- Addressing Child Abuse in Southern Nigeria:The Role of the Church
Child abuse can be defined as 'an intentional or neglectful physical or emotional injury imposed on a child, including sexual molestation.' (Garner 1999:10) Child abuse violates the United Nation Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989 and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child. This evil, which is also considered offensive to any genuine Christian conscience, is becoming very common in many villages, towns and cities in Southern Nigeria. In this paper, using phenomenological and hermeneutical methods, attempt is made to highlight the major typesof child abuses in Southern Nigeria, identify the factors encouraging the trend, examine generally the attitude of the churches in this regard and prescribe more child friendly attitudes and practices for the church in Nigeria.
Southern Nigeria is composed of the area of Nigeria which was referred to as the Southern Protectorate in the pre-amalgamation days of the colonial era. In 1914, Sir Fredrick Lugard, the then colonial governor of the territory, decided and indeed effected the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates to form the country today known as Nigeria (Aghayere, 1997). Southern Nigeria, for the purpose in this study, therefore, consists of the area south of the Niger and Benue Rivers horizontally traversing the country.
Typically, Southern Nigeria falls within the rain forest zone. With a climate and soil favourable for agricultural endeavours, many of the people are agrarian. In the major cities and towns such as Lagos, Ibadan, [End Page 235] Benin City, Warri, Onitsha, Owerri, Aba and Port-Harcort, a considerable size of civil and commercial employment is present. Today, these cities and towns are increasingly becoming high brow business and urban centres, seemingly manifesting the classical consequences of perverted individualism: the preponderance of the nuclear family system evolves to become a distinctly stratified society, devoid of the traditionally African closely knit community life based on kinship ties. (Akhilomen, 1998: 72–4; Peil, 1976: 266–7) Very significant to note is the fact that Southern Nigeria is mainly made up of persons who profess the Christian religion, unlike the North of Nigeria, with a predominant Moslem population and possibly a higher incidence of child abuse practices. (Kisekka, 1981) This partly explains this paper's concern with the increasing incidences of child abuses in this predominantly Christian part of the country.
Theoretical Conceptualisation of Child Abuse
Among academics, clinicians and social workers, there have been diverse theories about child abuse and neglect etiologies. During the past three decades, professionals in different occupational fields have been actively involved in the identification, treatment, and prevention of child victimisation and its detrimental consequences. For example, Tzeng et al., in their book, Theories of Child Abuse and Neglect: Differential Perspectives, Summaries, and Evaluations, appraised more than forty theoretical viewpoints that have been proposed in literature and used for clinical practice as well as academic research.
In very broad outline the medical and psychological theories claim that child abuse is an illness to be diagnosed, treated and prevented. It assumes that the identification of child abuse relies on scientific and objective knowledge. Studies in this regard have shown that most child-abusing parents were themselves abused as children. Some psychological researchers have asserted that parents who abuse children have infantile personalities. Others note that parents who abuse children unrealistically expect them to fulfill their (the parents') psychological needs; when disappointed, the parent experiences acute stress and becomes violently irritated and abusive (Microsoft Encarta Reference Library, 2004). In spite of this emphasis on individual mental disorders, few child abusers in the Southern Nigerian context can rightly be regarded as true psychotics or sociopaths, because they seem to function well, socially and psychologically, in other respects.
The socio-economic theory of child abuse posits that abuse is linkedto social deprivation, lack of social support, poverty and poor housing. [End Page 236] According to the Microsoft Encarta Reference Library, 2004, 'the relationship between poverty and abuse is strong …; the vast majority of child-abuse fatalities involve parents and guardians from the poorest families.' Marzouki (2002...