Every week we receive news of children molested by adults, teenagers or older children. Girls are not the only victims here, boys also suffer this. We read and hear stories of how minors were molested in their homes, schools, places of worship, neighbours’ homes, relatives’ homes, and so on. The painful thing is that the suspected culprits are usually people these victims trusted so much (this may be the reason they were not detected on time). These scary stories make it known to all of us that our children are not safe unless we take precautions to make them so.
I know a lot of people will say that the world is turning bad. But I’ll want to make it clear to all that because we hear a lot more about bad things these days doesn’t mean they weren’t happening before. The only reason we hear so much now is because social media brings news from different parts of the world to us.
Campaigns, seminars and conferences have been organised and carried out by concerned individuals and professional organisations to create awareness and address the problem of child abuse. Usually, these talks are organised for mothers alone, who are believed to be the ones in-charge of children upbringing. This might appear strategic but it has not really yielded the desired results because children still encounter this offence against their innocence.
There is need to reach out to as much parents and guardians as possible. There is no need to decide who the home-maker or home-keeper is in this case; every parent should be involved in keeping their children and wards safe.
I will suggest the following as ways children can be kept safe from molestations:
1. Parents should make their children understand that their private parts are still parts of their body and should therefore be talked about like they do any other part. I know that in Africa, it is a taboo to talk about your privates, but if calling them is the only way to keep them safe, then I don’t see any problem with that. However, to still respect our culture, I and my boys created euphemistic names for their privates so it doesn’t sound offensive when they say it outside. But some psychologists say that they should be free to call them whatever name(s) they are known by within the community so that they don’t easily get deceived. Whatever you decide, just ensure that your children are free to discuss every part of their body with you.
2. In as much as our children should feel free with raising issues related to their private parts, they should also be taught why those parts have to be covered and kept private. We usually start this training from birth. So, teach your child that no one should touch or see his or her private part and that he or she shouldn’t touch or see anybody else’ own. And you should also respect their privacy when they start demanding for it.
3. Handle your children personal needs yourself. Parents should not allow a third party to handle their children’s personal and private matters. For example, parents should make it their duties to bath their children and clean them up when they use the toilet. This way, that child will not allow anyone else come close. In fact, your child should know that he, mummy and daddy are the only ones that are allowed to see his privates.
4. We have to censor the movies our children watch, be it on television or on phones. Never be too tired to watch TV with your children. Please don’t say you won’t since they are watching cartoons because I have seen some cartoons that have pornographic and violent scenes. Censor whatever they have to watch to be sure they are good for their age.
5. Be mindful with what you do and say around your children. We teachers always treat cases of small children going into the toilets to ‘touch’ each other, or children using sexually suggestive words to their classmate(s). Actions like this always point towards bad parenting because they either learnt these things from watching their parents do it, or from seeing ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’ do it. It can also be from movies they watch or from practicing it with someone else. So, let’s be careful with what we do before them thinking they don’t see or understand us. We might just be destroying their innocence.
6. We should be mindful of the visitors we bring home. A psychologist that gave us a talk while I was in Ibadan said that the research she carried out showed that most of these abusers are the older cousins, uncles and aunties that came to visit and stay for sometime. So, I’ll say, be mindful of who comes into your house. Don’t ever say that you know anybody so well because it takes only six months for someone to change his values. In a situation where you can’t help having someone in, and you have vulnerable children, be bold enough to create a boundary between your children and that person. For example, tell your children not to go into uncle’s room for anything, and let uncle know that he should stay away from your children’s room. Don’t worry about being called bad names, you are only protecting your own.
This also calls for private lesson tutors. Whether he or she is coming to your house or your child is going to his, please, keep your antennas working. Don’t over-trust anyone.
7. Keep watchful eyes on your wards. Yes, be their monitoring spirits. In fact, get a hawk eye and use it to follow them around. Pay close attention to them and monitor any changes you see. Also keep a sharp listening ear for their gossips, information can come from there. Trust me, you don’t want to take chances.
8. Be your children’s friend. You should feel free to discuss anything with them. Laugh with them, gist with them, play with them, keep their secrets, let them see you as their equal; in fact create no boundary with what they can tell you. This doesn’t mean you don’t chide them when they misbehave. If your children can discuss any topic with you without you flaring up or judging them, they will definitely tell you when that man or woman starts luring them in.
9. You should help your children build their self-esteem. These children need assurance every now and now. Tell them they are intelligent, beautiful, charming, wonderful, and so on. Give them hugs every now and then. Call then by their pet names. We Nigerians are not so good in this type of thing because we think they are unnecessary excesses. If we fail to show them deep affection and reassurance, someone else will do that. Let’s just pray that person wouldn’t be the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
10. I don’t think it is improper to teach your children to stay away from people’s homes when you are not there. Some neighbours may make you feel that you are training your children to become snobs because they wouldn’t relate openly with people around. Please remember, you have your reasons for doing that. Let your children learn not to go into or stay in people homes, or offices, alone. And don’t ask them to stay in a neighbour’s house when they come back from school because you won’t be home. Keep them in the school until you are done. Then pick them from there.
11. We parents should be the first people to teach our children about their sexuality. This comes in bits. Don’t ever say they are too young to learn. Teach them the one they need to learn at each stage. For example, my first son is just eight but he is already aware that there is a difference between a man and a woman. He already knows that a man grows up to marry a woman, who was his girlfriend (*eyes rolling*). Two weeks ago he asked when his voice will change to be like a man’s own, and when he will have hairs in his armpit. And just yesterday, he watched a cartoon named “The Star” and he asked whether human beings push babies out of the ‘bom-bom’ just like grandma goats do. We are gradually there, and I’m preparing for the harder questions when they start rolling in. I hope to be ready to answer them like they are no big deal. So, don’t delay any longer. The questions are there in their minds, waiting for the right time and way to be presented. Let them know that they can ask you and get their desired answers. But warn them not to discuss what you told them with strangers.
12. What about your house helps? These are another set of people that can do this harm to children. Please, let the job descriptions of your help be limited. It shouldn’t extend to your children’s private lives. On the same hand, if you bring in a help, try to protect him or her from possible abuse by any member of your household. It is quite inhuman that you know you have a rapist in the house and you bring in a house help without keeping a closer watch over her. Let’s treat others just as we want them to treat us.
13. Our schools should also monitor their teachers, workers and head teachers. The cases of defilements in schools, and places of worship, where children are supposed to be safe, are quite alarming. Schools should teach these children how to avoid situations like this. They should open Guidance and Counselling sections and encourage these children to visit them when they have challenges. Teachers should also be friendly to these children so that they can easily relay their problems to them. Then, any teacher or member of staff that is considered a threat to the students should be immediately relieved of his duty.
As for our places of worship, parents should accompany their children to churches, mosques, temples and synagogues. Deny them of any private visits to these places, or their priests, if you are not allowed in.
14. The law is lukewarm towards rapists and child-molesters. The demand for evidence and all those legal hullaballoo is making paedophiles and rapists get away unscathed. Our legal sector should help us protect our children.
15. I have always said that psychologists should be encouraged to face their primary duties. Every year a large number of them are graduated from the universities but they all end up practicing in other fields. These people are needed here because majority of these paedophiles seem to need some counselling.
16. More awareness needs to be created on how parents – both mothers and fathers – should protect their children’s innocence. For now, we can use the social media to do that. We need to spread the news. It may not reach many people at a time, but it will eventually get to the right ones.
No matter how busy you are, remember your children are your primary objectives. After all, they are the reasons we are hustling day and night. So, take care of them and preserve their innocence so they will be there for you when you need them most.
Happy School Resumption Week!