Gender Based Violence: Another failure of community care, justice system

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Rape protesters in Nigeria
Rape protesters in Nigeria

APARTfrom declaring a state of emergency on rape and gender based violence, there is an urgent need to do whatever is necessary to check the menace, including the domestication of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, the Child Rights Act and the updated Penal Code Child’s Rights Act in all the states of the country.

By Anayo Ezugwu

The issue of rape and sexual violence have been with us as a nation, but the outbreak of coronavirus and all forms of restrictions employed to check the spread the virus appear to have contributed to the increasing cases of rape and sexual violence across the country.

Unfortunately, a new dimension has been introduced into the criminal behavior with several cases of defilement of babies under one year and toddlers.

This troubling development has become the subject of discussions among Nigerians, including the social media space on how best to tackle it.

Although there is no official statistics of the number of rape cases and defilement recorded in the country this year, the media space is awash with reports of rape cases, sexual violence on a daily bases.

The deaths of Vera Uwaila Omosuwa, 22, student of the University of Benin in Edo State, and Barakat Bello, 18, student of the Federal College of Animal and Production Technology, Moor Plantation, Apata, Ibadan, Oyo State are among the latest cases. Their deaths sparked national out-cry and protests by activists demanding an end to sexual and gender based violence in the country. As the protests progress, more cases emerged, which showed a pattern of impunity and lack of effective government response.

Statistics have showed that there is an alarming increase in cases of sexual and gender based violence since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. Experts have attributed the increase to different factors, including weak enforcement of laws, lack of diligent prosecution of rape suspects, stigmatisation of rape victims, culture, traditions and patriarchy among other issues.

For instance, in the southwest region, the media reported cases of rape of two young girls in Oyo and Ekiti States respectively. Unfortunately, the victim in Oyo was murdered in cold blood, while report from Ekiti indicated that some of the suspects were apprehended and brought to the office of the wife of the state governor, who ensured that they were handed over to the police for investigation.

Similarly, on Wednesday June 3, men of the Ogun State Police Command arrested Wasiu Bankole, 25, for raping a 70-year-old woman. The suspect was arrested 24 hours after he committed the offence at Abule Lemode, Ijoko in the Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government Area of the state.  On Thursday, June 4, a 12-year-old girl was gang-raped by four masked men at her residence in Abijo area of Ajah, Lagos State. She was said to have been raped while playing alone in the compound around 2 pm.

Likewise, in the northwest, a 12-year-old girl was purportedly raped by a middle aged man at Limawa quarters in Dutse Local Government area of Jigawa state. She has also been allegedly raped by 11 men at different occasions. A 13-year-old girl was also allegedly gang raped in Kaduna State by four men, who had whisked her away on a bike. The Kaduna State Ministry of Human Services and Social Development has since launched an investigation. The girl was reported drugged before being raped. She was later dumped underneath a stationary vehicle near her house.

Report from Osun state indicated that in Erinmo Ijesa area, a man lured a 16-year-old daughter of a family friend to accompany him to the farm along with two other persons. He, thereafter, sent the other two persons to another farm far away, leaving the young girl alone with him. He thereafter raped the girl.

At the same time, Simon Emeka, a 38-year-old man was arraigned in Makurdi, Benue State on June 5, for raping his seven months old daughter. It was alleged that the accused person has been involved in the crime since the baby was three months old.

An online video that appeared on Saturday, June 6, indicated that a two-year-old girl at Idumota, Lagos was repeatedly raped by a man and was beaten by her mother, who blamed the child.

The matter is currently under investigation by the National Human Rights Commission and the Lagos State Government.

A 15-year-old boy, identified as Osayomi, was arrested by the police in Ekiti State for allegedly defiling a three-year-old girl. Asuquo Amba, state commissioner of police, said the incident occurred at Iludi, Osi Ekiti, in the Ido/Osi LGA of the state on May 30. The mother of the three-year-old victim returned home from market and discovered that her daughter was rough and stressed.

After a close examination, she noticed fluids on her daughter’s underwear, raising suspicion that she might have been defiled. Medical examination confirmed her suspicion.

These are just few cases that have been reported in the media. There are hundreds of other cases that have not been reported. Confirming the alarming statistics, Mohammed Adamu, Inspector-General of Police, IGP, recently disclosed that between January and May this year the police arrested 799 suspected rapists and other gender-based violence perpetrators across the country.

“It has come to the public knowledge now that because of the COVID-19 restrictions, we have a surge in cases of rape and gender-based violence. These are cases that are now coming up, but we want to let members of the public know that, rape and gender-based violence had been there.

The law enforcement agents have been dealing with these cases, in most cases, members of the public are not aware of the actions that the law enforcement agents have been taking. From January to May 2020, we have recorded about 717 rape incidents that were reported across the country and about 799 suspects have been arrested, 631 cases conclusively investigated and charged to court, and 52 cases are left and under investigation,” he said.

