Togo/Nigeria: Mawule, an abused child, supported by a whole country
Mawule is nearly fifteen. When her elder sister died, she found herself the oldest sibling, taking responsibility for her three younger sisters, who all go to school in their own country, Togo. But Mawule wasn’t so lucky; she was sent to work in Nigeria last January. It was her own uncle who came looking for her in their small, remote village in Togo. Promising that she would earn good money, learn a job and a new language, he persuaded her parents to let her go with him to Abeokuta.
Once in Nigeria, Mawule spent the first three nights at her uncle’s before being taken on by a woman as a domestic maid. From the very beginning her employer beat her, making her take off her dress so that the blows would be felt harder. Not speaking the local language, Mawule was unable to complain to anybody. And none of the neighbours, all witnesses of the situation, dared to intervene. This ordeal lasted for four months.
One day in April, when she had just been beaten once again, Mawule managed to escape from the house at last, and was finally looked after by neighbours who took her to hospital.
The police were immediately called and Mawule’s ‘mistress’ was arrested and placed in detention.
The Terre des hommes team in Abeokuta was informed by the Ministry for Women’s Education of the presence of a young victim at the hospital, suffering from bad injuries. Tdh went to meet her there, gave her the support needed for her recovery, and told her family in Togo.
However, a few days later, Tdh discovered that the corrupt police were planning to take Mawule back to the very woman who had attacked her.
Tdh then alerted the Ministry to the intentions of the police, and an order was given for the youngster to be taken away from the hospital for her own safety, and placed in a centre run by the State, where only Tdh was authorised to visit her. Tdh still continues to look after her and helps her discover lots of activities to aid her recovery. Mawule soon showed great artistic talent, and now wants to become a hairdresser.
In this affair, the part taken by the Tdh team was not to act alone, but rather to back the State in protecting a child in such a situation of abuse. With the advice of Tdh, the Ministry for Women’s Education mobilised numerous people and set up an ad-hoc committee composed of representatives of the police, the immigration service, the department for social affairs and Terre des hommes, as well as neighbours and the doctor who gave first aid to the young girl.
After six weeks’ deliberation, the matter was referred to the Department of Citizens’ Rights, the aim being to find free legal aid for Mawule. This Department suggested two procedures: either litigation or mediation between the parties. The committee carefully examined these options and decided on mediation, which in this case respected better the interests of the child.
At the end of the mediation, last week, Mawule was awarded the sum of 300,000 Nigerian Nairas (about CHF 1,700.-) as compensation. The aggressor asked to and openly offered her apologies to the girl in the presence of members of the committee and in front of a video camera. She also signed an agreement never to ill-treat other children, particularly her own children, and agreed to be monitored for two years.
As for Mawule’s uncle, he admitted that he had never gone to her aid as he was in Nigeria illegally and was afraid of being arrested by the immigration service. After this affair came to light, he was finally questioned by this service about the circumstances surrounding the arrival of his niece, so as to determine whether he was part of a network of child trafficking.
According to Olapeju Osoba, a member of the Tdh team in Nigeria, “Mawule was terribly upset when we met her the first time. She has now had psychological therapy and today she is considerably better. She is ready and prepared to confront her aggressor and to accept the woman’s apologies. She is happy again and appreciative of the ‘foreigners’ who came to her aid.”
Despite everything, Mawule wants to stay in Nigeria and learn a ‘real’ job. Tdh supported then the Ministry for Women’s Education to write agreements to respect the protection network implemented for the young girl. The Ministry has given her a residence permit so she can do a hairdressing apprenticeship. Her father approved she will be entrusted to a suitable family and an arrangement has been found to allow her father to make frequent visits to see her from Togo to Nigeria.
This affair shows how far the Nigerian governmental institutions can and want to go today to rally around for the protection of children in situations of abuse, whatever their origins. The new Permanent Secretary was personally involved during the whole business. He has requested that an official meeting be organised between the Ministry for Women’s Education and Tdh, to decide on and keep up this type of collaboration.