Human disrespect and lack of value for life in Nigeria became glaring evident in Chibok, when a militant group broke into a school in the Northern Nigerian town and made away with 279 Chibok girls (or more) in 2014. When the news broke there were a huge call for the then head of state Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to find the girls as soon as possible.
The world lamented the failure of the Nigerian government to protect its people, and blamed the government for lack of security. Since then the word “Chibok” has become synonymous with kidnapping and human trafficking; any time the issue of child trafficking is brought up all people refer to is the incident involving the Chibok girls.
The Guardian newspaper published an article on March 11, 2015 that highlights the hardships faced by young girls who were married off at a very young age; some of these girls end up killing their husbands due to the horrible things they experience. There have also been cases where people stood back and watched children being molested and sometimes beaten to death. The most recent example of this was reported by Vanguard News – a 7-year old boy was beaten and burnt to death by a mob in Lagos for allegedly stealing cassava flakes (gari).
We fail to see the children who are disappearing right before our eyes, one by one, in our towns, our villages, even in our streets. Some are victims of circumstance while others are practically sold away by their families. Yet more are lured away by the promise of jobs and an opportunity for education; their parents allow them to leave because of the prospect of receiving money or them having a better chance at life. No, we sit down and do nothing, preferring to “mind our business”.
The Chibok girls episode: We are at war
It’s been three years since the kidnapping of the Chibok girls by Boko Haram. The incident sparked a worldwide anti-terror campaign with countries like Israel and America offering assistance in the search for the girls. A lawyer from Abuja, Ibrahim Abdullahi started the viral hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter, after hearing Federal Minister of Education Obiageli Ezekwesili speak on the incident in Port Harcout. This eventually led to protests and people in the streets carrying placards and red tape all over Nigeria, with Ezekwesili at the forefront as an ardent voice and global advocate of the movement.
While protests have their place in advocacy, I, like many others, have one question: will carrying signs really solve the problem? The normal response in Nigeria when things like this happen is for people to take to the streets with placards – and yet it has not gone anywhere near resolving issues. We need wise men and women to work in our legal systems in order to bring about legislative change that will protect the lives of children. We need programs in our towns and village to teach the dangers and consequences of keeping silent. We need report centers, with working communication and feedback mechanisms. And yes, we also need people with megaphones and “child not bride” signs – not only in the cities or when an incident like Chibok happens, but frequently. We need those boots to be on the ground.
When it comes to molestation, some people think that only girls are affected. 1in6.org reports that one in six boys are sexually assaulted before they reach adulthood. Some are trafficked away and made to work long hours without rest in factories and mines. With this in mind, the fight for child rights should not be focused on the liberation of girls alone, but also that of boys. Though the Child Rights law was passed in Nigeria in 2003, only 24 states out of 36 had implemented it by April 2016, as reported by Punch Newspaper.
Victims not prostitutes
Night brings a familiar sight in cities like Lagos and Enugu with grown men stepping into nightclubs and hotels with girls young enough to be their daughters. This trend will not change until we change the way we view these girls. Society sees these girls as “wild girls” whose love of money has made them resort to selling their bodies to anyone who can foot the bill. The only way to change this is to see such girls for who they really are: girls who have likely been neglected and abandoned by their parents and are in a constant search for love and acceptance. Some of these girls are not necessarily after money and are actually from rich homes; instead, they crave attention. In many instances, they are girls who have been sold across states and the Internet by men who promised them a better life. And yet more are girls whose parents see them as a burden and end up selling them to any man who shows interest. Trapped within their forced marriages, they end up running away and roaming the street.
The war against ripping away the innocence of young boys and girls in Nigeria is constantly being waged every day. We should not wait to give it adequate attention when it happens on a large scale; it may be too late by then. The Chibok girls have been missing for three years now. A few have escaped, some are dead, but a good number of them are still missing. The only way to prevent incidents like this from recurring is to speak up and act whenever the slightest case of child molestation is witnessed in our locality. By doing that we will be able to make a nationwide impact in the fight against child molestation and trafficking.
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Ogochukwu Obiajulu Onyema is a writer and a content strategist currently studying banking and finance at the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus. He is passionate about a free and progressive Africa and can be reached on Twitter.