Impact365: Over 2,000 children in Lagos experience sexual abuse daily – Bola Tinubu, founder of Cece Yara Foundation

An alarming number of Nigerian children suffer one form of abuse or the other but the prevalence of young boys and girl who fall victim of sexual abuse is the concern of this NGO.

Founded in 2016 by Mrs Bola Tinubu, Cece Yara is committed to providing tailored services to children victims in Nigeria but it has first begun with Lagos. In this interview with YNaija’s Impact365, Mrs Tinubu lets us in on the vision for the NGO, its newly-opened advocacy facility and the

Tell us about The Cece Yara Foundation

The Cece Yara Foundation is a child-centred non-profit organisation established in March 2016 to prevent child sexual abuse, promote prevention awareness among adults and children and provide access to care, information, protection and emergency intervention for children who are sexually abused or at risk, and their family. “Cece Yara” means “Save the Child” in Hausa.

The foundation provides the ideal response to children through a 24-hour free child telephone helpline (0800 800 8001) which is manned by trained counsellors who provide a listening ear, counselling, referral services or emergency intervention when needed.

We have also opened our Child Advocacy Centre, a safe and child-friendly facility for children to make disclosures and get the help they need. It was very important for us to establish a place where our children will have their own space to disclose their abuse without fear of reprisal, shame or guilt. The Centre is run by in-house professionals, which include counsellors, social workers, child advocates, lawyers and forensic interviewers. In partnership with our medical alliances, we offer a coordinated approach in responding to abuse, and provide legal and psycho-social support – all in a single location.

The Foundation also conducts prevention programs for children and adults to raise the awareness of sexual abuse, and to educate adults on how to protect children from sexual abuse.

What was the unique experience that inspired the founding of the NGO?

It was a combination of a number of things. I was struck by the extremely high prevalence of child sexual abuse in Nigeria, the fact that children do not naturally disclose sexual abuse – due to its very nature, and the fact that children and their non-offending family members are not well supported during the investigation, and prosecution processes. Shockingly, I also learned that while 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18 in Nigeria, only 4% of girls and 2% of boys actually receive help after experiencing sexual violence.

To put it in perspective, we looked at the official statistics available, and calculated that 784,413 children in Lagos state experience sexual abuse every year. This means that 65,367 children a month, and 2,149 children a day experience child sexual abuse in Lagos State alone. This is truly staggering, and is a call for every one of us to stand up to put an end to child sexual abuse.

Some reports say six out of ten children experience some form of violence before they reach the age of 18. How prevalent have child sexual abuse cases become in Nigeria?

The report that six out of ten children experience some form of violence is valid and reliable for only Nigeria, based on the findings from ENDVAC survey conducted by the National Population Commission (NPC), the United Nation Children’s’ fund (UNICEF) and US centers for disease and prevention (CDC) in year 2014. In the context of child sexual abuse in Nigeria, the findings from this survey established that about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys experience sexual violence before the age of 18. Putting the projected population of Nigerian children in year 2017 into perspective, we can estimate that over fifty (50) million Nigerian children will experience sexual violence before age 18.

Can you put a number to the child victims you have worked with so far since inception?

It is almost impossible to put a specific number to the number of children we have worked with since inception, due to the multidimensional approach we employ in tackling child sexual abuse. Our all-encompassing strategy involves therapeutic and preventive measures.

By therapeutic, we provide medical, psychosocial and forensic support to child victim of sexual abuse while in terms of preventive measures, we provide age specific counselling for children who call our child helpline for advice, and also, we provide developmental stage focus training for school children during our outreach programs. Under the therapeutic category, we have worked with over 15 children in the last 9 months. While in the preventive measures, we have worked with over 300 children in the last 2 months.

In your relations with child victims, how have their parents contributed to the healing process?

The Foundation understands the diversity and uniqueness of each individual. Parents come in different strokes, there are parents in denial who refuse to accept the need to provide healing support for the victims. On the other hand there are also parents who have accepted the menace called “CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE” and its traumatic effects and as such they will engage child protection organisation such as ours to provide counselling and psychosocial support. These parents contribute to the healing process by consenting to give information, commit to the counselling agreement to help the victim heal and by also creating a safe environment that fosters healing of the victim.

