Covid -19 : UNICEF seeks support of monarchs, religious leaders against rising cases of rape, child abuse

From Steve Oko, Umuahia

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has solicited the support of traditional rulers and religious leaders for more stringent laws and tougher actions against rape, child abuse and violence against women.

UNICEF made the call yesterday during a sensitisation and awareness campaign on ‘Birth Registration, End Violence Against Children, Women & Girls ; and Covid-19 Prevention and Risk Mitigation’, in select Abia communities.

The UNICEF-powered campaign was jointly executed by the National Orientation Agency, NOA ; National Population Commission, NPC; and the Abia State Ministry of Women Affairs.

Flagging off the campaign at Umuawalocha and Ubakala communities in Umuahia North, and Umuahia South councils respectively, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist in the UNICEF Enugu Field Office, Mr. Victor Atuchukwu, expressed worry over the rising cases of rape, child abuse and violence against women especially during the covid-19 lockdown.

He, therefore, appealed to monarchs and religious leaders to make stringent laws that would help to reduce the increasing rate of rape in their communities, and to also help sensitise their subjects and adherents against the evil.

Atuchukwu explained that UNICEF was moved to sponsor the campaign due to the prevalence of violence against children under the age of 18 years, and very low birth registration rate of children in the state.

“Frontline traditional rulers and religious leaders were chosen for the campaign because of their influential nature in the communities to ensure that the message penetrates into the target audience”, he said.

Giving more insight on the spate of violence against children and women he said that : “6 out of 10 children experienced some form of violence, 50% of all children experienced physical violence, 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 10 boys experiences sexual violence, while 1 out of 6 girls and 1 out of 5 boys experienced emotional violence”.

“This is an urgent appeal to the traditional rulers and religious leaders to assist in reducing the abuse in their communities”, he added.

UNICEF urged mothers to ensure that their new born babies were registered by NPC due to the immense benefits despite the challenges posed by restriction in movement occasioned by the covid-19 lockdown.

UNICEF pledged continued support for interventions in the welfare and protection of children and women at all levels in the country.

In a lecture, the state Director of NPC, Mrs. Adaku Ezebuiro, enumerated some of the immense benefits of birth registration saying that “it is the documentary evidence to certify a person’s existence, age, parentage, nationality, as well as enables a child’s eligibility for health care, admission into school, voting, marriage, employment, among others.”

She noted with concern the decline in the registration of new births in the state, attributing it to restrictions on movement.

Urging parents not to fail to register their new births, the NPC boss posited that “registration of births and deaths is compulsory” according to the Births and Deaths Compulsory Registration Act 69 of 1992.

She revealed that the NPC had been updating the Nigerian population based on statistics from the continuous birth registrations since after the last census in 2006.

Mrs. Ezebuiro who said that NPC birth certificate remained the only recognised birth document in the country , urged mothers to register their new births in any health centre in their community.

Speaking also the State Director of NOA, Dr. Ngozi Okechukwu, regreted that most rural dwellers still believed that covid -19 was not real due to a lot of conspiracy theories and fake news flying around it.

She said the pandemic was real and had already graduated into community transmission in Nigeria, while urging the people to obey government regulations including social distancing, regular washing of hands with running tap, use of face mask and observation of personal hygiene to stay safe.

In her speech, the Director, Child Development in the state Ministry of Women Affairs, Lady Ezinna Nwanosike, decried the increasing rate of rape, child abuse and violence against women and girls especially during the lockdown on covid -19.

She categorised violence against children as physical abuse such as hitting /punching a child; emotional abuse such as denying them affection; neglect or denying a child of his /her basic rights such as right to education and health care; and sexual abuse including forcing a child to watch pornography.

Nwanosike reiterated government’s readiness to prosecute perpetrators, and solicited the cooperation of parents, monarchs and other stakeholders in the fight against the monster.

In a remark, the traditional ruler of Umuawalocha, HRH, Eze Nnodimele Nwakanma, thanked UNICEF and the other partnering agencies for taking the campaigns to his community, and promised to assist them propagate the message.

Adding his voice, the President General of the community, High Chief Chukwuma Abraham vowed to mobilise other groups in the community to ensure compliance.

The AUTHORITY in Umuahia reports that the three -day event will continue with other communities in the state.

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