As the cases continue to grow, some lawyers have urged that courts should impose the maximum punishment of life imprisonment on offenders. They also call for incarceration as part of measures to curb the menace. Chibuikem Opara, a human rights activist, said governments through the courts, should give the maximum punishment of life imprisonment to proven cases of rape.

Opara said bail as a policy should be refused in rape cases.  He also noted that awareness should be continually created to show that all sexual offences were crimes not only to an individual, but against humanity.

According to him, children should be taught the evils of rape. “We need to get back to the roots, and everybody must be involved. It is good to teach the female child how to behave, but we must not neglect to give orientation to the male child on the proper way to relate with the opposite sex.

The male child must be made to understand that it is normal for a person to be ‘rejected’ and wrong to force himself on another person,” he said.

Nkechinyere Obi, lawyer, wants churches and other religious organisations to sensitise their members on the dangers of rape. “Families should inculcate morals into their children – both girls and boys – for a better society. Above all, severe punishments, such as incarceration, should be given to offenders to deter others from indulging in such a crime,” Obi said.

In his contribution, Chris Ayiyi, lawyer, said although rape offenders could be prosecuted and punished, parents should ensure that their daughters dress decently. He also advised that pornography sites should be restricted.

“Government should place restrictions on porn sites or completely ban pornography; these pictures or videos corrupt the minds of younger ones. Most times human beings try to practise what they see even though it is not real,” he said.

To address the menace, CLEEN Foundation has called on state governments that are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act 2003 and the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 to do so as a matter of urgency. Benson Olugbuo, executive director, CLEEN Foundation, said all security agencies should establish gender and juvenile desks to deal with the rising cases of sexual and gender-based violence.

In its latest report on sexual and gender based violence within the pandemic, CLEEN Foundation said there should be greater commitment from politicians, especially members of the National Assembly on how to deal with issues of rape and the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria. “Victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence should not be stigmatised by the society. Nigerian citizens should blame perpetrators not victims, survivors or their family members,” it said.

At the same time, the Civil Society Engagement for Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption, ROLAC, has set up centres for rape victims to seek redress. Oluwatoyosi Giwa, manager, ROLAC, and network secretary, SARC said that the sexual assault referral centres were set up so that those who have been sexually assaulted would have a place to go.

She said the centre was also set up because of the gap in the justice system. “The centre is specifically a place of help. We examine the victims when they come and we would have done Deoxyribonucleic Acid, DNA, but the DNA test is very expensive, so we opted for head to toe examination of the victim because the DNA lab is very expensive. The head to toe examination we do works very well. We look for injuries that are consistent with the stories we are told by the victim.

“There are over 15 centres right now all over the country and the services we provide at the centres are free of charge. With the centres established, we hope to improve justice for women, girls, and persons with disabilities. We hope that the numbers of perpetrators reduce and ensure that people don’t get away with sexual assault-related offences,” she said.

Likewise, the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, has declared a state of emergency on gender-based and sexual violence. The decision was taken at the 10th COVID-19 teleconference meeting of the forum, following the rising cases of rape across the country.

The NGF, in a communiqué, condemned sexual and gender-based violence, saying they are committed to ensuring justice is served. The NGF also called on its members, who are yet to implement laws against sexual and gender-based violence to do so in order to reduce sexual violence.

“Governors have agreed to declare a State of Emergency on Sexual and Gender-based Violence. Governors strongly condemned all forms of violence against women and children and committed to ensuring that offenders face the maximum weight of the law.  Call on State Governors that have not already domesticated relevant gender-based protection laws to domesticate the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, the Child Rights Act and the updated Penal Code to increase protection for women and children and ensure speedy investigation and prosecution of perpetrators in addition to creating a sex offenders register in each state to name and shame.”

On its part, the federal government has set a Gender-Based Violence Management Committee. Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, noted that incidents of rape cases in the country have increased dramatically in the last few weeks, resulting in the brutal murder of some victims.

Malami, in a statement, condemned the prevalent and rising incidence of rape and sexual assault in the country. He observed that the development has sparked outrage in Nigeria and abroad.

The minister noted that the federal ministry of justice has identified with calls for national response against rape and sexual assault in the country. He said in fulfillment of the ministry’s mandate and its determination to urgently address this heinous crime, his office would immediately inaugurate an Inter-Ministerial Gender-Based Violence Management Committee.

Malami said the committee would review all the existing laws so as to propose to the National Assembly necessary legislative changes to ensure that the offences of rape and child defilement are dealt with in consonance with international best practices.

As federal and state governments move to address the increasing number of rape cases in the country, Nigerians want to see sincerity on the part of governments in the fight against rape and other gender-based violence.

– June 20, 2020 @ 15:09 GMT |

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