Jummai Philip Musa is the Technical Adviser, Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) at the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN). In this interview, she speaks on ways to ensure protection of the rights of children, especially in the area of health and wellbeing; the need to implement legislations and policies for child rights and how IHVN is working to protect the rights of OVC affected or infected by HIV.
What is your assessment of child rights protection in Nigeria, and what do you think needs to be done by the government and other stakeholders to ensure that children’s right to healthcare is protected?
We cannot undermine the importance of advocacy, awareness creation and continuous education of key stakeholders. We discovered that some key stakeholders do not have knowledge on how best to protect the rights of children in their communities.
When you look at our cultural beliefs and norms, and those negative norms that are promoted in our communities because of tradition, you would agree with me that the best thing is to continue with advocacy, awareness, education and empowerment, because in the communities, if cases of abuse are identified and they don’t have the economic backing to even pursue the cases, they will not be able to do what we do in supporting our caregivers to be able to move and report cases because there are referral networks in the cases made known to every caregiver.
So, so awareness is for them to know that these services are available to them; that they can report without being harassed, without being intimidated, but what we look out for the government to do is their will and power to implement some of these laws.
The 2003 Child Rights Act is clear about the rights of children, but the will to implement it is weak. Right from the grassroots, when you go to them, the belief is that “these are family issues, we don’t need to take these issues out.”
But we keep advocating and talking to them about the need to speak out. There are so many cases of abuse that just go under the carpet, so we work closely with the government and the networks to see that the government implements what they are supposed to implement.
Example, we have had these laws for long, but how many states have domesticated the laws? Even if they are there, we don’t really bring them out and bring offenders to book. Doing so will help stop people from doing child rights violations and families coming out to disclose such abuses instead of hiding them.
How has IHVN been helping to promote the rights of children and ensure quality healthcare delivery for them?
In 2019, IHVN launched its child protection policy to support its community-based organisations in the promotion of the rights of children. This was in response to the need to have a standardised approach to dealing with child protection issues at the community level.
The guidance provided direction on actions that community organisations need to take when confronted with issues of child abuse or neglect. Alongside this, the annual OVC programme’s orientation is provided on child protection to supported community organisations.
This aligns with the holistic approach of the OVC programme that seeks to achieve positive outcomes in the safety, school, health, and stable domains for children and families affected or infected by HIV.
Continuous training of Community-Based Organisations’ (CBO’s) staff on child protection and other related rights issues is taken as a priority. The OVC programme collaborates with the treatment areas to ensure that all children at risk are assessed and categorised according to needs and interventions made by leveraging available resources such as birth registration and certification, documentation of child immunisation and nutrition education to support better health outcomes. Continuous advocacy, awareness and education on child protection services are carried out.
We have added many programmes such as the “Family Matters Programme” and the “NO Means NO” programme for the boys and the girls that are adolescents to strengthen families, especially those infected and affected by HIV.
We have been looking closely at four domains, the stable domains where you have Households Economic Strengthening to encourage the women to go on income generating activities. In this area, we have empowered over 70,000 households.
The second is the Health Domain, where we have closely worked with our treatment colleagues to achieve the UNAIDS goal of 95-95-95. Thirdly, we have the Safety Domain, which has to do with the protection of children. I am sure that is where you are really keen to know about. We protect the children from any harm and in any form of molestation, neglect, violence and so many other vices.
We also have the School Domain, where we integrate children that are of school age into school programmes. We do this through block granting and payment of examination fees.
Previously, we worked in 30 states, and we are currently in Nasarawa, Katsina and Rivers states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). We have engaged the government of Nigeria to see that we provide comprehensive and quality care to households that we are working with.
IHVN has supported the establishment of a Child Protection Committee (CPC) in each community that the institute is supporting for awareness creation and sensitisation to prevent any form of violence against children.
These 24 CPCs are made up of stakeholders in the community, including the police, faith leaders, traditional leaders, women and youth leaders.
