By Azuka Onwuka
For the umpteenth time, another mother showed callousness to a little girl that lived with her. Last week, the barbarity of Mrs Ifeoma Ozougwu to 10-year-old Nneoma Nnadi who lived with her as a house-help filled people with disgust. Videos and photos of the little girl showed her burnt back and burnt chest and a bleeding head. She was said to have been tortured with hot water and hot pressing iron in addition to being hit with a nail on the head, ground pepper inserted in her private part and she was locked her up in the toilet.
A neighbour heard her cry and alerted the police who got the couple, Mr and Mrs Jude Ozougwu, arrested. They were charged to court on Monday, July 5, 2020, but remanded in custody.
Not long ago, a lady locked up a child in a kennel. Another lady was shown in a video beating her house-girl and slamming her on the floor ferociously. One always locked up her house-girl in the toilet anytime she left home, and the girl had to drink water from the toilet. Another locked her house-girl up and fed her with cockroaches and faeces. There have been other cases of pure wickedness, callousness and heartlessness against little girls used as helps in many Nigerian families.
These girls (or sometimes boys) are underage children of poor families given out to live with more financially comfortable families. Sometimes, these family members are aunties. In most cases, the “madam” is not related to the girl. An intermediary travels to her village in another state or town to get some girls from poor homes to live with women who are still bearing children. These girls of between eight and 14 years are meant to look after the babies, especially when the “madam” is not at home. This ensures that the woman’s little children are not kept at a daycare.
Sometimes, these girls are paid some monthly pittance, especially if they are up to 16 years and above and such was specifically agreed upon. But in the cases of the little ones who are brought in to live with their relatives, they are not paid. It is assumed that they are being given a better life in the home of a couple that is more financially stable. Because the parents of such a girl are usually poor and there are usually too many mouths to feed, or one of the parents is dead and the surviving widow or widower cannot cope with raising all the children, some of these children are given to other families to take care of. The girls are sent out as house-helps, while the boys are sent out as apprentices.
In some cases, these children get a better life and become successful in life. The reason is that in a bid to treat them harshly as “outsiders,” by their guardians, they become toughened and more street-wise and tougher to excel in life. The girls learn to cook because “Madam’s” children are too delicate to cook. They wash the plates and clothes. They clean the house. They bathe the little ones and dress them up. They sit with the babies. They go with Madam to the market to buy things. The boys learn trade, get verbally and emotionally abused and toughened to know how to handle customers and money.
But sometimes, these children get treated like slaves and animals. The assumption is that the Madam is supposed to send the girl to school, feed her, clothe her, take care of her, and even send her to a higher institution, in the long run, so as to give her what her poor parents will not be able to give her. Some of the madams end up not sending them to any school. They simply keep them at home to look after baby after baby. Even when some are sent to school, they spend more days at home than in school. Some are sent out to hawk goods on a tray for the Madam when her mates and Madam’s children are in school.
The shocking thing is that the same woman who is so caring, loving and protective of her children is the one who acts like a monster towards another person’s child. Sometimes, this child is even a relative: a niece, distant cousin, etc. The little girl works from very early in the morning to late at night, cleaning, sweeping, washing, ironing, cooking, babysitting, etc. Yet, her food is meagre or without any piece of meat, or the food or soup that has gone sour. She wears the worst clothes – colourless, old and threadbare. She is regularly verbally abused, physically abused and emotionally abused. Sometimes, she even gets sexually abused by the husband of Madam, or brother or son. She is made to live in fear every minute of her life, as nothing she does is ever considered good.
It is when such physical abuse results in serious bodily injury or is captured on video and reported that it becomes news. If not, such children live this type of horror of a life until they are thrown out of the house or they run away. As far as these abusive madams are concerned, these house-helps are necessary evils that have to be handled with an iron fist, or they will cause much harm in the home. Many of them are even believed to be possessed by evil spirits, while some are believed to be witches with high ranks in the marine world. So once they arrive their new home, they are immediately taken to men of God to cast the forces of darkness out and ensure that such girls don’t create problems in their new home or collect all the destinies of the children and destroy the businesses of the man and woman! Given this type of mindset by their guardians, they are visited with unbelievable callousness.