Fatimah Basheer* is a regular groundnut hawker in Potiskum, North East Nigeria.
Known for her enthusiasm towards the petty trade that her family partly relies on to meet their needs, Fatimah has a lot of customers who patronise her on a daily basis.
One of them is John, a 43-year-old spare parts dealer who later became Fatimah’s ‘street-father’.
Aside from buying groundnuts from the little girl, he usually entices her with biscuits, sweets, and other edibles, says the girl’s mother.
One afternoon, as usual, he called her to his shop, pretending to want to buy groundnuts. As she waited for John to pay for the groundnuts he bought, he allegedly raped her.
Though she struggled with the alleged perpetrator and screamed for help, nobody was around to rescue her.
Afterwards, John pushed her out and left her in a pool of her own blood.
“She was brought home unconscious and bleeding by passers-by. I was told that they saw her bleeding at one corner, near John’s shop,” the victim’s mother, Maa’ma, told HumAngle.
One case too many
Fatimah’s experience is one of the growing trends of reported cases of abuse of hawking minors in Nigeria.
The victim was lured into an uncompleted building and was forcefully defiled by a perpetrator who was said to have later fled to far away Kebbi State.
Last year, a 21-year-old man, Paul Aboh, defiled a 15-year-old hawker in the Ajegunle area of Lagos State. He had summoned the teenager on the pretext of patronage, too.
The victim, abandoned in the bush, later went home to complain to her mother, who reported at the police station.
Also, three armed men gang-raped a 17-year-old street hawker in Ekiti in 2020.
HumAngle, through its Accountability Fellowship Programme, however, observed that families of rape victims usually face all kinds of pressure that mostly stop them from fighting the crime.
Fatimah’s case isn’t an exception.
Heartbroken by the incident, Maa’ma alongside other members of the community took Fatimah to the hospital where she was confirmed defiled.
“Seeing my daughter in pain made me heartbroken. She had a tear that was stitched at the hospital. I never thought anything could have been done to a little girl hawking.
“I would have stopped her from hawking while we live in hunger. It feels so sad that John took advantage of the poor girl,” Maa’ma lamented.
After the victim was discharged from the hospital, her mother took her to the police station to make criminal complaints.
“I cried repeatedly at the police station alongside my daughter. We pleaded with the police to fight for us and ensure that John was brought to book. The police promised to step in and they did.”
HumAngle learnt that John was arrested two days after the incident. He was arraigned and remanded at Gashua Correctional Centre as an awaiting trial inmate.
Awaiting trial prisoners are left in detention as police conduct further investigations of the allegations they are being tried for or pending the outcome of the court, particularly when the alleged offence is a very serious one .
Victim went missing
Two days before Fatimah was expected to testify against the alleged perpetrator in court, the victim went missing.
“I can’t say exactly if she was abducted or just went missing. It was the saddest moment of my life,” Maa’ma told HumAngle as tears rolled out of her eyes.
“I don’t know how to express what I felt. It was as if nobody considered me and my child worth living. If only I could hang myself to death I would have done that.”
She later abandoned the court case and focused on how to find her missing child.
“I could not make it to court on the day we were supposed to testify against the suspect. I was busy looking for my daughter since there was no helper. All I have is God.”
Since the complainants were not in court on different occasions to substantiate their claims, John was granted bail, HumAngle learnt.
It is not clear whether the prosecuting lawyer informed the court about the missing child.
Though Maa’ma did not disclose how long it took her child to return home, she said that Fatimah returned home a day after John’s release.
“The people in the community said they suspected that John arranged my daughter’s abduction. However, we have no proof yet because she did not say anything when she returned home days later and we did not bother to pester her. It may lead to trauma. I won’t relent in ensuring that he pays for taking advantage of the little girl.”
For Maa’ma, she’s hopeful that she will get justice for her daughter.
On the other hand, she’s praying to “God that the case would not be ruined as observed in many cases of the past.”
Asked when the next court session would be, Maa’ma said she would get confirmation from the lawyer and work hard enough to get transportation fare.
HumAngle made efforts to speak to John but our efforts proved abortive, as he was not around in the community when our reporter visited.
The victim’s mother added that her daughter is struggling with psychological trauma as a result of her experience with John.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says six out of every ten children in Nigeria experience some form of violence.
While one in four girls, and 10 per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence, fewer than five out of every 100 received any form of support.
Even if they do not have a memory of the original incident as they grow up, most survivors of sexual abuse, like Fatimah, continue to battle post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other health conditions, especially genital injury like a perineal tear or extragenital injury leading to incontinence.
Many years from now, Fatimah may need therapy for her mental health.
*Names of the sources connected to the report have been changed to prevent stigmatisation of the victim.
Shamsiyya Ibrahim Barde is a 2023 HumAngle Accountability Fellow from Yobe, Nigeria.
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