Background of the Study
According to the Oxford Learners Dictionary of Current English (Hornby, 2000), abuse is defined as the use of something in a way that is wrong or harmful. Notably, Moss and Moss (1990) technically defined child abuse as any act of commission and omission on the part of the parent, guardian or caretaker that results in non-accidental physical or mental injury, or sex abuse. Youngson (1995) said child abuse is a distasteful subject that attracts euphemism and doctors talk about non-accidental injury when they mean assault. Child abuse therefore refers to an unfair, cruel or violent treatment of a child in a physical, sexual or emotional way including child labour.
Child abuse has emerged as one of the serious social problems that need the attention of the public. All over the world, there are children working like slaves, they beg in the streets, toil under the sun in the field and plantations and work day and night in shops and factories. Millions of children lose their lives, some are denied education and never experienced the joy of childhood due to the type of abuse they experienced at an early age. Throughout history, children were considered as property. Parents had the unrestricted authority to do to a child whatever they deemed necessary. Usually, the father made all the disciplinary decisions. In ancient Rome, the father had the authority to sell, kill, main, sacrifice or do anything to a child as he saw fit. Typically, the father exercised this power if the child was born deformed, weak, disabled or in any way different than what was considered as normal.
Child abuse has been recognized as a violation of the rights of the child through adoption of the convention on the Rights of the Child by many countries including Nigeria. This convention recognizes the significance of liberty, equality and nurturance as essential for the preservation of children‘s integrity as individuals. Some of these principles include respect for the dignity of children as members of the human community; family protection and assistance to sustain children in natural environment for their growth and well-being; and state protection of children from exploitation and abuse. Despite all these, there are still high incidences of the problem of child abuse in Nigeria.
There are prevalent cases of violent physical abuse which sometimes lead to death of the child, child sexual abuse, child labour, child emotional abuse and child neglect. In the media, there are reports of incest, child prostitution, child trafficking, child prostitution street children and the almajiris in the northern part of the country. Children abound on the streets hawking their wares when they should be in school laying solid foundation for their future. Some abused children that manage to be in school do not fully devote their time to their studies. Some research works pointed to negative associations between child abuse and school performance. According to Kendall-Tackett and Eckerode (1996), Rowe and Eckennode (1999) and Shonk and Crachetti (2001), maltreated children receive lower grades, and get suspended from school and retained in grade more frequently.
Child abuse is a phenomenon that has gained universal attention particularly in the last decade of the 20th Century. Following the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the world of man increasingly assumed the character of a global village. With the globalization of certain core capitalist values, like the Western market incentives, the world of man is increasingly becoming interdependent. Hitherto, child abuse was as well a known concept in the western world but in the contemporary world, Child abuse has become a world-wide phenomenon. Generally, child abuse implies physical or mental injury, negligent treatment or maltreatment. Child abuse is committed only by those who are entrusted with the care of the child. Moreover one other discernable thing here is that abuse becomes tenable only when it is intentionally done. Of course this insinuation is not totally correct. Certain abuses and heinous acts are committed unintentionally or rather out of ignorance. It is pertinent to highlight here that child abuse is committed by any one, whether the parents or others who committed acts of abuse against the child. However, within the context of this study, Child abuse shall be perceived thus: It is any act of omission or commission by individual, institutions or society as a whole and any conditions resulting from such acts or inaction, which deprive children of equal rights and liberties and or interfere with their optimal development (Cook and Bowles; 1980). Thus child abuse touches on fundamental human rights of the child; it is hence antithetical to the laws of nature.
The fundamental human rights are derived from natural laws these include the right to life, right to exist, freedom of thought and expression. These laws, inter alia are unalienable to man and centres on the existential conditions of man. Like other human beings the child has unalienable fundamental human rights, an erosion of any of these rights constitutes child abuse. Of course, child abuse takes various form; traces and incidences of child abuse abound. Newspapers, Magazines, Journals and other media houses are replete with causes of child abuse.
The situation has escalated to such an extent that the United Nations Organization has encouraged member nations to restore and respect the dignity of man. Meanwhile, child abuse can occur in the form of physical assault, neglect and sexual abuse child abandonment, child battery, child neglect. By physical assault we mean a situation, whereby the child is subjected to brutal physical torture resulting from violence perpetuated against the child. This results to battered skins. Skills and fractured bones hands and legs. Child neglect occurs when there is a disorder in the parent child relationship characterized by failure of parents to endow the child with parental value.
Nevertheless, the original African Culture and in particular the Nigeria Society, places much premium on the child who is often regarded as a precious gift from the divine creator. Hence any act of child abuse is condemned and perceived as unethical and immoral. Child abuse in the pre-colonial Society of Nigeria was a very condemnable act. Child was perceived as the “Child of all”, hence the Igbo name “Nwaorah”. However, following the infiltration and incursion of civilization and Whiteman’s culture the culture the Africans and indeed Nigerian was altered and tainted with western culture and civilization.
