The attention of a Non Governmental Organisation in Kogi State, Heal for Africa Initiative which focuses on girl child and women sexual and reproductive health and rights via one of their projects ‘Pay Attention to Her’ (PATH) has been drawn to a case of child abuse.
The case which centers on a 13 year old Grace Adejo who was forced into marriage by her father and now made pregnant, was brought to the knowledge of the Executive Director of the NGO, Dr. Kelechi Okoro during the Sallah holidays in Lokoja while attempting to register for antenatal for the first time.
The issue which was taken to the office of the Kogi State Ministry of Women Affairs for proper intervention by Dr. Okoro had all the parties involved, the victim, Grace Adejo, her mother, Mrs Gloria Rabi Adejo, and uncle narrated the whole story to the Commissioner of the Ministry, Mrs Bolanle Ampitan and the press.
According to the mother of the victim, Mrs Rabi Adejo, her daughter was trickishly collected from her by the father, her ex-husband when she took her to the village in Ugwolawo a community in Kogi East to see her elder sister at age five (5) and never saw her again till this issue came up.
Grace Adejo the victim, narrating her ordeal said she was ill advised to marry her twenty five year old husband by her grandfather’s wife in an attempt to escape the maltreatment from her stepmother and supposed family members.
She recounted how she was sexually assaulted by an uncle, her father’s younger brother in Nasarawa State at age 11 and was faulted and chastised, while her rapist who took her innocence was never reprimanded.
Also speaking, the in-law, husband to the victim’s cousin, Mr. Idoko Udale who was present at the meeting said the sudden disappearance of Grace had been a source of concern to the mother’s family, saying it was heartbreaking for them to discover Grace was not only given out in marriage without the mother’s consent, but had been made pregnant and was being maltreated by the purported husband.
In her reaction, the Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs Bolanle Ampitan commended Dr. Okoro for doing the right thing, by reporting the case to her ministry for proper intervention.
Mrs Ampitan said the New Direction administration of Governor Yahaya Bello protects the rights of women and children, adding that the government has enacted a child right law made easier with pictorial evidence to assist children to know their rights and save them from being abused.
“We have our social welfare, legal and police departments, we will follow this case and bring everyone guilty to justice. We will invite the father and husband of the victim again. We know the place of culture as Africans, but this is a pure case of child abuse and there is every need for mothers and citizens to speak out where necessary,” she added.
Oh her part, the Executive Director of Heal for Africa, Dr. Kelechi Okoro expressed gratitude to the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Folashade Arike Ayaode who she said registered Grace immediately on hearing her case for antenatals up until delivery.
“Grace is six (6) months pregnant and has not had any antenatal sessions which is risky.”
Dr Okoro also thanked the commissioner for women affairs for the prompt attention to the case and summoning all the parties involved for hearing, adding that her organisation would continue to do its best in championing the cases of women’s health and the protection of child rights.
She lamented the dangers and complications early pregnancy poses on a girl child and the need for adequate education on the rights of children and the involvement of the society in speaking against child abuse.
“There is a need for people to speak out. We could intervene in Grace’s case because somebody spoke. This is a case of child abuse, early marriage, and teenage pregnancy. There are grievous complications attached to teenage pregnancy.”
“It is painful how our laws and tradition has continued to enable our men against women,” she concluded.
As at the time of filing this report, the father and purported husband of Grace were not present, as they both turned down the invitation to come for hearing by the commissioner.
They have been given up till Monday to report to the Ministry of Women Affairs in Lokoja to be heard or risk being arrested.