Wednesday 20 March 2019

Rescuing The Family From Rising Incest Menace In Nigeria

Timid and slender, the pain in her eyes is intense, betraying the agony within. Her countenance is not welcoming. Even a child can tell from afar that something is wrong with the teenager. Her continuous loud sighs, coming every other two minutes seem poignant like someone who is bereaved of a loved one, a breadwinner. Ajoke, surname withheld, is not. She is rather a victim of incest. She lost her innocence at the young age of seven and has since then lived with the horror of a seared heart; horror so strong as to deaden her sense of humanity and hope.

Judith Lewis Herman, American psychiatrist and author, whose work has focused on the understanding and treatment of incest and traumatic stress, describes Ajoke’s situation eloquently: “The horror of incest is not in the sexual act but in the exploitation of children and the corruption of parental love.”

At age seven when Ajoke’s father started having canal knowledge of her, it was the dawn of another world, filled with hate and contempt. Her father had just lost his job and could no longer cater to the home, which forced her mother, Shade, to leave her and other siblings to their fate with their father.

And it didn’t take long before the dragon was unleashed. The father one night tip-toed into the room Ajoke shared with her siblings, covered her mouth, and led her to his room…that was the first time. The incestuous relationship continued for seven uninterrupted years until Ajoke became pregnant and it became public knowledge.

Ajoke’s story is not new to many Nigerians. It is connected with that of a middle-aged man, Moses, in Edo State was recently arrested by the police for allegedly defiling and impregnating his 13-year-old daughter. The suspect had been having carnal knowledge of his daughter as far back as when the child was seven years old, a clear case of incest, child abuse and molestation. It was also when neighbours discovered that the girl was pregnant for her father that they informed the police and he was arrested. The minor, who is said to be five months pregnant, said her father had threatened to kill her if she exposed the affair.

Also, recently, a medical practitioner, Alagbe Oyedeji, told an Ikeja Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Court how a father allegedly used his fingers to test his 12-year-old daughter’s virginity and subsequently raped her. It was also reported that the man would lace the girl’s drink with a drug to make her sleepy before having carnal knowledge of her at their Oworonsoki, Lagos home.

Oyedeji, a consultant at the Mirabel Centre made the revelation at the trial of Emmanuel Idoko, a 37-year-old commercial motorcyclist, for allegedly sexually assaulting his daughter with his fingers. While being led in evidence by A.O. Alagbe, the state prosecutor, he said Idoko’s daughter was referred to Mirabel Centre by the Divisional Police Officer of Ketu Police Station on November 28, 2017. He hinted that the client declared in her history that her father though not married to her mother, had her and her brother living with him, adding that her ordeal started in 2016.

Experts have expressed concerns that these occurrences could lead to an unhealthy and weak society if proactive measures were not taken to stop them. Meanwhile, psychologists have linked the frequencies to depression or mental illness. Clerics, psychologists, human rights activists, among others believe no sane person could degenerate and stoop low to have sexual relationship with his daughter.

While many are of the opinion that the perpetrators must be brought to book to serve as a deterrent to others, some spiritual heads believe deliverance is the only solution to it as they consider it an anathema. Speaking with The Guardian, an emotional intelligence application coach, Mr. Enahoro Okhae, who highlighted factors that could be responsible for such immorality, listed depression, emotional imbalance, sex deprivation, lack of confidence, among others. But he stressed that the cause of incest could not be generalised. He linked the cause to the economic situation in the country, saying an idle hand is the devil’s workshop.

“We cannot generalise the cause of incest. If I am going to work with 10 fathers to find out what actually happened, why they are sleeping with their daughters, I am probably going to come up with 10 different reasons. Everything is tied to emotional imbalance; nobody who is balanced emotionally would do that. Obviously, they are choosing to do it because it’s either as a form of relief or they are getting some level of gratification, which they are not getting in something or somewhere else. It is an emotional imbalance that could stem from depression, loneliness, deprivation, or psychological issues. There are different reasons, but for every reason, no perfect human being would do that.”

