Nigeria: Harmful Traditional Practices

The Anti Child Abuse Society of Africa (ACASA) in Nigeria works to raise awareness about different forms of child abuse, campaigns against the inhuman treatment of children and fights against and traditional harmful practices. Recently, ACASA took its campaign to a rural community in the north central region of Nigeria where it gave awareness raising workshops, gave vaccinations and campaigned for girls' right to education.

Violence against children is rampant in this region and the UN Study’s regional consultations must have contributed to raising awareness about the prevalence and consequences of this practice on the life and well-being of children in remote parts of Africa. For instance, corporal punishment is not seen as a crime in this area - even when it causes life-threatening injuries.  

The common forms of child violence in this region can be grouped into:

Therapeutic Violence. This is mainly in the form of 'efidan', a local word for scarring. Many children are cut severely on their faces, hands, legs, chest, stomach and back, especially following febrile convulsions using no sterilised instruments. These cuts lead to massive blood loss and tetanus – and the journey to the hospital is long. Those children who do not die before reaching the hospital, die shortly afterwards. They may die from the cuts, the blood loss, the complicating infections (including tetanus), or from the massive herbal preparations that they were forced to drink which in many cases led to renal failure, abdominal distension and circulatory collapse. Others survive with several life damaging complications.

These scarrings are different from another type of scaring which is culturally accepted by the people of the region - usually carried out during adolescence on the neck and arms. The extent of the damage these scarings have caused in the spread of HIV and AIDS in the region is not yet known. This is a form of child violence that parental education, advocacy and cultural re-orientation can mitigate.

Nutritional violence. In this region, there is also what ACASA describes as 'nutritional violence'. Innocent children are forced (usually by their mothers, grandmothers, or other caregivers) to swallow watery food that they do not like. In this practice, when attempt is made to feed a child with cereal and the child refuses, he/she is put in-between the caregivers legs and held, the head is bent low so that the mouth and nose lie below the caregivers knees, the nostrils are closed by the care giver using one free hand and the other is used to force the food down the child's throat. The more the child cries, the better, since each shout is usually followed by a session of gasping for air during which the food in the child's mouth involuntarily enters the esophagus (and sometimes the trachea).

Sometimes, the child aspirates and develops aspiration pneumonia or chemical pnuemonitis. This type of violence is not restricted to the Nupe tribe, but is also practiced among the Hausas, Yorubas and Gwaris.

Marital violence. In this community, child marriage is very common involving children as young as 12 years old. Some of the affected children reach puberty in the house of their husbands. Violence occurs when the child refuses the forced marriage, decides against it or finds someone who she would like to marry later in life but is not the choice of her parents. In such situations, the child is corporally punished, bundled as a bag of corn to her husband - who is sometimes old enough to be her grandfather, and commanded to remain their and be a good wife. Some of these unfortunate children end up as the third or fourth wives of these elderly men, many experience obstructive labour and consequently develop fistula and are abandoned by both parents and husband to their fate. The act of forcing a young girl to marry somebody she does not want to in itself constitutes violence.

Many of these children are given to the men free for later economic gain to the family or to build alliances for business or political benefits - a practice called sadarkiar in the local dialect.

Occupational Violence. Children as young as 12 frequently work on farms or in forests in this region. They work regardless of the climatic condition and often sleep in the open and eat inadequate meals. When they ‘do not perform’, they are corporally punished and sometimes denied meals.

Cultural violence.  In Africa, there are many cultural practices that are acts of violence on the child. These include female genital mutilation (otherwise called female circumcision), tribal marking and scaring, rites of passage (for instance from childhood to adulthood), initiations, marriage ceremonies, etc. In different parts of Africa, these cultural practices are carried out on children with or without their consent. Physical and psychological damage often results and some children may even die from such practices. There is therefore a need for a total overhauling of these cultural practices that hamper child health and development.

The issues described above urgently need to be highlighted the final report of the UN Study on Violence against Children, so that they will be tackled when the UN decides to translate its promises from mere articles to expressions of reality in the lives of these children. If child abuse is defined as 'attitudes, behaviours and actions of individuals, communities, societies and governments that adversely affect proper and complete physical growth, mental and psychological health, social integration, spiritual and intellectual development of the child' (ACASA 1992), then every effort must be put in place to save our children from abusers. Remember, every child just has one life to live - it is immoral to deny him or her that chance!

Dr Excellence Osita Oleribe.

ACASA 2006





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