Saturday, May 17, 2014

How Hotel Kept our 15-Year-old Daughter for Prostitution (READ)

There is no way to describe the emotional trauma that Mr. and Mrs. Oki are currently going through. They are in sorrow because before their very eyes, their 15-year-old daughter has turned to something they no longer recognise.

A brilliant Year Three secondary school student, Sola (not real name) suddenly stopped school, left home and last week, the parents got the shock of their lives; she was discovered to be lodged at the Sweet Mother Hotel, Shasha, Akowonjo, Lagos, working as a prostitute.

From Punch:

Sola’s metamorphosis and descent into this strange lifestyle did not occur overnight. When our correspondent visited the parents in Abesan area of Ipaja, Lagos, they gave a narration that one could at best describe as too incredible to happen in real life.

Saturday PUNCH decided not to fully identify this family because a minor is involved.

Child prostitution is a menace that has received little focus from authorities. With many of such girls parading red-light zones like Allen Avenue, Opebi or GRA in Ikeja area of Lagos in the night, it is not likely that any of them would admit that she is indeed underage.

Many more may not likely reveal to their parents the kind of trade they are engaged in, but for Sola’s parents who got to know this difficult truth, only God could save their child.

“We don’t know which friends could have influenced her that much. But people kept telling us that her problem was spiritual,” Sola’s father began.

He is not an illiterate. In fact, the couple speak good English and their general conduct portrayed them as conservative Christians. The wife is a caterer and decorator, while the husband is a retired civil servant who is now a farmer.

“At age 13 when our daughter was in Junior Secondary School One, she started exhibiting some very wayward behaviours. In fact, there was a time she complained that our television was not good enough and we had to buy another one. She always said she did not like being at home with us.

She started coming home as late as 7.30pm and later that increased to 8pm and 9pm until she was staying out as late as 12am.”

This surprising revelation prompted our correspondent to ask how the parents handled the case at that stage. The father said he was beating her, but when she did not seem to change, he resorted to prayers.

“We took her to many churches and they kept telling us that her case was spiritual; that only prayer could change her. We prayed a lot and she still did not change.”

Sola’s mother joined the discussion. She said there was a time her daughter left home in the evening during a carnival on their street.

“I got there and saw my daughter in a skimpy skirt. She was very drunk. That was when I decided that her issue required not just beating but spiritual help. I immediately dragged her to church for deliverance,” the distraught woman said.

The parents told Saturday PUNCH that their daughter’s wayward behaviour continued, during which time they visited prominent prophets in Osun, Ondo and Ibadan.

Her father said there was a time he beat her and she slapped him back in anger and threatened to stab him. He said that was when he was really sure that she needed deliverance.

On December 31, 2013, our correspondent learnt that Sola angrily left the house when she was scolded for coming home late that evening. She never returned.

“She would call sometimes and when I asked where she was, she would say she was staying with her friends. When I asked her where, she would refuse to give details,” the girl’s mother said.

After disappearing for months, a few days ago, her daughter called as usual but this time, she was screaming that someone wanted to kill her.

“I think a fight broke out where she was staying and she said someone wanted to stab her. Even though she had never revealed where she was living in the past; she called but she later dropped the call.”

During the ruckus, one of the people around the hotel picked the phone and gave Sola’s mother the address of where she was staying.

“It was when we got there that we realised that she was engaged in prostitution. The sad part of this is that such a hotel could harbour our young girl for prostitution even though the operators are aware she is just a minor,” she said.

She was not sure what to do until she contacted a child rights advocate, Mrs. Esther Ogwu, who runs a non-governmental organisation, Esther Child Rights Foundation.

Ogwu said she visited the hotel in company with the mother. But by then, Sola had left and when she was contacted on the phone, she did not seem to be willing to return home.

“The mother was distraught. We had to report the case to the police. The police went to the hotel, raided the place and arrested two other girls who were Sola’s colleagues in the business.

“When the girls were locked up, that was when Sola called to beg for their release, with the promise that she would give herself up. When she came to the police station to meet us, the police released her friends but locked her up. But we requested that the case be transferred to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters.”

It was not possible to speak with Sola as she is currently housed in NAPTIP’s children centre, undergoing counselling and rehabilitation.

The Lagos Zonal Coordinator of NAPTIP, Mr. Joseph Famakin, believes that the girl was influenced by friends while her parents did not pay enough attention to the company she kept.

He said, “The problem nowadays is that some parents are not doing enough to monitor their children especially when it has to do with the company they keep.

“In the case of this girl, we have to first ensure that she does not feel persecuted, which is why we are handling her case with a lot of care because of her age.

“I get weekly report on the progress of victims in our centre. For two weeks, she would undergo counselling and rehabilitation handled by experts. We will be able to determine how her change of behaviour occurred and the contribution of the parents. We would also determine what need she would require.”

For NAPTIP, the government agency responsible for the eradication of child exploitation and trafficking, the concern is usually focused on when the child is coerced into the sex trade.

There is no official statistics on the number of child prostitutes in the country, but there are estimated 77 million children in Nigeria. Out of this, a sizeable percentage of girls are trafficked for prostitution in and out of the country, according to NAPTIP.

However, our correspondent visited Sweet Mother Hotel, a nondescript guest house tucked in-between residential buildings in a choky street in Shasha.

An official, who attended to our correspondent, explained that the hotel knew that the girl was underage and that action was indeed taken on her case before her mother came looking for her.

The official said, “Our director took over the management of this hotel less than one month ago. The girl was not the one who lodged here. She was lodging with some older girls who had been living here before we took over. They told us they were sisters initially.

“During a fight between the little girl and one of her hosts, our director called her and asked how old she was. She said she was almost 19 but it was clear she was younger than that. Our director said she had to provide her parents’ address and phone numbers, but she provided wrong information. “She was told then that unless she could provide the contact address of her parents, she could not stay in the hotel. She left this place soon after.”

The hotel official said neither the director of the hotel nor the girls who allegedly accommodated Sola were around when our correspondent requested to speak with them.

Famakin said NAPTIP’s ongoing investigation into Sola’s case would determine the course of action to be taken when she finally completes her rehabilitation and counselling sessions.

The NAPTIP boss said there had been instances where victims such as Sola were sponsored to school by the agency if that was what they needed in cases where the parents did not have the wherewithal.

But Ogwu insisted that those who run the hotel should be prosecuted as they should know better even if the child came there on her own accord.

Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Mashudat Mojeed-Bello, gave an insight into the factors that may push a child into the wayward direction that Sola had taken.

She said much of the problem was likely to have originated in the child’s immediate environment – the family.

Mojeed-Bello said, “The adolescent age is a time that is full of crises. If that period of a child’s life is not properly handled by the parents, it is likely to negatively impact on the child.

“It is a time a child is trying to form an identity and explore. The question is, what kind of relationship exists between the child and her parents? Is she free to share her anxieties, worries and fears with them? If the family cannot provide this support at that stage of her life, she is likely to depend on her peers. This is why peer pressure may exert a strong influence on such a child.

“Being a morally upright parent is not enough to handle a child at the adolescent stage of development. Society has to understand the importance of the family in the life of a child at that stage.”

The psychiatrist said Sola was likely exposed to difficult situations she probably did not plan for when she ran away from home, thereby pushing herself into vices on the streets to survive.

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