Taiwo Akinlami: Catalyst For Good Parenting
By Jemi Ekunkunbor
From an abused background that left him emotionally broken, with low self esteem and long struggle with identity crises, Taiwo Akinlami has risen to become not only a voice for children, but a catalyst for good parenting and family strengthening education in Nigeria. The Social Development lawyer of over two decades is a Children’s Human Rights / Protection and Family Strengthening Advocate, as well as, Subject matter expert on Securing a friendly environment for the African child.
The author of 11 books and four e-books, has worked with several organizations like UNICEF, British Council, USAID, UNFPA, SOS Children’s Village, Facebook and Google reaching over 25,000,000 children.
Against the background of International Children’s day celebrated last Thursday, Allure had this interesting chat with the husband of Oluwafunmilayo as he brings one more time, his message of hope to a world where Children’s rights are violated by primary and secondary caregivers.
Nigeria marked International Children’s Day on Thursday. How would you describe the state of the Nigerian child?
This question invokes a deep feeling of sadness. Is there really anything for the Nigerian child to celebrate? We cannot discuss the state of the Nigerian child without first discussing the state of Nigeria, which is the national landlord of the Nigerian child.
It is sad that this country which UNICEF describes as ‘country of the young,’ seems to have no plan for the young. The nation has been christened the Poverty Headquarters of the world. The impact of the state of our nation is reflected in the fact that 13.5 million Nigerian children of ages 5-14 are out of school, the highest in the world; 1 in 5 Nigerian children never reach the age of 5. according to the World Bank in 2018, ‘108 million Nigerians are estimated to be homeless, based on an average family of six people per housing unit.’
According to UNICEF, ‘clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practices are essential for the survival and development of children and only 26.5 per cent of the population use improved drinking water sources and sanitation facilities. UNICEF submits, ‘Nigeria has the second highest burden of stunted children in the world.
As you can see, the precious Nigerian children are not only denied their rights, but they are also abandoned and except we advocate for a quick intervention, the nation does not have a future.
What is her situation considering covid 19?
It is important to note that the state of the Nigerian Child is not worsened by the COVID -19 Pandemic. The real problem is the mismanagement of the pandemic by the Nigerian government. Do you know that according to UNICEF, over 42 million Nigerian children could not access education during the COVID-19 lockdown as they had no access to the internet and the tools to learn online? Do you know that many of our precious children do not have access to healthcare, nutrition, and the rest because of the gross mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic? It is sad that even today, many public schools across the country are yet to resume fully.
The violation of children in recent times has been on the rise. Why do you think this is so?
The COVID-19 pandemic and the tension created by the lockdown, made worse the cases of domestic violence especially as a Third World nation. Also, the primary parents, who have the duty of care, are distracted by the state of the nation. There is no serious nation on earth where the responsibility of raising children rests solely on the shoulders of the primary parents.
There are four institutions, responsible for raising children. The family is first, and it is its responsibility to inculcate a positive value system in their precious children and be their first line of defence against all forms of abuse. The second is the community; the neigbours, the religious bodies, the media, the schools etc, and their role is to reinforce the positive value system being inculcated by the family and provide the second line of defence against all forms of abuse. The third is the state whose role is to create an egalitarian society, where social protection is provided and equal opportunities for social and economic emancipation are made available for most of the citizenry.
As it is in Nigeria today, the parents are the only ones playing the roles that four institutions are designed to play. Therefore, they are distracted from their primary duty of inculcating positive value system, and being the first line of defence for the protection of their precious children from all forms of abuse, particularly, child sexual abuse.
Would you say that the parenting style by some parents makes their children vulnerable to violation?
Well, Nigerian parents need to be encouraged because they are raising their children under exceedingly difficult circumstances, doing the duties of four institutions.
Poverty is the number one threat to effective parenting in Nigeria. When the existence of a people is abused, they have nothing to offer but to abuse their precious children or expose them to abuse.
Those living above the poverty line must accept the onerous responsibility of raising children in an over sexualized 21st century, and give themselves to acquiring the right knowledge, skills, and attitude to protect their precious children. They must keep their children away from strangers, be vigilant, and watch out for signs of abuse.
What kind of lessons can children be given to help them against rapists?
Our children need sound sexuality education which focuses on their personal safety and self-protection. It begins with making it clear to them that every part of their body is private, and that nobody has the right to touch it, except, for the purpose of providing cautious care and moderate affection. They must be taught that no touch is good except it is necessary. So, instead of focusing on teaching them good touch/bad touch, we must focus on necessary and unnecessary touch. They must be taught to raise an alarm and ensure they are heard when they consider a touch unnecessary.