Recently, there has been serious concern about the child with the realization that children play important part in the family and the society. It is generally agreed that children are the future generation, the leaders of tomorrow and the potential flag bearers of any nation. To carry out these duties, the child therefore has certain rights that must be protected and not be trampled upon or denied. In recognition of the socio-cultural and educational dimension of the child, the United Nations, European Union, African Union, UNICEF and ANPPCAN have all joined efforts in advocating for protection of the right and well-being of children.
In Nigeria, for instance, education is viewed as a means of building a free democratic, just and equalitarian society; a united strong and self-reliant nation; a land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004). Thus, Nigeria and his people need a change and growth in education so as to be in line with the developed nations. Every successive federal and state government administration has been allocating substantial portions of its annual budget to meet this broad objective. In some cases, regional and later state government had at one time or the other embarked on free education at all levels including higher institutions.
Although these programmes have been brought to abrupt halt due to series of political changes and the present adverse economic conditions, nevertheless, many state governments still endeavour to give financial aids to their students and educational institutions. State governments have come up with various policies as regards admission, administration, duration of programmes and so on. Presently, education has been made compulsory for children at the basic level and every child is encouraged to take the opportunity of acquiring at least basic education up to the junior secondary level by some state governments. All these are efforts made to protect the basic right of children. The question is, are the children utilizing this opportunity maximally? In the traditional African society, the training of the child was the sole responsibility of the parents and the members of the community who had the right to discipline and correct the child whenever they went wrong. The parents trained the child in a way that is suitable and acceptable to the standard of the society. Following the advent of western education and the introduction of nursery and pre-primary schools, parents tend to give over the responsibility of guiding, directing, counselling and role modeling of the children to the school. Thus, putting more demands on the school to do what the parents should do in addition to their normal school functions.
Parents now push over the responsibility of caring for their children to the school. Many young children who would have been at home at about two years have been pushed over to the school. The tasks thus become enormous for the teachers and the school management to carry leading to many children being neglected, despised and abused on a daily basis. This clearly undermines the provision for the right of the child on ‘protection against indecent and inhuman treatment like abuse and neglect’ earlier stated. Rather, the child has been subjected to all kinds of maltreatment, is not protected, valued nor defended. Most times, the treatment meted out to young children as corrective measures constitutes one form of abuse or the other.
It is evident that child abuse is a serious global problem that is deeply rooted in cultural, economic and social practices and occurs in a variety of ways and places. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDA, 2006) reported by Gelles (2009) in the United States for instance, more than 900,000 children suffer severe or life threatening injury and some (1,000 to 2,000) children die as a result of abuse and those who survive often suffer emotional trauma that may take long for the bruises to be healed. In the same vein, our Nigerian society is still plagued with incidences of child labour, child maltreatment, child marriage, child trafficking, neglect, and child prostitution. The effect of such abuses are many and varied including teenage pregnancies/mothers, youth restiveness and violence, cultism, youth decadence, joblessness, armed bandits, molestations, and school dropouts. These menaces have eaten into the life of most Nigerian children.
These abuses take place not only at home and undertaken by persons known to and trusted by the child, but also in the school where the child spends a greater part of his/her early life. In most literature, child abuse is studied as it relates to the home and the society. Few authors have bordered to look into the issue of the child as it relates with the school system. The fact that the society has a strong belief in education system (school) in the task of helping children develop their abilities, attitudes, values and good judgment may make one not to think of child abuse as occurring in the school.
Yet, incidence of abuse abound in schools and sometimes in subtle ways unknown to the school authorities but at the same time posing serious dangers to children at the same time having damaging and far more consequences on the life of the child. If the school, which is supposed to be a custodian of knowledge as well as functioning as an avenue for the optimum development of the child fosters and indulges in child abuse, then one wonders how children will benefit from the process of education. The question one is bound to ask is why are there still incidence of child abuse in the school? Is it that the school authorities do not understand what constitutes child abuse or overlook these abuses since they are ingrained in our culture? What are the implications of child abuse to the education system? It is in answer to these questions that this paper sets out to discuss the incidence of child abuse and its impact on the educational system in Nigeria.
Statement of Problem
At the heart of every educational system lays the desire for the pupils, teachers and the institutions to achieve their educational goals; however, the extent to which this desire is achieved in the study period of a student varies based on individual differences. Individual differences in academic performance have been linked to differences in intelligence and personality. Pupils with higher mental ability as demonstrated by IQ tests and those who are higher in conscientiousness (linked to effort and achievement motivation) tend to perform highly in academic settings. A recent meta-analysis suggested that mental curiosity (as measured by typical intellectual engagement) has an important influence on academic performance in addition to intelligence and conscientiousness. Despite high mental abilities, conscientiousness and intellectual engagement demonstrated by most children it has been observed of late that the academic performance of children in public primary schools in the State, particularly, in Ondo state is becoming low. It has also been observed that in this recent times issues of child abuse and neglect is on the rise in the state due to economic depression caused by the global economic backdrop and incessant social/civil unrests. One wonders if such low academic performance is as a result of the abuse/maltreatment children are exposed to. This became the motivation to investigate child abuse and primary education in Ondo State.