With a rippling voice and tears welling up in her eyes, Benjamin Laman, 41, took our reporter through a torturous memory lane of how her two minors were raped by her neighbour, identified as Sunday, in 2021.
She noticed that her daughters aged six and four were always screaming as she washed their private parts when taking their baths.
Curious about the development, Laman confided in her friend, who concluded that the children’s discomfort was due to the medicated soap used for them.
“I changed the soap but they still complained about pain in their private parts,” she said. At that point, she knew that something was wrong.
“I was hoping and praying that it wasn’t a case of rape until my friend suggested that I get them to speak.”
One night after dinner, Laman asked her daughters about encounters with any man aside from their father who had travelled for months to hustle as a labourer.
While the elder daughter turned her face away, she pulled the four-year-old closer to her and implored her to speak.
“She told me that Uncle Sunday would tie her whenever he took her to his room and rape her,” Laman recounted.
When questioned about the correctness of this claim, the elder sister denied the allegation.
“I pulled out a cane and threatened to beat her if she did not confess. She eventually succumbed and told me the truth. She said Uncle Sunday told her that if she ever told anyone about the things he did to her, he was going to kill her. I cried my heart out that night.”
According to Laman, Sunday was one of the neighbours she usually left her daughter with when going out.
Considering the sensitivity of the matter, Laman refused to break the news to her husband on the phone.
“It was a sensitive issue and I was scared of sharing the news with him on the phone. I felt scared and ashamed of not living up to my expectations as a mother.”
She informed her friend about her findings and they both went to Sunday’s house to report the issue to his mother, who had just returned from a journey.
“He wasn’t around when we went to his house. When I told his mother, she broke into tears and pleaded that we let the issue slide.”
A few days later, word broke out around the neighbourhood that her daughters were raped. So, she had to visit the police station for an official complaint.
“The police said that they were going to handle the case but there was no progress for many weeks. They would later transfer the matter to the Criminal Investigative Department (CID) office in Yola. There was no progress and for a month, we heard nothing. I later learned that the man left Numan for his village.”
Laman said that people began to point fingers at her daughters. As an orphan, she always relied on her husband who wasn’t around at the time.
“I felt hopeless and didn’t know who to turn to. People in my area kept asking me to forget about the issue and move on. No one was asking about the mental well-being of my children. I was even told that such cases require money to pursue and I was just a housewife.”
“My eldest daughter was just six years old and her sister was just four. This man abused them on several occasions without any conscience,” she cried.
Running away from stigma
While Laman waited for the police to intervene, the girls began complaining of backache and waist pain.
She later left Adamawa for Taraba state, where no one knew of her predicament nor condemned her children.
“I was fed up with the delay from the police. I then packed my luggage, took the little money I had with me, and fled to Taraba state to stay with a distant cousin before I later told my husband everything.”
The children were thereafter taken to the hospital for proper care.
For a year, Lawan could not secure a job that would afford her the opportunity of feeding her child in Taraba, so she returned to Numan in Adamawa.
“I came back to Numan and was in pain when I saw the rapist roaming the street while my children were left with aching limbs and emotional trauma. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when his mother boasted that nothing would happen to her son after people told her that I was in town.”
Road to justice
“My daughters were out of school for more than a year. We spent all we had on their treatment and the rapist was roaming around freely.”
She later moved to have the case reopened after her relative connected her with the Hope Centre, a nonprofit organisation at Numan General Hospital.
Contacted for the delay in the handling of the case, Asabe Haruna, the police spokesperson in Adamawa state said, “There is no protocol for reporting rape. It is a criminal case and no police officer has the right to dismiss such a case.”
Laman was later surprised to see that only her oldest daughter was reported to have been raped, according to the case file at the CID.
The Hope Centre helped Laman get a lawyer through the Centre for Women’s Development in Yola for prosecution.
Sunday was arrested and arraigned. He would later confess to committing the crime and was subsequently remanded in Oct. 2022.
“The centre took record of my daughters and promised to help get justice. I lost faith in the police and the process last year, but I’m glad that the case was reopened and I never gave up despite the pressure.”
Laman and her husband are working hard to earn enough so that their daughters can return to school to make up for the lost time.
A UNICEF report shows that “six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence – one in four girls and 10 per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence. Of the children who reported violence, fewer than five out of 100 received any form of support.”
Also, data from Cece Yara Foundation, a child advocacy organisation, revealed that 70.5 per cent of victimised girls experienced multiple incidents of sexual abuse while 69.2 per cent of victimised boys experienced multiple incidents of sexual abuse. Meanwhile, only 4.2 per cent of girls who experience childhood sexual abuse receive help.
While the Child Rights Act (CRA) states that sex with a minor is rape, and anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child is liable to imprisonment for life upon conviction, only 28 out of 36 states of Nigeria have adopted the CRA as state law.
Meanwhile, Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu, a legal practitioner, had argued earlier that “Nigerian laws are inadequate when it comes to offences of sexual violence because things that are very ordinarily obvious as sexual violence are not defined as sexual violence in a lot of our laws.”
Though Laman is happy that her children’s rapist is behind bars, she wishes she could turn back the hands of time and save them from the heartbreaking incident.
Saduwo is a 2023 HumAngle Accountability Fellow from Adamawa state.
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