News Analysis: Raising girls’ voices to curb sexual molestation

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By Oluwafunke Ishola,
Although her father is justly being held for sexually abusing her, 15-year-old SSS3 student, Fisayo, could not be relieved.

In fact, her trauma worsened, severely affecting her academic performance.

The blame, maltreatment, hatred and rejection she received from her mother and siblings subjected her to daily weeping and appeal for release of her father.

The family members had constantly blamed their worsened economic situation on her reporting the incest to relevant authorities which led to arrest and detention of her father, their breadwinner.

Her school principal had probed deep to find out why she was always moody and no longer doing well academically.

“We find it difficult to meet our financial needs since my daddy got arrested, everyone is angry with me; Please, I want my daddy to be released,” Fisayo had confided in the principal.

Many adolescents found themselves in a situation similar to Fisayo’s.

They are being made to accept sexual molestation and other forms of abuse and assault due to stigmatisation, rejection, shame and blame that may follow their resistance.

Analysts are worried that the trend is reducing the inner strength of the girl-child, preventing her from being the best she can.

They blame this `culture’ for increased rate of defilement, rape, domestic violence and other forms of maltreatment against women.

Ms Funsho Bukoye, Project Coordinator, Action Health Incorporated (AHI), believes that the girl-child should be adequately protected against such intimidation.

Bukoye says proper counselling will help victims of sexual abuse to get emotional and psychological healing.

She notes that rape, defilement, domestic violence, child abuse, early marriage, child neglect and maltreatment have become worrisome in the society.

The project coordinator is concerned that the vices damage emotional and physical wellbeing of young people.

According to her, a report by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scout shows that up to 50 per cent of sexual assault is committed against girls under 16 years.

“These vices endanger our girls, we must stand against them because the future of our girls are very precious,” she urges.

According to Bukoye, Girls Voices Initiative (GVI) was conceived by AHI, in collaboration with Rise UP and Cummins, to address such a social problem through training that will enhance girls’ abilities to make their voices heard.

She explains that GVI is a leadership and advocacy programme that builds the capacities of girls, aged from 10 years to 19 years, to lead advocacy efforts on issues that affect them in their respective communities.

A psychologist, Mrs Anita Bassey, notes that a report by the World Health Organisation acknowledges existence of complex post-traumatic stress disorder among survivors of sexual harassment.

“About 86 per cent of survivors has mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety and insomnia; some become suicidal.

“We have to rise in bringing an end to sexual harassment and other harmful practices against girls,” she urges.

According to a lawyer and human rights campaigner, Mrs Mosunmola Agbaje, rape and defilement can be punished with up to life jail.

Agbaje calls for strengthening of preventive measures against sexual offences.

The Country Director of Rise Up, Mrs Theresa Effa, calls for establishment of more platforms to build advocacy skills in the girl-child.

She advises that such platforms should train girls to identify issues in their communities, amplify their voices and help them to engage policymakers on issues affecting them.

She is convinced that GVI has done much in that direction and it has led to a positive transformation in communities.

“The programme activates girls to transform their lives, families and communities for a just and equitable world,” she adds.

A leader of a group of girls under GVI, Miss Victoria Benedict, advises girls to be bold and speak out against any form of assault against them.

“I have been working to end child marriage in Makoko Community of Lagos State.

“We have got community leaders to commit to ending harmful practices against girls and reporting offenders to relevant authorities.

“Our voices are powerful and, when used properly, can change our communities and the world,” Benedict says.

A secondary school student, Miss Omotomilola Oladeji, argues that sexual abuse is more rampant in low-income neighbourhoods.

Oladeji calls for collective efforts to end the menace, saying everyone has a significant role to play to ensure the safety and wellbeing of girls.

Analysts call for encouragement of girls to speak out on issues affecting their health and wellbeing as a strategy to end sexual abuse. (END)

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