Ochanya: Activist blows hot, says Nigerian law does not support use of children as house-helps

Barrister Awele Ideal, resident in Asaba, Delta state capital, is a lawyer with a difference. In this interview with AUSTIN OYIBODE, EDITOR of Emeraldng.com, she speaks on the battle against rape and why children being used as house-helps should be stopped by all means.

Excerpts:

You had a walk a few weeks back on Ochanya that was raped to death. What can you tell us about rape in Nigeria based on that girl’s experience?

The case of Ochanya became a very teething one because the circumstances that surrounded her death were very touching. This is a child that was given out to her aunty to live with because the school in their community wasn’t good enough. She became a victim of sexual assault. She was defiled from the age of 8 till when she was 13. She was used a sex slave for more than 4 years by her uncle and her cousin.

The case is now in court and we believe that justice will be done. When this matter came up, it became a case of national interest. Everybody wanted to know how and what will prompt people to go into such evil. This Ochanya’s case is something that is going on in our environment. If you look deep, you are going to see that there is a child or an adult being sexually molested.

So, that was why I took it upon myself to carry out that walk, organize it being a mother, having human sympathy. I believe that the most important thing is to let people know about it. When people are aware and sensitized on the evil of what they are doing. Again, if they suspect a child is being abused sexually, they should speak up, there are some government agencies and private lawyers that can take up the case and make sure that justice is done.

We want people to know that every child in our communities should be treated with love and be seen as our own. If you discover that a child is not happy, being molested or raped, channel it to appropriate agencies or bring it to private practitioners whom you trust that can bring justice to the child. We have the FIDA which is made up of female lawyers and the police. We have the ministry of justice, women affairs, we have private lawyers who can undertake to conduct probono services for victims of defilement and rape.

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We should also be our neighbour’s keepers. These things are happening around us. If all of us are playing our small parts, we will be able to bring it to the barest minimum.

What role do you think society can play to stop recurring incidence of rape?

Like I said, if we all can contribute our little bit by sensitizing people, it will be reduced. Some people do not see anything wrong in it. Let’s look at the rapists, some were brought up in a very violent environment, and they do not see violence as anything, they do not regard woman as anything.

They just believe that sex is something they can take by force. When this matter came up, I had to do some research and I discovered that in some areas people believe it is something they use in curing HIV. They believe when they sleep with a little child it cures them of HIV.

You know when someone believes in something, he goes all out to practice it, he does not see anything evil about it because he has been indoctrinated. So, that is why it is good that we all play our roles. We should let people know that this thing is evil. Defiling a child will not cure you of HIV. There are other remedies against HIV. Some people do it because they think it cleanses them but actually it does not.

Another thing is when adults in an environment suspect that a child is being molested and defiled or lives in fear; we should reach out to that child. Listen to him or her and possibly take up the case and report to the right authority. He/she may want to be anonymous. If cases like that come to us, we cover such people’s identity. The most important thing is that justice is done, the child is removed from that place where the fear comes for him or her.

Then, another is calling out on government and private practitioners to assist in curbing this menace. Like the FIDA, their major role is protecting the rights of children and women. If they can continue to uphold their goals of protecting the rights of children and women. The police too, they protect people and provide security. Ministry of justice should ensure that cases like this are diligently pursued.

Why cases like this are lost in court is either they did not provide enough evidence, the court cannot act on sentiments or pity. The judge will give his judgment based on evidence presented before him. So, there is need to investigate, carry out diligent prosecution, get police report, make sure the child is tested and ascertain that defilement has occurred, the child is no more a virgin, there is an injury, you must prove that there is actual penetration and that penetration was caused by this person.

Now, who do you blame for occurrences like this? Is it the child, the guardian, the parents, government or society for such evils?

I blame poverty. The first thing is poverty because, having looked at all areas, I will blame poverty. If there is no poverty and everybody is rich and happy, why will a man even think of sleeping with a child? Most people who do this are people that maybe they are not married, if you read most of the cases around, they are either retirees, old men that can no longer get women to sleep with them. When a man is not rich in his pocket, he cannot go about chasing women. Any vulnerable child around can be an easy prey.

I blame belief. People believe that it cures them of so many diseases when they sleep with children. Mothers and parents are so busy pursuing other things that they forget to look after these children. In fact, when cases like this come, I first blame the mother. How can you leave your child, don’t you know that the world is no longer a safe place? They can be victims of kidnap or rape. Even though the child is playing, put watchful eyes on him. Don’t send a child of five years to go and buy you magi.

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Any uncle can say come here, she will answer and that is the end. We have to be watchful, God has given us these children to protect and provide for them, it will be very sad that you gave birth to a child and she becomes a victim of rape, because you are a careless mother.