An activist and executive director, Global Rights, Abiodun Baiyewu-Teru, also lamented the growing cases of incest. In his opinion, it is a pointer to the government’s failure to safeguard Nigeria’s children and systemically end the impunity associated with sexual violence and child abuse. He said: “When children are born in Nigeria, apart from issuing them birth certificates, no one provides state oversight over them, or prescribes a minimum standard of care that caregivers must provide. Whether they go to school, are denied essential medicine, subjected to slavery, trafficked, or sexually violated, the state does not concern itself with these important obligations that Nigeria subscribed to by ratifying the Child’s Rights Act.

“Except perpetrators are made to face the consequences of their actions, sick men and women will continue to take advantage of young, defenceless children and other vulnerable persons. Perpetrators should be made to face serious psychological screening and, if found to be in control of their faculties, be made to face the full wrath of the law. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) need to speak out against perpetrators and ensure swift justice for victims.”

Apart from the fact that cultures and religions, science and medicine frown on incest having established that products of incestuous liaison face a high risk of becoming imbeciles or suffering from chromosomal irregularities as a result of the sameness of the bloodlines, incest is a crime in Nigeria by virtue of Section 3, subsection 1, sub-subsection b of the Matrimonial Causes Act.

Also, Section 33 of the Marriage Act forbids sexual relations and marriage among people who are related by blood. It is captured as “Prohibited degree of consanguinity.” Incestuous relationships or marriages are further prohibited in the 1st Schedule (Section 3) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, Cap 220, Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 1990, where it lists the prohibited degree of consanguinity to include that between father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister, uncle and aunt, niece, and nephew.

Again, Section 214 (3) of the Criminal Code Act (a criminal law that is applicable in and covers all parts of Nigeria), Caption 77, Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) prescribes a minimum of 14 years imprisonment for those found guilty of incestuous liaison, which is referred to as “offence against morality.”

Incest is as old as time itself. The 19th chapter of the book of Genesis in the Holy Bible records incest between Lot and his daughters. Lot’s children out of fear and desperation to leave a legacy for their family, had said: “Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.”

Okhae, who is also the Managing Director at Pause Factory, agrees that unlawful carnal knowledge is not new and has become more pronounced since the advent of technology. He, however, warns the media to play low on the subject so as not to bring it to the consciousness of the emotionally imbalanced.

“I am going to appeal to the media to be very careful because when things begin to grow in the environment, they begin to shape people’s thought. If for instance, I tell you don’t see yellow, the brain does not have the capacity to stop you from seeing yellow, once you hear yellow, it comes to your subconscious.

“So, when the emotional imbalanced begins to hear that there is incest everywhere in town, anything can happen, especially when they are lonely with their daughters in the house. What you keep hearing in your environment is tied to your belief system and thought, it is linked to your emotion and eventually leads to your action,” he said.

But the Prelate of Methodist Church, Nigeria, Dr. Samuel Uche, thinks otherwise. He believes there is no justification for incest. He considers it as an abomination in both the social and spiritual circles. “It is an abomination, culturally, socially and spiritually. It should not be mentioned or heard of. It is a psychological problem. Many people are mad and madness is in stages, some people are mentally derailed, I think either because of nervous breakdown, alcoholism or psychosis, any normal person cannot have sex with his daughter,” he said.

He expressed optimism that with the help of the Holy Spirit and total submission to God and forgiveness of sins, anyone involved in it would be free. He noted: “Only the Holy Spirit can change them, it is a habit that is spiritual because the spirit that is operating in them is diabolical and wicked. The only thing that can change that wicked spirit is the Holy Ghost. They must embrace God and when they do, they must go for confession and their sins will be forgiven. That is the only thing that can heal them; no medicine can heal them, only God.”

The Archbishop of Lagos, Anglican Communion, Alfred Adewale Martins, described incest as an abominable act in the sight of God, adding, “It is something that is unthinkable from the human point of view. Illicit sex is a sin, and it is even worse when it is done between the father and daughter, it is evil.

“I think what is responsible for this is an explosion of different kinds of things from the social media through which all kinds of illicit affairs are glorified. There is the need to censor social media. Also, people should remember that for every action or inaction, we would be answerable to God one day. It is true that it is more rampant in homes where the father and mother are not living together, but there are cases where it is even happening under the nose of the mother. This, therefore, calls for vigilance,” he stated.

Also, the founder and president of ACTS Generation, a non-governmental organisation, which combats domestic violence and child abuse in Nigeria, Laila St. Matthew-Daniel, disclosed that the association had treated about 10 cases of incest in the last six months. She identified repeated nearness, body needs, opportunity factor, personal characteristics of the offender, and the effect of alcoholism as major social factors that could be responsible for incest.