Children must be aware that superior to protecting the areas we call the private part, is protecting what I call healthy and safe private space. which he/she must be taught not to allow anyone to breach.
Children must also be taught that those who want to abuse them do not start from the place we call private parts. They start with profiling the child, to ascertain his/her level of vulnerability. Then they proceed to grooming, making suggestive statements to the child like, calling him or her my wife or my husband, touching parts of his/her body, and building a secret relationship with the child. The goal of grooming is to get the child to be comfortable with abuse and the abuser. After grooming, the abuser attacks and violates the child and thereafter, manipulates the child by promising him/her pleasure, or employing subtle or direct threats to keep him/her quiet. Our children are not safe until they have the right teaching and understand how the mind of the abuser works.
Recently, sex education seems to have been brought back aggressively with a viral music video “private part”. How appropriate is that video?
I think it is a good place to start, but sexuality education must transcend teaching our precious children about the private part and public part. They should be taught that every part of their body is private to them and nobody can touch it except for the purpose of providing care and conscious affection.
What is your take on people sharing videos of minors who are being violated?
I think sharing videos or other materials, which show the nakedness of children is both morally reprehensible and illegal. It is nothing but distributing child pornography and expanding the frontiers of child sexual abuse. This is against the provisions of the Child’s Rights Act 2003. In developed climes, people are arrested and prosecuted for being in possession of such materials.
Personally, I do not watch such videos or expose myself to such materials and I warn people not to send them to me. I do not think I need such materials in which the innocence and sexual dignity of our precious children are being denigrated for me to know that child abuse by adults or peers are taking place, and that we need to do something about it. The facts are palpable to the blind and audible to the deaf. I think what we need to do is to hold the parents, community, state and international community responsible and accountable for the protection of our precious children from sexual and other forms of abuse through the establishment of a system of protection, codified into a policy and broken down into processes for the ease of implementation in both private and public institutions.
Are there tips to identifying a potential rapist/child molester?
Most child sexual abusers are people close to our children; fathers, mothers, stepfathers, stepmothers, siblings, uncles, aunties, cousins, nephews, nieces, e.t.c Secondary caregivers like teachers, nannies, neighbours, and others. The closer people are to a child, the more sexual abuse is likely. It does not mean everyone in the categories mentioned above are all the time abusers.
So, we teach our children to suspect those who give them the slightest reason to suspect them, and they must speak up.
How can the girl child be best protected?
First, the girl child has to be raised as a strong vessel and as an individual who can hold her turf in society. We must never raise her as a victim or property and an appendage of men. Teach the girl child how to protect herself. Serve her the right menu of Child Sexuality Education.
Never put the girl child in harm’s way for whatever reason because, we have seen instances where the girl child’s father, stepfather and men, who her mother has one form of relationship with, is the abuser. In some bizarre instances, the mother is aware but does not speak up or even covers it up because she wants to save her relationships with these men. Abuse must be reported. Silence only weakens the abused and strengthens the abuser. But if for whatever reason sexual abuse occurs, we must teach the girl child to speak up. Many do not speak up because they claim that the girl child may not find a husband in the future.
Silence shields the abuser from facing the consequences of his actions, including prosecution and conviction.
Share with us your most memorable experience of a rape case you were ever involved in handling?
I have been in the middle of many cases, but I think the most memorable was the case of a boy child, who was allegedly sodomized by her two seniors in a highbrow private school in Nigeria. It is memorable because it exposed my thinking that the fact that a school is big and looks sophisticated, does not mean they can provide the best of protection for our precious children.
The most painful aspect of this case was that the school in question did not have a child protection policy, no anti-bullying policy, no plan to educate the children on their sexuality and strategies for playing their roles in their personal safety and self-protection. It was a painful case because the parents trusted the school because of its sophistication and size; but the school let the parents down by not having in place a system of protection.
As someone, who was serially, sexually molested from age 6-8 by a female adult and neighbour, I understand what it means for the boy child to be sexually abused and most importantly, I understand what it means for those who have the duty of care to abandon their duty, exposing us to danger of child sexual abuse, which impact is for a lifetime. Knowing all of these, we fought relentlessly to get justice for our client and ensure that the parents get help for him.
What can the government do in light of children’s day celebrations?
I do not think the present government can do much as it seems to be absent. I do not think we can put our fate in the hands of the government. We must make it a point of duty to agitate for an egalitarian society, where the rights of every Nigerian, parents and their precious children’s rights to basic needs in life are respected as priorities in governance.