Parents should have watchful eyes at all times. When your child is afraid of you, when this kind of thing happens, she will be afraid to talk, because you may shun her or shut her up. The perpetrators threaten most of the victims. Out of that fear the child will not want to talk. But when you are close to your child, you will notice that your child is sober, you ask her questions. Parents should strive to be their children’s friends. That child will tell you everything.

You mentioned poverty, that could be for those outside the family, but there are fathers who also rape their own daughters…

I mentioned poverty as number one cause. In this Ochanya’s case, if it were not poverty, she wouldn’t have been taken to be with another person. If Ochanya’s parents had money, they wouldn’t have sent their child to live with another person. Most children that are victims of this rape are house-helps. Most people that are victims of this thing are from poor background, they leave their parents to live with relatives. If everybody has their money, everybody will take care of their children.

When Ochanya was buried, there was video of the school she was supposed to attend, the school is dilapidated, it has no teacher. No school in the community, so what should the father do, instead of her wasting, let her go to the town and stay with her aunty. They took her to a good school, but then the evil came in. If there were a good school with teachers in the community, the school wouldn’t have been shutdown. This is where poverty comes in. She would have been with her parents. But she left because of poverty.

So, I blame poverty as number one. Another one is poverty of the mind. Poverty is not only financial poverty, when a man is poor in mind, he can be so wicked to anybody. The cry of the child may not affect him. It is not all about money, there is also poverty of the mind. The person doing it is evil, poor in mind for him to have perpetuated such act.

From all these now, do you encourage house-helps in homes?

We have laws protecting children. Children, generally, should not be sent to other houses as house helps. What can a child of 10, 11, 12 do for you? The child himself also needs help. They need care. Just imagine Ochanya joining this family at the age of 8. She was a child and at the age of 8, they started defiling her. She was being drugged and used in her vagina and anus. So, what can a child of 8 do for you at home? Is it to sweep the house or wash plate? How strong is the hand? I strongly advise against having a child as house-help. It is wrong before God and man and the law frowns at it.

Cuts in….Madam, the law frowns at it but it is going on everywhere, so what is the law doing?

That is why right now, children are not allowed to be house-helps anymore. If you want house-helps, go for corporate maids. Go there and register. We, in FIDA, are sensitizing people on it, if you suspect a child is a house-help to a family, report such cases. No child should be abused to that level. It is wrong, the law frowns at it. The problem now is that people tell lies over the use of house-helps. They will tell you she is my cousin coming to live with me. But invariably she is just a house-help.

Now, tell us what success have you recorded in this fight so far?

First of all I will give glory to God because the walk we did on that day was a success. And I know whether we agree or not, some people have heard our voices. And I appeal to their conscience if they are doing it they should desist from it because it is wrong. Those that suspect that such things are going on should come forth and report to appropriate authorities. I open my office on Saturdays.

I have been receiving calls since we did the walk. So, I’ll call it success. Since we did the walk, I have registered over 10 reports. The cases are ongoing right now. They are still in investigation stage, after which they will be charged to court. So, you can understand when I say sensitization, people should know, they should not die in silence. The aim of that sensitization was for people to speak up, they should not be afraid.

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They should not feel the pain of stigmatization, they should speak up. It will save others coming after them. So, our aim was to allow people to speak up and thank God, people have been speaking up. I will call it a huge success. And if you do this thing periodically you can imagine how much success you will record. And before you know it this evil will be reduced.

Will you say government has tried enough in fighting this menace?

Government has tried. However, in fighting this thing you need passion. You need to have the interest. Government can open up channels, we have the women affairs, we have the ministry of justice, we have the FIDA, we have the police and other well-meaning Nigerians like you and me. Government cannot do it alone. Government has tried its best, we should also do our bits to fight it.

What advice do you have for the rapists?

I’m begging them, they should stop it. It is not right. How will they feel if their own children are being raped? Rape is a crime, it’s wrong, it’s evil. Just imagine the trauma that child will pass through in life. The fear, the trauma they go through when they see the perpetrator, he’s like a monster to them. Some of these children grow up hating men. You can’t blame them. Some of them even prefer dying. Some grow up becoming angry. They can kill any man that comes close to them, because they have been abused. They feel so bitter about life. They need to see counselors.

So, I beg them that their action causes more damage than the pleasure they will receive, just a five minute pleasure. That is the end. What about the bitterness you have deposited in the child. And there is nothing like karma, it will always visit you. So, I’m begging them that they stop it before the law catches up with them. The government should also make the laws stringent. In Indonesia, the suspect is castrated straight away. If we have such laws in Nigeria, will rapists still exist? Once you are proved to have defiled a child you are castrated, so let me know what you will use to defile another person.

I’m still begging the government and the national assembly to create laws, castration, life sentence or death penalty. I equate their actions to murder. So, please I’m begging them if they don’t stop it, the law will catch up with them.

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