She added that high cases of divorce and the girl-child being left in the care of the father were added factors. According to Matthew-Daniel, in some situations, the mother knows, but due to a warped sense of right and wrong, keeps quiet for shame and fear of causing chaos in the family.

“In some quarters, people attribute a negative diabolical spiritual angle when it concerns a father and a young daughter,” she added, urging people to watch out for behaviour in a child that is unusual and mimics any aspect of sexual acts. “Sometimes, a child may not want to be carried or touched by a male relative, that may be a sign of being exposed to a painful act the child doesn’t want to experience again,” she stated.

Matthew-Daniel narrated the story of a seven-year-old who was caught by her mother masturbating in the bathroom. She said: “It turned out that the cousin who lived with them had been having penetrating sex with her. Sometimes, a child may have a fear of the dark, which is when most incest activities occur, pain around the genital area and even difficulty in swallowing, which is a sign of oral sexual activity.”

In curtailing this trend, she recommended cleansing rites done to prevent any repercussions and stop the incest. “It is a ‘secret’ that should not be handled by the family, but brought to light, and reported – enabling justice to run its course. When it is hidden or judged within, it gives the go-ahead to other people who may believe they can get away with incestuous acts. From the societal angle, justice must be allowed to run its course and therapy administered to the victim,” she noted.She advised parents to educate their children on issues relating to sex and all its nuances, which include anyone who wants to fondle their breasts, sitting on laps of older opposite sex, rubbing against them or sexual comments.

According to her, most times, a child has a good sense that something is ‘wrong’ but may keep quiet, especially when threatened. She urged parents to be vigilant about sudden or increased physical contact that might pass as acceptable with a family member, like sitting on an elder’s laps more often or caressing of a child’s hair, cheeks or body more often. “One must not be paranoid but just be vigilant. Also to assure the child not to be afraid of anything because sometimes they may not want to talk because of the adult figure of a father or relative,” she said.

On her part, the coordinator, Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, advised parents and care-givers to have a good relationship with their children, saying this would enable them to confide in them if an untoward situation occurs.

According to her, the DSVRT has received about 10 cases of incest in the past six months and numerous cases of sexual abuse of children and minor. Her words: “One of the things we have done and we are still doing is ensuring the implementation of safeguarding and child protection policies in Lagos State. Over the last six months, we have engaged more than 300 school health officers from government schools.

“This is in partnership with the Ministry of Health, and they are to ensure safeguarding and child protection policy. We have also engaged over 300 public and private schools administrators, counsellors, teachers, and caregivers in safeguarding and child protection policy as well as mandated reporting.”To her, teachers and secondary caregivers are important in curbing this menace because of the pivotal role they play in curbing abuse and the amount of time spent with young ones, hence the need to be trained on signs to look out for and steps to take in responding to disclosures of abuse from children.

“Teachers play a significant role in curtailing this trend. Children spend a significant time daily with the teachers in school and as such, they are expected to ensure proper monitoring and safeguarding of the children. Hence, this was a basis for concern in ensuring that schools make the teachers be aware of the safeguarding and child protection policy and they ensure its implementation so that a child accesses his or her teacher without fear or condemnation.

“Teachers are the next nurturing point and sexual education is key – even in children. There are learning instructions on how to teach children of different ages what abuse is, how to resist and report. They also must be observant of any unnatural behaviour of a child – especially if they suddenly become withdrawn and sullen,” she advised.

On what can be done to stem the tide, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) advised parents to watch over their children, particularly females, to guard them against incest, rape and indecent assault. Its chairperson in Kwara State, Mrs Salmat Mohammed, expressed worry over the new trends of incest, rape and indecent assault cases in the society. She said the trend had extended to some fathers allegedly impregnating their daughters, brothers engaging in sexual acts with their sisters, stepfathers with stepdaughters and uncles with nieces, among others.

Mohammed urged parents to always report cases of rape, incest and indecent assault to the relevant authorities, adding that the federation was poised to tackle all forms of violence against women and children. She said the Nigerian law prescribed life imprisonment for anybody caught in such a devilish act of indecent assault, rape and incest

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