Nigeria has a population of 140 million people; (1) about 45% of them are under the age of 15 years. (2) The country is the world's sixth-largest oil exporter, yet 54% of its citizens live below the poverty line. (1) The country is wealthy but the people are poor. (3)
It is therefore not surprising that a substantial proportion of the population are faced with significant financial difficulties. This abject poverty has led to various survival ploys that abuse children, such as child labour, hawking, begging, (3) children working as house-helps, (4) and in some cases sending away children for adoption to live with and work for better-off relatives or friends, who may give preferential treatment to their own children. (5)
Brutal cultural behaviour (e.g. children are flogged or severely beaten for even minor misdemeanours (6) as a way of 'teaching' them) also contributes to the unhealthy conditions for children.
In some parts of the country, children are made to fend for themselves. A typical example is the Almajiri children in the northern parts of the country. These children are given to an Islamic teacher called a Mallam, ostensibly to live with him and learn the teachings of Islam. They are, however, required to go out and beg for money, food and other alms. (4,7) Sometimes the children are seen as early as 6.30 a.m., even during the harmattan period when the weather is very cold and dry. The proceeds of their efforts must be returned to the teacher. Some children are forced to lead handicapped adult beggars about on the streets. (4) These things happen at an age when the children are supposed to be at school, and are in stark contrast to the Child's Rights Act which states that a child shall not be used to beg for alms, guide beggars, hawk goods, or for any purpose that deprives the child of the opportunity to attend and remain in school. (8)
Studies in Nigeria have shown that sexual abuse of children is prevalent in the country, and is under-reported. (9) Olley reported a child sexual abuse (CSA) incidence of 55% among a sample of school-going adolescents in Ibadan, south-west Nigeria. There have been few reports of CSA on national television. However, it has been reported to be associated with various problems in adulthood, which include substance abuse, suicide, depression, sexual dysfunction and personality problems. (10-14)
The few studies on child abuse in Nigeria have focused on the victims rather than the perpetrators, who are generally adults and often the parents of the afflicted children. Little is known about the opinions of the parents on child abuse in the northern parts of the country as there is a dearth of literature on this matter. We therefore conducted the present study to address the issue in this part of the country.
Our aim was to assess the opinions and attitudes of subjects concerning child abuse and neglect, and identify sociodemographic factors associated with child abuse.
Study design and population
This was a cross-sectional study carried out among the residents of Oja-Oba community in the Ilorin-West local government area of Kwara State in northern Nigeria. It is representative of other districts in this area, and represents people of different social classes.
In the absence of a recent, detailed household census, we estimated by direct counting, with the help of some locals, that there were 672 households in the community. We selected the subjects using a systematic sampling technique by choosing every third person of the household. We interviewed one parent in a family; where both parents were present, we asked the couple to choose one of them by consensus. Where there was more than one family in a household, we interviewed one parent from each family. We excluded all those who refused to give consent. In all, 260 subjects participated in the study.
Subjects were interviewed using a questionnaire designed by the authors. …