Parents have a vital role to play in the fight to create a healthy and safe childhood for every child

Does the legal system in Nigeria effectively protect and support victims of sexual abuse?

While the laws in certain parts of the country need an upgrade, I believe that in the main, our laws are able to protect children from abuse. Nigeria has series of local laws – The Child Rights Act, The Criminal Code and The Penal Code, the various State Criminal laws, and the Child Rights Laws – and has ratified international instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The big problem is the enforcement of these laws. If these laws are adequately enforced and government policies supporting the intended objectives of these laws are well-formulated and implemented, the Nigeria Child will be well protected.

In particular, the Child Right’s Act (CRA), which was passed at the federal level in 2003, compiles provisions from many laws relating to children into one legal document. It contains provisions which aim specifically at protecting the children and ensuring their interests are protected, in general. However, it is not encouraging to note that out of 36 states in Nigeria, it is reported that only 26 states, have signed the CRA into their state law.

Are your services limited to victims in Lagos State? If no, where else have you worked?

For now, our services are limited to victims in Lagos State. We are testing water. Lagos to us is a pilot project. We have a future plan of covering the whole of Nigeria. This does not mean that we won’t provide advocacy and support for children in other states. We have since the inception of our Child Helpline provided counselling and referral services to victims outside Lagos State.

How can the government help to reduce the spate of sexual abuse against children?

Child Sexual abuse is very complex and challenging to deal with. However, there are strategies that we can implement which have proved successful in other countries.

1. The Federal and State governments must develop a national/ state strategy to prevent and address child sexual abuse, which must be implemented by the various ministries of health, youth and social development and education.

2. New laws should be passed, such as the Lagos State Executive Order on the Protection of children, which mandate the reporting of child abuse and strengthens the statutory responsibilities of schools and other organisations working with children.

4. Children should be provided with sex-education which is developmentally appropriate.

5. Schools must take child protection issues seriously and train their staff appropriately, such that they can identify the signs and symptoms of abuse, and are equipped with the knowledge to respond effectively to disclosures of abuse.

7. Children who have experienced sexual abuse should be interviewed by trained forensic interviewer, to achieve the best quality of evidence.

8. When children disclose abuse, the government should provide support to help them recover from their experiences.

9. Inter-agency communication and collaboration in investigation of child sexual abuse, must be enhanced to ensure that that the process is not traumatic for the children, and successful prosecutions and rehabilitation of children, are achieved.

10. Community awareness and prevention programs must be implemented nationwide to change the attitude of Nigerian adults, to encourage them to stop the abuse.

What are the major challenges you’ve faced in your work?

Children don’t know who to turn to when they are at risk or have experienced abuse, and adults who are uniquely placed to protect children fail to educate themselves about abuse and to learn how to minimize the risk of abuse. It gets worse when children discloses abuse, and adults respond negatively through ignorance. Sadly, children are often disbelieved and blamed for the abuse.

Parents and guardians also tend not to report immediately. This means that evidence may be limited to the child’s testimony due to lack of corroborating evidence, and may hamper police investigations. Our culture also may not send the right message to our children, who are often overlooked when the parents agree to ‘settle’ with the perpetrator in the name of peace and to avoid shame.

The investigation of child sexual abuse by police has improved significantly with the introduction of seven Family Support Units which have specially trained officers to deal with domestic and

sexual abuse. However, investigations are hampered by lack of resources, and where the victim’s family is unable to pay for reports to be transmitted or vehicles required to convey suspects are not available, the family’s quest for justice is often frustrated.

Our Court systems are certainly much better with the introduction of family courts, but the series of adjournments which cases are prone to discourages clients and their families.

What projects do you have in your plans for the future?

So far, the Foundation has been involved in a number of programs such as conducting the Needs Assessment Survey, the establishment of free 24-hour Child helpline-where children who are at risk of being abused or sexually abused can call to get help.

The following are some of the programs we have lined up in the coming months:

The Cece Yara Safe Kids Program – a child sexual abuse prevention training in schools; Child sexual abuse prevention training for teachers, parents, stakeholders and child protection personnel and also The Cece Yara Foundation’s Community Outreach on Child Sexual Abuse.

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