kaduna State Commissioner of Ministry of Women Affairs and Rural Development, Hajia Hafsat Mohammad Baba formerly coordinator of a non-governmental organization called Global Initiative for Women and Children (GIWAC). In this exclusive interview with SHOLA OJO, she blows hot on emerging baby factory and other sundry issues bothering on women and children in the state. EXCERPT
Before your appointment as a Commissioner of Women Affairs and Rural Development some months ago by Governor Nasir El-Rufai, you have been leading campaign on violence against women and children in the state and beyond. Now that you are in government, how will you describe violence against women and children in the state?
Unfortunately it is on the increase. But then, we are here to see how we can solve that problem of violence against women and children in the state with collaboration of all the stakeholders. We all need to accept change because it is the most constant thin in our lives. Women are becoming more aware of their rights unlike in the past thought not as easy as one may think due to societal issues.
Women and children should not live in fear of violence which they don’t architect. Every child should also grow up knowing that he or she is safe and have the best life can offer to help them fulfill their potentials as long as they live. Any violence you can think of, these groups of the society are the ones always at the receiving end. But the time has come to address that and we will put our best while we are here.
My ministry is committed to making positive impact at the grassroots. You see, over the years people at the urban areas are the ones that have been benefitting from government policies and programmes with little or no impact on those at the grassroots level.
Specifically, the issue of rape of minor is becoming worrisome….
(Cuts in) Sometimes when you look at the rape situation, you will want to know who are those involved. Sometimes they are minor who may not be able to talk for themselves but someone has to. Secondly, don’t forget that there is also intimidation from the society and apart from that, you will find out that if there is any rape case the community will also want to get involved; the traditional leaders will want to mediate between the victim’s family as the case may be and the perpetrator to guide against involving law enforcement agents or even to seek for justice in the court of law.
Besides, even the women are at the receiving end because if the husband for example said he does not want the case to be prosecuted. The mothers of molested children are not allowed to talk about it. We have had several cases that some of them even go to the extent of losing their marriage if they talk or attempt to seek redress after been told by husbands not to. So it is not as if they don’t want to talk in order to expose the evil but the society has not been helpful as such.
What is the state government doing?
The government is enlightening people to ensure that they come out to talk about it. It may interest you to know that, some of them who can summon courage to come and complain to us, we follow such cases to logical conclusions, whatever the process we go through it – from the security agencies to hospital and to court until the justice is done. This we do on behalf of the families of the victims if we are aware.
Can you share any of your worst experience with us as regarding violence against children?
Hmmmm….. sometimes I wept bitterly when I see grave violence against innocent children. Well, there was this case of an 8-year-old girl who was seriously violated, bleeding profusely, admitted at Barrau Dikko Teaching hospital where she undergone surgery twice because she was really damaged. That was really a serious case and then the perpetrator of the act is a 70-year-old man but unfortunately, he was let go and we could not get hold of him.
There was also a case of another 8-year-old girl who was serially violated by her uncle. At the end of the day when the mother decided to seek for help, that ended her marriage. Now I’m telling you she is divorced. In Islam, when you divorced a woman three times, she cannot come back to your house. That means she has to pay that supreme price just because she has decided to seek justice against the uncle who violated her girl child. There are also other issues hanging around rape cases but we will still continue because this government is trying to ensure that oppressed get justice.
When you were running and NGO, there was this bill, Child Right Bill you were championing its passage by the state assembly, what is causing the delay in its passage into law by the Kaduna State House of Assembly?
Honestly I don’t know what is causing the delay but I’m sure it is something that can be overcome if truly all of us want the best for our children s we claim.
This is because if that kind of document has passed through the first and second reading and public hearing, one wonders what could be causing the delay of making it a law. But we still need to do more on advocacy to the state assembly to see what we can do to ensure that document is passed into law. We believed they will do something about it but how soon we cannot say for now.
The work is not easy though but with support of people like you, we will continue to do it. Please help us to find out why the Child Right Bill is still hanging. Some states have passed it. This is also drawing us back because when an arrest is made, you follow up the case but you will be disappointed that the punishment has not been reviewed. You see a situation where somebody will commit rape offence but the punishment is just too soft which actually demoralizes us.
The bill has been in the assembly over time since 2003 to be specific. But upon the coming of this administration, the governor was not happy with what is happening and so he was interested and dust up that bill. I could remember when I was in my organization, and we were on advocacy visit to him, he handed me over document that we should go through it and see where there can be any adjustment to make it acceptable to all of us. And I knew there was a time when all the stakeholders assembled including the traditional and religious leaders to work on this single document.
It was because the governor was interested in it that the bill has gone through first and second reading and even public hearing. So we need it passed into law so we can be able to implement it to reduce violence against our children.
Apart from that, what other thing is your Ministry doing to protect Kaduna girls from this dastard acts which is now on the increase?
Yes in addition, we have been telling parents to spend quality time with their children and to know where they are and what they do as much as possible because any child can be violated within a short time and distance. Between home and school, between home and market, while running errands, even inside the house.
They don’t need to trust anybody even relations close to them and even those that think their children cannot be violated. They told their driver to take the children to school. They will just drop the children in school once they see security people. Many of them don’t have time. People like bankers in particular have been told to know who have any business with their children.
Some people also trust tricycle and motorcycle operators which is another different thing. You trusted these people to take your child to or from school but in between, anything can happen. So these are all issues we need to look into to ensure that these children God has kept in our care are safe with our serious attention.
As regarding the society itself, my concern is that things are not going on like before when the entire community was responsible for a child’s upbringing. Then, you can even hand offer your child to help you drop him or her without necessarily have to know the person without any problem. But this time around you cannot trust anybody. So sending these children to buy something at nearby shop or hawk around further exposes them to danger.
Let extend this a bit, before now, we only hear of baby factory in other part of the country. But today, it is becoming a serious issue in Kaduna. Is your ministry aware of this development and if yes, what are you doing to quickly nip it in the bud?
This is just coming up in Kaduna. We used to hear it down south. But unfortunately baby factories are now springing up in Kaduna. We have sales of babies now. We have orphanages that also camouflage that they are taking care of these children whereas they are not. But we are on it.
Investigation is ongoing and I promised that after we conclude all investigations, we will have a comprehensive report from supporting security agencies. Let me quickly add here that it is not only the police that is into this; police is handling one aspect while Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Commission (NSCDC) is also handling the other aspect which we will harmonize later to have a single comprehensive report.
Immigration personnel too are helping us. Just last week they were here in my office to officially inform the state government about their discovery of a house where these children are being use as small prostitutes. By the time we compiled our report, we will make it public so people will understand what we are doing to have a safer society.
Recently, we did the mapping of all orphanage homes across the length and breadth of the 23 local government areas of the state to look at them holistically to know what they do. Those that are genuine, we will see how to encourage them. But those that have question mark, we will know what to do with them and anyone of them discovered to be involved in sales of children, the law will take its course.