a lady, it gets on the social media, but we have not been hearing about them before, because there was no social media,” she said.
She further linked the problem to parents not giving due attention to their children.
She said, “However, in all we hear, parents have to take the greater blame sometimes because they neglect to take care of their children. They instead leave then in the hands of others while they go out to make money.
“I heard of the incident of a 15-month-old baby girl that was sexually molested. The parents weren’t even aware of it till the teachers discovered it in school and notified the parents. The question is: who was bathing the baby? It’s obviously not the parent. Someone else was doing that, because if they were, they would have noticed that her private part was larger than normal.
“Listen, we cannot expect the school to do everything.”
Aigbogun, who is also the administrator of a Yaba, Lagos-based school, added, “In this school now, we do all that we can to protect the children. But when outside there, when they go to visit a man or lady, how do we know? While in this school, there are lots of things we can prevent. We can prevent sexual activity from going on in the school, but once they are outside, we can’t.
“Parents have a huge responsibility when it comes to this. I did a survey over the weekend of some teens because of the problem I am having, and I discovered some of them were already sexually active. I did the survey of ten-year-olds, and I discovered one that is already sexually active.
“We could see in their responses that some did not have good relationship with their parents. One actually called for help. She wrote in capital letter, “PLEASE HELP”. Many of them are troubled; parents are not spending time with their children.”
She further explained if parents gave time to listen to their children, it would go a long way to improve the safety of the children.
“They are not taking time to talk with their children or to spend time with their children. I think what some parents do is to lecture, and they do it in a stern way. In one meeting I attended, a lady talked about her friend’s six-year-old daughter who was being sexually abused and has refused to talk to anyone about who did it.
“And I told her that the girl could see their desperation and probably could read it that they wanted to find out and probably go and kill the person, because that is the natural talk that can come from any parent.
“And maybe this person has also threatened her that ‘if you talk, I will kill your mummy and daddy’ or ‘if you talk, your navel will dry up.’ These molesters issue all kind of threats to keep their victims from revealing their identity.
“The girl is scared. She doesn’t want to lose her parents and doesn’t want to be sick either. So, I advised that the parents should look for a child psychologist who would be able to talk to the child even if it takes a few sessions. But at the end of the day, the girl would be able to open up to the psychologist. I said all these to emphasize that parents need to put in their best to train their children.”
The Lagos state government has been at the forefront of eradicating kidnapping by tagging a death sentence penalty on any culprit found. But effort still has to be intensified.
In his view, a Health and Safety professional, Mr. Abdul-Rasaq Adewole, identified poor sensitization as a major problem militating against school safety, adding that the government needs to collaborate with stakeholders and improve its level of law enforcement.
He said, “I think what government can do and what government has been doing so far is collaborating with the school stakeholders on how they can safeguard the children in schools.
“The government understands that they cannot do it alone without the cooperation of the stakeholders on ground: the principals, teachers, parents themselves, and the owner of the schools.
“They have been doing that. They have been talking to them on how best they can handle school safety. The government should do more of awareness that is lacking.”
Adewole, who is a child safety advocate, stressed that, “awareness about child safety is going to go round. It is going to do more good. When the government tries to do awareness people pay attention more. So when they do awareness, the parents will be aware of what they don’t know before. They can also call the attention of the school management for the safety of their kids.
“The other thing is the legislation – most importantly the law on kidnapping. More legislation and enforcement should be done by the government. That is the role of the government.”