Child abuse: Mothers or murderers?

Biblical Prophet Isaiah, several decades ago, posed a fundamental question, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? (Isaiah 49:15). If that poser is anything to go by, it therefore means that every woman is expected to have a loving, caring and compassionate heart, particularly over her children. Of course, that is the fact. Women, generally are naturally and biologically wired by God to have a large heart to accomodate, tolerate and forebear excesses of their children, and by extension, children from other parents. Unlike their male counterparts, women are not expected to be mean, hot-tempered, brutal and wicked. 

Women’s large heart is more visibly appreciated when they are mothers. The expectations of society on mothers are higher than those of ordinary women. Little wonder a prefix like nursing could easily be attached to their nomencleture. Nursing, in this context, goes beyond mere breast-feeding a baby. It connotes empathy, problem solving, attention to details, among other virtues.

Regrettably, today’s women are proving to be different. Majority lack basic attributes of a woman, not to talk of that of mother. The nursing, caring and compassionate dispositions they are known for are gradually eroding. Our society is littered with growing cases of child abuse, molestation and other forms of domestic and gender based violence. While some attribute the ugly development to poverty and hunger ocassionned by increasing harsh economic realities, others link it to frustrations following eroding societal norms and values. 

Few days ago, two cases of child abuse by supposedly mothers were recorded in Anambra State – one in Nnewi and the other in Onitsha. While that of Nnewi involved a 9-year old girl reportedly abused by her guardian, that of the commercial city was a 7-year old boy battered by his aunt.

In the Onitsha incident, a 25-year old woman, Chinyere Ifesinachi was said to have totured her little house-help, identified as Idinmachukwu in Nnewi for purportedly throwing her baby on the floor. The suspect, a native of Alor in Idemili South Local Government Area of the state, but married to an Enugu man, reportedly used both cane and pestle to inflict varying degrees of injury on the victim. Expectedly, she blamed the devil for the act, pleading for mercy.

Parents of the child had revealed that their little daughter was sent to live with the suspect following her recent delivery of twins. The father said, “It was out of pity that we decided to send our little daughter to her after she delivered a set of twins which made it really difficult for her to cope. Our daughter left us since March, but it is very unfortunate that barely two months of her stay in Onitsha, she got all kinds of ill-treatments from a woman who supposed to be her guardian.”

While the heat from the ugly incident was yet to settle, another woman was said to have battered another underage child in Onitsha barely five days after. The suspect, Abigail Eguta had reportedly brutalized his 7-year old cousin over his inability to recite English alphabet. Admitting inflicting injuries on the victim’s body, the 24-year old woman, also accused the boy for eating fish she bought for Sunday meal.

“Actually, it was not my intention to flog him on the eyes nor to blind him, it was by mistake that the beating extended to his eyes. I am very sorry. Please, forgive me, it is the handiwork of the devil,” she sobbed.

The suspect, said to be a biological sister to the victim’s mother, however claimed she was beaten by her husband, a businessman when he returned and saw what she did to the boy. The victim, simply identified as Sunday, was brought to the office of the Commissioner for Women Affairs in the State by some good-spirited individuals who rescued him from the suspect.

The source further said it was barely a year the victim, an out-of-school child, was brought to the suspect said to hail from Ikwo in Ebonyi State, but residing in Onitsha with her family. The visibly malnourished boy also sustained swollen eyes he could hardly see with, as well as bruises on different parts of his body.

Commissioner for Women and Social Welfare, Ify Obinabo, while reacting to the Nnewi incident, said the case has been transferred to State Criminal and Investigative Department of the Police Command, Awka, adding that the arrested suspect would be charged after investigations.

Appreciating those who raised the alarm that attracted her attention to the incident, Obinabo warned that anyone caught abusing any child in the state must face the consequences, just as she aasured the victim of her safety and would not be returning to her guardian’s house after she was taken to hospital for medical examination. She also commended the Police command for continued partnership with her Ministry in ensuring such cases were handled professionally and in record time. 

On the Onitsha incident, the Commissioner condemned the act, describing it as unjustifiable and unacceptable. She decried increasing cases of child abuse in the state, regretting that such heartlessness was becoming rampant among young mothers. “One wonders why many guardians will have the minds to treat someone else’s children who are in their custody as if they are animals, while they pamper their own children,” she said.

While reprimanding the suspect for what she described as ‘wickedness against another person’s child’, Obinabo reassured her Ministry’s commitment in fishing out and legally dealing with such wicked guardians in the state. She also ordered the transfer of the case to the Anambra State Police Command for proper investigation, after which the suspect will be charged. Meanwhile, the victim has been taken to an undisclosed hospital in Awka for proper medical attention.

Also reacting, Executive Director, Gender Perspective and Social Development Centre (GPSDC) Eucharia Anekwe described the ugly trend as annoying, stressing the need to declare state of emergency on violence against children and widows. She also advocated for the establishment of task force on gender based violence at state, local and ward levels to ensure such incidents were nipped in the bud before it escalated.

She said, “The wave of violence on children is on the high side now and of great concern to us. It’s more annoying when you see young mothers being prime suspects. It’s most annoying that these women have carried their own children under the 9months labour. Yet they still have the mind to perpetuate such dastardly act.

“We’ve been pushing for a task force on gender based violence at state, local and ward levels. This will not only ensure such incidents are nipped in the bud, but that perpetuators are finished out from the onset before it escalates.

“Thank God that the governor and state judge instituted the gender based violence courts at the magistrate and high court levels. At least the two are doing justice to the cases. There’s also need to declare state of emergency on violence against children, women and even widows. 

A veteran journalist, Tony Okafor, called for government legislation banning infants from serving as house helps in the state. He also canvassed for establishment of bodies saddled with responsibility of regulating engagement of house helps and sundry services in the state. 

He said, “The two cases involved are about infants. Therefore, there should be Government legislation banning infants from serving as house helps in the state. This will make it a strict liability offence for anybody engaging the services of an infant as house help. 

“Again, government can go ahead to institute a body that will officially regulate the engagement of house helps and sundry services in the state. This will make it easy for government to have a register of house helps and punish accordingly those who engage in illegal engagement of such services, ditto maltreatment of such persons.

“Beyond these, there should be an encumbered free education for children in the state from primary to junior secondary school levels. Findings have shown that ‘legal and illegal’ levies in primary schools in the state have made it excruciatingly difficult for parents to see their children through basic education, hence the resort to sending out their children and wards as house helps.”

On his part, Executive Director, Catch Them Young Community Initiative (CATYCOI), Nonso Orakwe said it was high time the child’s act/law on parents that abuse children was brought to the fore. He also called on Ministry of Women Affairs to develop system where those with intention to enjoy services of house help would secure approval from government to enable both parent and government checkmate the ugly trend.

“The rate of child abuse in Anambra State is seriously alarming. Parents should take ownership of their children by training them by themselves. It’s quite annoying to see some barbaric attitude from some parents on some children who are there to assist them at home. 

“This is the time to dust a child’s act/law on the parents that abuse these children. Any parents that know they can’t take care of their children should not give birth to the child or take him or her as house help. The Ministry of Women Affairs should develop a system where anyone that wants to get a house help will apply and get approval from the government. This will enable both the parent and government to checkmate this ugly trend,” he said.

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