Averting sexual and gender-based violence in North-east states

It has been a disturbing phenomenon especially following the inception of Boko Haram in the zone until recently when the menace is now being tackled headlong. MUSA M. BUBA writes on the impending issues and possible solutions to avert further reoccurrences.

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) refers to any act perpetrated against a person’s will. Often times, it is based on gender norms and unequal power relationship which is said to be on the increase globally in recent times.
This unfortunate gender base violence against women had continued to be one of the negative phenomena that had attracted the attention of everyone globally apart
from battering, trafficking, physical abuse, among others.
Although government at all levels and some humanitarian organisations had been
putting measures in place to arrest the menace, yet, many, especially young girls and women have continued to be victims.
To that extent, a non-governmental organisation, Managing Conflicts in North-east Nigeria (MCN), a European Union-funded programme being implemented by the British Council had, as part of its mandate to promote peace, security and public safety, especially among survivors of Boko Haram conflict, established Sexual Assault Referral Centres SARC with help from other actors across the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
The establishment of SARCs is to serve as entry point for survivors and serves as voice to the voiceless survivors.  It was also to
advocate and mitigate the rights of the survivors and find possible ways of making the perpetrators punished.
In order to give the centre legitimacy, stakeholders like security agencies, traditional and religious leaders, civil society organisations, ministries, departments, the media, among others, constitute the steering committee.

Statistics on sexual abuse
Investigation reveals that the prevalence of sexual abuse is difficult to determine because it is often not reported. Experts agree that the incidence is far greater than what is reported to authorities concerned.
According to the United States of America Bureau of Statistics, investigations shows that 1.6 per cent (16 out of 1,000)
children between the ages of 12 and17 are victims of rape/sexual assault. Also, one in 5 girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
Self-report studies also show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of
adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident.

Governments’ intervention towards SGBV
In most of the states mentioned, tremendous cooperation were received leading to the establishment of SARCs by the humanitarian

In Yobe state, for instance, it took a proactive measure in view of the rampant cases in the state by signing a bill into law stipulating life imprisonment and 25 year-jail term for rape of minor and adult, respectively.
According to the law, “Whoever commits rape, where the victim is a minor, shall be punished
with imprisonment for life and where the victim is an adult, shall be jailed for a term of 25 years.
“Anyone who is ascertained to be a man, woman or animal and confirmed to have committed unnatural offence shall be convicted with a prison term that may extend to 25 years not below 14 years.”
The law also stipulates that whoever takes, entices, confines any person by means of force, threat or deceives such person without consent or lawful authority but with intent to deprive such of personal liberty would be construed to have committed the offence of kidnapping.

State of SGBV in North-east
In the past, there were reported cases of rape in the vulnerable states especially in internally displaced persons IDPs camps and among
According to investigations carried out by Blueprint regarding the establishment of SARCs in the state and provision of service to
survivors of SGBV, it was found out that although the incident had reduced; however some persons are still ignorant about it.
The SGBV security desk officers also confirmed that with the passing of
the bill in 2018, the crime has reduced considerably while in some
states, the law is still at the preparation stage.

Maiden North-east SARCs meeting and resolution
The maiden SARCs meeting supported by Managing Conflict in the North-east indicates that there is a functional, existing centres in all
the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states with office accommodation, infrastructure, drugs and other consumables.
Also there is improved coordination among SARC, stakeholders and the law enforcement agencies that contributed to the rising number
of successful prosecution of perpetrators of SGBV. To a large extent, it was also discovered that awareness has been created about the scourge.

Supports by humanitarian actors
The European Union funded Managing Conflict in Nigeria (MCN) programme,
Pathfinder International, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and
the Presidential Committee on North-east Initiatives (PCNI) were at the forefront of providing resources that have ensured the
establishment and functioning of SARCs.

Pending challenges
Despite the progress made so far, there are still challenges in respect of the sexual assault.
There is increasing incidence of sexual and gender- based violence (SGBV) against vulnerable groups such as children and internally displaced persons, the stigma associated with SGBV continues to
encourage the culture of silence as families prevent survivors from accessing medical, psycho-social and legal support services.
Other challenges were referral pathway for the SARC which has not been fully maximised as most survivors are referred to SARCs from the
police and relatively fewer referrals come from families, traditional authorities, schools and religious institutions.

There is still poor public awareness about SGBV and members of the public tend to blame the survivors of SGBV for their plight, among
Possible solutions/recommendation
Investigation by Blueprint indicates that if the menace should be reduce to its barest minimal, some actions must be taken by all stakeholders, knowing fully that the menace is now
everyone’s business.
To that extent, SARC steering committee and stakeholders working groups should engage
with the new governments in those states with a view to acquaint them with the progresses
made so far as well as the continuing challenges. Also, state governments should
establish SARCs in other locations and equip primary health centres with facilities to provide services to survivors of SGBV.
The state governments should also ensure access to medical, psycho-social and
legal services are free for survivors of SGBV; development programmes that would provide support to civil society organisations and the
media to sustain publicity and public awareness on SGBV and  SARC services for survivors should be available.
“Our traditional and community leaders, who serve as gate keepers, should take stronger measures to address traditions and beliefs
systems that would create congenial environment for the rising
incidence of SGBV and culture of silence,” says Umar Biki, a stakeholder.
Speaking further, he said, “Educational institutions, traditional authorities and religious bodies should be further engaged and mobilised to contribute more to the
referral pathway for the SARCs.”
Also in order to protect the survivors, report indicates that state governments and civil society organisations should mobilise resources to support social protection initiatives for survivors in order to foster their recovery and
address their vulnerability to SGBV.

State governments and the civil society organisations should adapt and
domesticate the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, Child
Rights Act and other enabling legislations needed to prevent SGBV and
ensure protection for survivors.
The police and judiciary should implement reforms needed to ensure speedy prosecution of SGBV cases and effective dispensation of justice for survivors of SGBV.
“With these possible solutions, the challenges of SGBV could be reduced,” he said.

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