Welcome to this page today. It gives me great pleasure to continue this very important discussion today. I think this is the second question, you may want to ask, is the totality of what constitute an abuse to a child well understood?
This question is very critical because of our recent history, particularly in Nigeria. It seems we have enthroned abuse of children as a tool of spiritual treatment. We read the terrible cases of children being accused of witchcraft, flogged, dehumanised and separated from their parents in the name of spiritual deliverance. In most cases, it is the leaders of the religious places of worship, who convince the parents of the child that they are possessed by demons.
Recently, one of the protagonists of labelling children witches was reported to have been deported from the United Kingdom on the grounds that ‘she is a risk to youngsters’ and ‘her presence here is not conducive to the public good.’ She is said to have written in one of her books, ‘If a child under the age of two screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health he or she is a servant of Satan.’ Gary Foxcroft of Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), commenting on her deportation said, ‘the fundamental problem is that churches need to be regulated. Anyone can set up a church tomorrow in their own garden shed with no commitment to child protection…’
What about a group of religious people, who defend child marriage in the name of their religious beliefs. The negative physical, physiological, mental, health and social impact of child marriage is evident for all to see. As a matter of fact, child marriage remains one of the most dangerous breeding grounds for multiple abuses of children today.
In all the examples shared above, they have no credible, sensible and spiritual explanation, within the latitude of the faith they profess for their misdeeds. The only explanation to any rational mind is that the people, who perpetrate this kind of ill-treatment against children, suffer from acute ignorance, paranoia borne out of their experience and misguided interpretation of same. Now, abuse of a child is not excusable on any ground, physical or spiritual. I do not believe that the articles of faith of any faith approve child abuse in any form under any guise or disguise.
I have shared these direct and obvious cases of abuse, which many religious places of worship do not see as abuses as the forerunners of other subtle form of abuses children may be exposed to under the custody of religious places of worship or with their approval. Approval here may be deliberate or involuntary due to lack of knowledge of what actually constitute child abuse. The challenge is that if some religious places of worship do not see the bizarre example of child abuses as abuses, how much more the subtle and hidden form of abuses. It is also important to note that there are religious places of worship, which will vehemently kick against all of the obvious types of abuse earlier discussed but will overtly or covertly, ignorantly or deliberately perpetrate the subtle forms of abuses I will be sharing now. The unfortunate fact is that whether subtle or obvious, abuses have almost same impact on the child. Abuse is not less deadly because it is subtle. As a matter of fact subtle abuses are likely to go unaddressed throughout a child’s childhood because the perpetrators and their immediate environment do not see their acts or omission as abuses. In some cases, primary caregivers ignorantly charges secondary caregivers to perpetrate abuses against their children in the name of discipline. Unfortunately, ignorance does not mitigate the impact of abuse on children.
These subtle abuses happen mostly when children are under the custody of the children departments/arms of the religious places of worship for weekly meeting or gathering. The subtle abuses may emanate from lack of understanding of what it means to discipline children; caregiver’s lack of knowledge of child development and how to employ same to help the children under their care. Abuses resulting from the foregoing may be emotional in nature, ranging from yelling at a child at every instance in the name of correction; comparing one child to another; labelling of children according to what the caregiver perceived to be their weaknesses; neglect, which result to lack of care or inadequate care; making suggestive statements to the child or cracking suggestive jokes; engaging in suggestive touches of children; subjecting children to practices, which benefits are not clearly explained to the children and even when explained, they (children) are not able to appreciate or enjoy by virtue of physical and mental development(for example fasting) and many more.
I remember when I was in primary school; many children were forced by their parents to observe either the Christian or Muslim fasting exercises. While they claimed to be fasting while at home, they came to school and ate. As far as many of them were concerned they were being punished by their parents as they know next to nothing about the values of the fasting exercise and the benefits for them thereof. This has direct implication on the physical emotional stability of the child. I keep wondering while children, particularly at very tender age are subject to either thirty days or forty days fasting. I wonder what the parents seek to achieve.
Abuse may also include subjecting the child to treatments, which are purely subject to the parent’s faith, which is inimical to the health of the child. For example there is group of religious place of worship, which do not believe in blood transfusion. It is pathetic that when their children, who are not in position to comprehend the justification for their belief, are sick and need blood transfusion, they are not allowed to.
Now, it is difficult to determine where a religious place of worship stands in defining abuse, except we seek to know what they genuinely believe about children. A person or organisation’s belief about children goes to the core of how they treat children. Their believe is mainly informed by their understanding of the codified articles of faith of their religious beliefs, the prevalent culture of their environment; personal experiences of the leaders, which have become unnecessarily generalised and instituted as doctrine and practices, perceived spiritual instructions and interpretation of same etc.
Permit me to state here that for the belief of any group of people about children is part of their belief. The test of belief in our relationship with children is the best interest of the child. Once our belief is in conformity with the best interest of the child, I believe our definition of abuse will automatically serve the best interest of the child. I believe that the best interest of the child gives us a template to give expression to the universal principles of how God created this world to function. I publicly opine today that these universal principles are actively in support of adequate protection of the child.
I think I should sign out here. I will resume tomorrow to define the meaning and scope of the principle of the best interest of the child and attempt to allow it to guide us to offer a definition of what constitute abuse. Please note that to shut the doors of abuse against our children, what constitute abuse must be understood by us all. As you sign out also today, I charge you to Think the CHILD…Think TODAY…Think the FUTURE.