Agony of a brutalized child

ONE look at his picture leaves even the most hard-hearted person in tears. The sharpness of his eyes is in contrast with the battered condition of his frail body. While gaping at the visibility of his rib cage and his wrinkled skin even at age nine, one is tempted to think that he is one of those children from war-torn countries. But that is not the case.

Nine-year-old Korede Taiwo’s tired body tells a tale of torture, wickedness and inhumane treatment from the man who is sup­posed to protect him, his father. For several weeks, he was chained like a dog in the church premises for allegedly being possessed by the spirit of stealing.

But luck smiled on Korede when he was rescued by men of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps alongside officers from the Ogun State Police Command attached to the Onipanu Division, Ota, Ogun State. Looking malnourished and tired, he was lucky to have survived his ordeal.

His father, Francis Taiwo, pastor of the Key of Joy Celestial Church, was arrested on July 24 after initially evading law enforcement officials days after his son was rescued. Mr. Taiwo reportedly said he took the action, because he believed his son was possessed with a ‘stealing spirit’ known in Yoruba language as ’emi ole’. He admitted to chaining him because he felt he was possessed and not comfortable with his stealing habit.

But Korede is not one to be in­timidated. He told reporters that he would not want to live with his father and step-mother again. He revealed that he was not fed regularly when he was chained. His father and step mother only fed him twice a day. And some days, he was not given food. Korede wants to go back to school because he wants to achieve his life dream of becoming a doctor.

And life seems to have only good things in store for this maltreated child, as he was adopted by the Ogun State Government. Ogun State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Modupe Mujota, revealed that when the wife of the governor, Mrs Olufunso Amosun, and other members of the State Executive Council paid a visit to the boy, they revealed that the educational needs of the boy among other things would be taken care of.

The Commissioner for Justice, Olumide Ayeni, also said that the government had opened a legal case to bring to justice, all the people involved in the Korede Taiwo child abuse saga so as to serve as a deterrent to others.

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Even though the boy’s case seems to have a happy ending, it may not be the same for many other Nigerian children scattered across different states of the federation. At different times, cases of children being abused either as child labourers or victims of human trafficking have come to light. Many of these children find themselves in situations where they are used, battered and abused without hope for a better tomorrow.

For those children who live on the streets, the only language they understand is survival. And they do that by earning a living on the streets, speaking street language, dealing with others as they see their mates on the street do. Many of them end up joining street gangs, the wrong crowd, and do wrong things just to survive.

All over the world, children in conflict-affected countries have been detained without charge for months or even years as national security threats. Untold numbers have been tortured or have died in custody. The girls are gang-raped, impregnated and killed too. During wars, children are the greatest victims as they suffer hunger, maltreatment, torture and even death.

Victims’ stories

Thirteen-year old Esther Nke­mdirim lives with her madam and family in Festac Town, Lagos. She wakes up very early every morning to attend to house chores, no matter how tired she feels. Esther works as a domestic help to the family she resides with, yet there is no respite for her. She cleans, cooks, washes, irons and even fetches water from a nearby tap.

But she would know the true meaning of pain one morning when she woke up late. She had overslept because she went to bed late the previous night. Thus, she did not wake up early enough to prepare her employer’s children for school. That singular action drew the ire of her madam who did not hold back in meting out a harsh punishment to the little girl.

To teach Esther a lesson, her boss baptized her with hot water while she was still sleeping. She was awaken with the piercing pain of hot water on her skin. Screaming and fanning herself with her tiny hands, Esther ran out of the house alerting their neighbours in the process. After inflicting serious injury on her, her boss abandoned her to her fate, not minding the number of years she had served her family. Soon the sore began to fester, leaving Esther in excruciating pains everyday. Her plight came to the open when flies began perching on her back. This aroused the curiosity of her class teacher who questioned her about her predica­ment. When her classmates made attempts to touch her back, she screamed and thereafter spilled the beans.

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She revealed that her boss was in the habit of brutalizing her and leaving her with wounds almost on daily basis. She added that the woman had an instrument of torture, which left indelible marks on her. Life has not been fair to Esther. She lost her parents at a tender age and was entrusted into the hands of her boss who brought her to Lagos from her village as a maid.

Nine year-old Nkoli Omeruah is another child labourer. All she does is work, clean and dust the house of the family who brought her to Lagos from Anambra State. But she suffers daily brutality from her boss. Every little mistake earns her thorough beating.

According to a neighbour who does not want to be named, the woman beats the child every day for no reason. One day, she beat her so much while backing her one year -old daughter, that the little girl’s face became swollen and she could not open her eyes.

When her neighbours saw the sorry state the girl was in, they alerted the police who came and arrested the woman for assault. And because of the severity of her actions, some people in her neighbourhood almost beat her up.

Ten year-old Chinecherem Obi is another victim of a brutal guard­ian. One day, her guardian beat her so much for stealing food when she could no longer endure her hunger pangs. She ended up with serious bruises on her stomach and back. Her hands and ankles were swollen, she also had a big lump on her forehead and could not turn her neck sideways because of pains. It was so hard to believe that the woman she lived with had inflicted those injuries on her. Her crime was eating in a neighbour’s house by 1pm one Sunday afternoon. The poor girl who could only speak Igbo language said she was very hungry and her madam told her to finish washing up her son’s clothes and tidy up the house before eating. In the course of washing the clothes, she felt dizzy and told a neighbour who took her into her house and gave her some food.

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Obviously, madam must have strolled out and noticed the girl’s absence from her duty post which resulted in the beating. Her father is late and her mother who is a widow is struggling to take care of her three other children in the vil­lage. Despite living with the guardian for over one year in Lagos, Chinecherem is yet to be enrolled in any school.

Another dimension to the plight of the Nigerian child

Recently, Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development Monitoring Team arrested four women who were begging for alms with babies less than a month old that were not theirs.

Hadiza Nosiru and Salamotu Salisu, both from Jigawa State were arrested at the Oyingbo area of the state. Investigations revealed that the two women apprehended are not the biological mothers of the babies, but were given to them by their parents who later got paid for each baby.

Forty-year-old Aregbesola is one of the women arrested for using her children to beg for alms in re­turn for stipends. According to her, the person who hires her child always pays her between N1,000 and N1,500 daily.

The woman claimed she had four other children. According to her, the first two children attend school somewhere in Ikotun area. She said: “I stay at Ijora Olopa though I am from Ibadan in Oyo State. I work with a food vendor, who pays me N300 daily. My eldest child is 11 years old. ”

Aregbesola, who was the only Yoruba woman among the sus­pects, interpreted for others, who spoke in Hausa and couldn’t explain why they ventured into the illegal business. She claimed that she and other women only released their babies around 5pm. and get them back with money by 7pm. daily. Two of the women, Hadiza Nosiru and Salamotu Salisu, hail from Jigawa State.

The infants were taken to the Rehabilitation and Training Centre at Majidun, Ikorodu for shelter, as the government vowed to immediately commence investigation and possibly prosecute the women.

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