I recently got the opportunity to speak at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women – a CSW 57 Series workshop on “Winning Strategies for Preventing Violence against Women – Sharing Global and National Models.” Preparing for this speech allowed me to think about the Nigerian experience. The Nigeria that I remember is one where violence is prevalent and one where a cultural bias elicits silence from victims of abuse. The cycle goes thus: father beats mother, mother and father beat child, child goes to school and is beaten by either peers, teachers, or persons of authority. The average Nigerian child is exposed to gross acts of violence at home and at school hence the child becomes a victim within this cycle and a future perpetrator. This issue of violence is not unique to Africa or Nigeria but I am most familiar with the Nigerian terrain. The act of child abuse through the use of violence is very prevalent throughout the Nigerian society and the question is what can be done to stop it.
All too common whenever a parent beats a child you will often hear the biblical phrase, “spare the rod and spoil the child” but I think that this interpretation is wrong. The rod I believe is symbolic for correction – and correction happens through effective communication, constant mentoring and monitoring, good examples, and actions. Of course, being a parent is a herculean task. It is not easy to cater for and train a well-rounded individual who will grow up to become an effective human being and adult. This article aims to address violence and parenting styles in Nigeria.
Go through Nigerian platforms such as Seun Osewa’s nairaland.com and read countless of stories of children, now adults who have survived acts that can best be described as child abuse from parents. What is most disturbing is that these children who are now adults also describe similar atrocities that were committed against them repeated to their own children. Not only does this cycle continue but now parents rationalize violence and child abuse.
This cycle is particularly dangerous for a child’s development because it desensitizes many to violent acts. I remember the popular story of the Aluu4 boys – everyone on social media went up in arms about how these boys were burnt alive for no apparent reason. Everyone criticized the nonchalant attitude of the watchers and passersby who just watched this heinous act and did absolutely nothing. I thought to myself – these people including those who watched the videos online may have found nothing wrong with what happened to these boys because many are desensitized to violence. Many of these people have watched their father violently batter their mother or vice versa. Some experienced violence and merciless beatings at the hands of their parents. Some have gone to schools where it was okay for teachers or persons of authority to beat them military style. The cycle continues and unconsciously, the child victim becomes the abuser and future perpetrator.
I recall the story of a friend who confided in me that her mother was recently fired from her place of employment. Why? She beat up a co-worker at work. Prior to the beating, the mother had been involved in a domestic violence situation with her husband, who beat her a few weeks prior. A few weeks later, she beat up her sister and now she is fighting at work. We see here that the victim is now the perpetrator.
As expected, the average Nigerian was silent during the burning of the Aluu4 boys because of the gross desensitization to violence, as a result, are passive participants to violent acts. It appears that such cruel acts of violence are justified because we can tolerate violent acts committed against children and women. Such environment affects a child’s mental development and perception of abuse.
Who will stand up for the child? Who will speak up against violence? Who will break the silence? Who will break the cycle? Who will say enough is enough – especially in a country where the legal system is broken and needs to be strengthened and where there is little to no mental health support for victims of violence particularly women and children.
There are many women and children crying, saying who will come and save me? Who will stand up for me? Who will stand up today to break the cycle of violence where father beats mother or vice versa, mother and father abuse child, teachers and peers abuse that same child. Change starts with you. Any kind of abuse whether verbal, emotional, psychological, or physical should never be tolerated. The children are watching. Parents should be encouraged by social and religious institutions to take parenting skills classes. It takes hard work to be a parent but parents and guardians should stop operating through anger or passive aggressive nature. Let us all work together today to stop and break the cycle of violence, the average child whether male or female, has enough to worry about.
About the author:
Mary Olushoga is an avid supporter of African women and girls. She is also founder of www.awpnetwork.com an enterprise given honorable distinction at the 2012 World Summit Youth Award (WSYA) and listed as a 2012 Apps4Africa Innovation. She is the first-ever GOOD Maker/Oxfam America International Women’s Day Challenge Winner, a Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) Associate, and an Oxfam America Sisters on the Planet Ambassador. Mary received a bachelor’s degree from Union College in Schenectady, New York and a master’s of science degree from Baruch College. She has served as a Public Policy Fellow at the University at Albany, Center for Women in Government and Civil Society and most recently participated in the Sub-Saharan African Women In Public Service Fall Institute. Mary has featured on BBC World News, the Columbia University Africa Economic Forum, the UN ECOSOC Youth Employment Forum, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and the United States Department of Labor Add Us In Initiative on Inclusion, Entrepreneurship, and Disability. Her articles have featured in The Huffington post, Sahara Reporters, and Applause Africa magazine.