International Day of the Girl Child: Abused By Her Father, By Peace Amarie Odioko

Let’s end child marriage, let’s keep the girl child in school, let’s advocate for restoring dignity to the girl child. Let’s pledge this day to nurture and empower the girl child. Let’s begin with our family, and our community. When a girl progresses, the world progresses. Use your voice to speak for the girl child, today.

Growing up as a girl-child in our society means you have to follow so many instructions and rules laid down through generations for your gender. ‘Do this’. ‘You can’t do this’. ‘Shut up’. You are practically a slave to your father’s, brothers, and society’s demands. You have no mind of your own. They have all the control and you have none.

If you were brought up to think brothers and fathers are supposed to be the first protector of the girl-child, you can’t be more wrong because there are people who are experiencing the opposite.

I once spoke about abuse in a seminar for young girls in church, and I asked anyone who had experienced the things I talked about to see me privately for talks. Because they felt I had all the answers, I got an earful. The stories were many and some of them could make our forefathers turn in their graves and they still make my skin crawl till date, but since I promised not to divulge these, I won’t share them here.

But there was a particular case that I handed over to the Welfare Co-ordinator to take up because it froze my heart and I will talk about it briefly.

The girl was in her teens – just about 14, and she’s not bad looking. Tall and lithe, with lovely bones. Her father started sleeping with her when she was 10. The first time it happened, she had complained to her mother who had gone on to give her drugs for high fever, until she had caught them herself and was promptly shut up by threats from her husband.

Maybe due to the stigma that divorce and taking her daughter to safety would bring upon her, she stayed in the marriage while the daughter continued to be defiled by the father. By the way, she’s a full time housewife, fully dependent on the man for all her needs.

I can’t write all the details here but suffice to say that the father is a proprietor of a flourishing school in mainland, Lagos, not some rural, ignorant man. So you see, child sexual abuse doesn’t only happen in dysfunctional families. Offenders are ‘normal’ men who are involved in ‘normal’ relationships and have normal vocational/professional and social roles.

So, if perchance you’ve heard tales of fathers who sleep with their daughters and have refused to believe them. Believe these. They happen.

Even though I was convinced the young girl was telling me the truth, my pastor and his wife found it hard to accept that the father, a church elder, was an incestous Paedophile and had expressed amazement that I had just accepted the girl’s word without giving the father a chance to have his say. At the heart of this attitude is denial.

To mark the International Day of the Girl Child, I remain committed to the emancipation of the girl child. Together, we must stand against child marriage, circumcision and poor education and I am calling for a world free of violence for all girls.

I couldn’t explain it to them. Partly because I knew from reading about the subject that children seldom, if ever, lie about abuse. And partly because I knew instinctively from somewhere deep inside that she was telling me the truth because adult power and authority are such that physical force is unnecessary.

When the truth finally came out, the mother was angry with me that I had not kept their troubles ‘within the family’. So that was it. I was to be blamed for reporting the abuse to the appropriate authorities. Who gets protected by dealing with such abuse within the family? Only the abuser!

There are so many girl-children hurting, and we may never know how much. There are so many who need someone to talk to just to help them heal, but there are no listeners around. We think abusers are ‘sick’, ‘deviant’ and ‘mad’ but that labelling of abusers as being different to the norm intellectualises these issues, externalises the causes, denies responsibility, implies infrequent occurrence and effectively negates the experiences of victims of abuse. The realities of sexual abuse involve highly emotive issues – issues that most of us would like to avoid because they are extremely painful.

Of course, we as a society are also in denial. We warn our children about ‘stranger danger’ but the truth is that the vast majority of abused children are abused by relatives or close friends. We would rather objectify offenders and think of them as shadowy figures but nothing will change until we stop burying our heads in the sand. Child abuse is prevalent in our society. Talking about it is forbidden. Secrecy makes it easier for men to abuse children. There is enormous pressure on children not to tell and when they do, they may have to tell several people before they are believed. We are such a nation of insipid hypocrites, pretending like hell in public, never saying a dirty word, yet doing such nauseating things in private that are downright hideous. This is the bottom line. And an abused child is one too many.

My heart goes out to all victims of senseless sexual abuse. If you’re one and you need help, or maybe you need to just talk it out and heal, do, please, get in touch with the relevant people.

To mark the International Day of the Girl Child, I remain committed to the emancipation of the girl child. Together, we must stand against child marriage, circumcision and poor education and I am calling for a world free of violence for all girls.

I look at the girl child and see the future. Like technology, the girl-child is powerful enough to shape the destiny of a nation and dictate where the globe is headed.

Let’s end child marriage, let’s keep the girl child in school, let’s advocate for restoring dignity to the girl child. Let’s pledge this day to nurture and empower the girl child. Let’s begin with our family, and our community. When a girl progresses, the world progresses. Use your voice to speak for the girl child, today.

Peace Amarie Odioko writes from Lagos and can be reached on jovodaf@gmail.com.

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