There is never a good time to hear about the rape of a child – the defilement of body and a brutal end to innocence and trust. It must be harder for parents to wrap their heads around this tragedy when their children are assaulted in a place where one presumes they will be safe: school. The allegations about the rape of students in Hassan Ibrahim Gwarzo Secondary School for Boys in Kano are coming at the heels of similar accusations against lecturers in the University of Calabar and University of Lagos. This is only the tip of the iceberg – students raping students, lecturers raping students – those who work in education, civil society and law enforcement know that these abuses are more common than society cares to admit.
While the Kano State Government has rightly closed the school pending the outcome of an investigation into the allegations, the case of Gwarzo Secondary School as reported in the media reveals the tensions between interests and motives in cases like this. A mother and her son have bravely shared the horrors of the boy’s attack on Radio Freedom Kano including allegations that there are boys in JSS3 who have been serially raped since they were in JSS1, but the school and other parents deny the accusations.
Nigerian parents are not the first to want to bury their heads in the sand. From all over the world there are stories of survivors of rape, child abuse and incest who reveal that as children they were never believed. They tried in whatever way was most comfortable to give clues and to ask for help but in many cases the parents do not want to confront the truth about the alleged abuser (brother, spouse, benefactor, teacher, etc.). In other cases, the parents believe or have strong suspicions and they choose to remove the child from the place of harm, but they never prosecute, they never find out the truth and sadly in many cases they never provide that child with the trauma counseling required.
For many, reporting and trying to get justice is not an option and this is not necessarily a selfish decision. It is a pragmatic function of understanding how difficult it is to get justice in Nigeria – a failure of the medical community, the police, the prosecution and the judiciary. It is an acceptance of our culture regarding sexual crimes, our preference to blame the one assaulted and the low regard we have for the integrity of children. Finally, there is shame. Many families will be quick to point out that trying to get justice, punish the perpetrator and in some small way reward the bravery of the survivor in coming forward, is a small price to pay for the intangible of shame (an irony for a country where those in positions of authority have no shame). Many believe the entire future of the child will be jeopardized by speaking up – better to deny it, forget it, pretend it never happened.
The reaction of the proprietor of the school, Prof Ayagi as reported in Daily Trust (November 1 2015) is troubling. For him, this is clearly and without an iota of doubt in his mind, an attempt to destroy the reputation of his school – the product of his sweat and blood and no doubt a source of income. He has 100% unshakable faith in his teachers, the students, the guards and other employees that none of them could be a rapist. But he is not prepared to share fraction of this faith with the students and parents who have raised an alarm about a practice, an organised system of raping new students that if true is so disturbing to consider that it causes physical pain.
How does one glowing with the self satisfaction of those who believe boarding school builds character drop off a an 11 year old in boarding school for the first time, hug him and leave him with words of advise to obey his elders and seniors and work hard only to have this child raped repeatedly for years?
Now that we have a few brave mothers and survivors of rape coming forward to say this ‘is what was done to me’, society has a duty to say in response – ‘what can we do to reduce sexual harassment and rape in our schools?’ What can we do to punish those involved and how can we make it harder for school authorities to deny what is going on within their walls, under their watch and to take greater care for the lives of those they are responsible for?
How do we get the medical community to do its part? Kano State has ordered an investigation but how equipped with know how and technology are our hospitals to examine and determine rape and how long the rape has been going on? Most hospitals have no rape kits and there have been cases where survivors of rape lose their right to justice because the medical examination has failed to focus on what is required as evidence. When will a Nigerian court say it is absolute nonsense that evidence of rape is admissible only when it comes from our public hospitals – the same hospitals Nigeria’s VIPs will not subject themselves to for routine check ups?
How do we get the police to develop the skills and sensitivity required to handle cases of sexual violence? Why is the police slow to react and obnoxious to the one reporting? What are the minimum standards we must insist on from the NPF in handing rape accusations especially with minors?
It is not acceptable for any parent to reason that despite knowing about the sexual abuse of children in a school, the children should remain because this practice might be worse else. The resort to prayers is not acceptable and not just because it presupposes that those who were abused were not praying.
Those who care about children and about education must collaborate to insist on certain minimums in our schools: sexual harassment policies, reporting and investigating procedures and rape kits in all public hospitals with trained personnel at all levels of intervention. Education in Nigeria already suffers from too much – we do not need to sign off on a system where the trade of for getting a half decent education is to be serially raped. We owe it to ourselves and to our sense of what is right and just to demand from federal and state governments more care and concern about sexual harassment in our schools.