Gender norms training is also provided to adolescents to increase awareness of rights and harmful gender norms.
Through targeted interventions for adolescent girls/boys and young men/women in community safe spaces, IHVN continues to raise understanding of young people’s rights to protect them and prevent any form of violence. Community engagements and school club activities have provided avenues for awareness creation in preventing violence against children. During caregiver forums, increased awareness of parental responsibilities in the prevention of child abuse is also highlighted.
IHVN has just invested hugely in the ‘NO MEANS NO’ training of instructors to support adolescents in communities to prevent any form of abuse or violence. 44 trained instructors will commence training adolescent boys and girls in schools on the prevention of violence from October, 2023.
Additionally, the use of social media has also shown to be very effective in addressing the issues of sexual and gender-based violence. To reduce cases of child marriage, IHVN has empowered over 10,000 adolescent girls and young women through its DREAMS (Determined, Resilience, Empowered, AID- Free, Mentored and Safe) project which aims to reduce cases of child marriage in four supported states (Nasarawa, Rivers, Katsina and the FCT). Strong community engagement and sensitisation using Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials for better understanding is being carried out.
Do your activities involve policy implementation, like in some states that are yet to implement the Child Rights Act?
We work closely with the facility and communities in the area of policy making. We work right from the grassroots with the local governments to see that they first put a budget for these activities.
And two to three years back we were able to succeed in getting in the buy-in of the government to have a budget line for OVC activities, and that includes protection of the children.
Before now we worked with UNICEF to strengthen the children protection system in Nigeria, and we went round the local governments and states.
We also collaborate with stakeholders to have a very strong committee on ground, especially the child protection networks.
We supported them to ensure that the policy that is on ground is always updated, reviewed and implemented in the communities. So, we have been working hand in hand at both levels; that’s the policy level and the community level.
Access to prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV services is still a challenge for many pregnant women in communities, how is the programme addressing that?
We are currently working with the AP3 programme, where you have the paediatric team, the PMTCT team, and the OVC team now, because we have seen that caregivers or mothers find it difficult to even go to the facilities to get their required services when needed.
The OVC programme enrols their children and supports them. In fact, recently they also introduced what we call “mother love party”, where we bring in those mothers.
We educate them on so many things, starting from nutrition, where we have food demonstrations, home gathering, and through their health, because we discovered that the wellbeing of these children depends solely on the mothers or caregivers.
So, we target caregivers, we empower them with the education of taking care of their children and we also empower them with logistics to go for their hospital appointment when due.
What is the referral system you utilise for cases of sexual violence for children and adolescents?
We have a strong referral system on ground; we work closely with our gender-based violence team and they have whistle blowers. There are people who have been taught to go and report.
The child protection system is very strong in the communities. And we are rolling out the “No Means No” to further strengthen it. They’re taught to take care of themselves first and learn to always say no to negative advances.
The curriculum would be rolled out on October 1, mostly in schools where we want to deal with the younger adolescents and to show them that they have the right to safety and good health.
Sexual, physical and emotional abuses are the major forms of abuse that we see in communities. When a home is no longer a safe place for the children, an alternate care plan which includes placing a child in shelter is sought, but this is usually the last resort.
In the OVC programme, this has so often meant that the rights of the child to family life, parental care, protection and maintenance become threatened. The best interest of the child no longer takes precedence in the decision.
While the view may be widespread that the home is no longer a safe place, much the same can be said of the streets that are not safe options either.
IHVN takes a holistic view to support interventions that strengthen the family by helping them become resilient. This would usually follow a risk assessment and actions taken to either remove or reduce the risk at home. Interventions such as household economic strengthening, access to healthcare, education and child protection strategies are implemented at the family level by trained community workers. This leads to increased awareness and understanding of parental responsibility and children’s rights.
To curb the immediate and long-term consequences of abuse of the rights of children, IHVN administers Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and social services such as psycho-social support and counselling to rape survivors. It also provides referral for services it cannot provide, like legal services.