Gender-based violence: Sex Offenders Register to the rescue?




This year, Nigeria joined the world to commemorate the 16 days of activism on the elimination of Violence Against Women (VAW) with the launch of a Sex Offenders Register aimed at tackling the increasing issues of rape in the country. ENE OSANG writes

Background

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November 25, which is also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day.

It is a period to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls, especially sexual assault.

It was started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991 and has continued to be celebrated yearly with different themes, used as an organising strategy by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

This year’s theme, “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape!” further amplifies the epidemic of rape and other sexual assault against women and young girls globally, and Nigeria in particular.

According to reports by the United Nations Women (UNWomen) entity, “while the names, times and contexts may differ, women and girls universally experience rape, sexual violence, and abuse, in times of peace or war.”

The UN report maintains that rape is rooted in a complex set of patriarchal beliefs, power, and control that continue to create a social environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalised.

“Exact numbers of rape and sexual assaults are notoriously difficult to confirm due to frequent latitude and impunity for perpetrators, stigma towards survivors, and their subsequent silence,” the report stated.

GBV in Nigeria

Many reports today have shown that there is prevalent cases of gender-based violence, particularly meted on women thereby increasing the number of families who have lost their loved ones due to one violence or the other.

Last week, Nigerians were shocked with the ambush and burning to death of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Women Leader, Mrs. Salome Abuh, in her house during therecently- concluded Kogi state governorship election.

Also,  Ochanya Elizabeth Obanje, a 13-year-old junior student girl of the Federal Girls College Gboko who died as a result of complications from various forms of sexual violence rape and abuse by her uncle and cousin including many other cases too numerous to mention.

Nigerians continue to lament the ugly situation with many gender activists and human rights organisations demanded that the federal government take commiserate measures to nipping the menace in the bud.

FG’s action

In response to calls from different bodies on the need to end all forms of violence against women, the federal government said it is committed to the ongoing 16 days activism against violence.

Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo officially launched the Sex Offenders Register during the opening ceremony of activities to commemorate this year’s 16 Days of Activism and campagn against gender based violence in Nigeria.

The sex offenders register is meant to document the identity of persons reported, arraigned and/or convicted of sex crimes, to serve as an important public safety tool that enables citizens and law enforcement agencies to make informed decisions about persons whose names are in the register and take steps to prevent repeat offences.

Osinbajo said the identification and punishment of all culprits of Gender Based Violence (GBV) is key to tackling the menace of rape, stressing also that therr was the need for preventive measures to be in place in order to deter perpetrators.

Osinbajo called on countries around the world to look beyond just legislation to fix the problem, rather, look at the deep, systematic dysfunction of cultures and social norms that do not prevent sexual violence.

He further urged all citizens to challenge demeaning or degrading references to women, as well as oppose the culture of blaming victims, but rather teach boys to respect women.

He said, “While we must ensure that abusers are identified and punished, the greater part of our efforts should go into ensuring that we do all in our power to prevent the abuse from happening in the first place, by proactively identifying risk factors and intervening decisively to deal with them before abuse happens.

“There are steps that we all can take to end all forms of abuse and these include: challenging demeaning or degrading references to women; opposing a culture of blaming victims; teaching boys a sense of masculinity that respects women and accepts no type of gender based violence and if you witness a sexual assault, call the police or contact the sexual and gender based violence response team in your state.

“The truth is, to end this problem begins with us as such we must never become accustomed to condoning any form of abuse or turn a blind eye to exploitation.”

Also, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dame Paullen Tallen, said the year’s theme “speaks to issues of rape which is assuming an alarming and unaccepted dimension in the society.”

Tallen disclosed that “over two million Nigerian girls and women were being raped annually, lamenting that women can no longer be silent in the face of the daunting menace where no one is spared.”

“Some persons have blamed indecent dressing among women as the cause of rape. This is truly laughable. How do we reconcile this with the rape of two weeks or six months old baby? Should indesecent dressing be the reason a 60-year-old woman is raped?”

She gave the assurance that the register aims to name and shame anybody ever convicted for rape, adding that “this will be placed in the public domain for all to see the perpetrators.”

She further assured of the ministry’s commitment to intensifying collaboration with the national and state assemblies towards conducting reviews and proposing amendments to legislations on gender equality and an end to all forms of discrimination against girls and women.

“The ministry will upscale its on-going advocacy strategies to ensure women, children and the girl-child, especially benefit from the next level agenda of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.

“We will also partner governors and their five uses, traditional institutions, faith-based organisations, and other civil society organisations to protect access to justice and better quality of life for Nigeria women and children.”

Similarly, the director-general, the National Center for Women Development (NCWD), Mary Ekpere-Eta, haled government and other relevant stakeholders’ support towards ending gender- based violence in the country.

Ekpere-Eta reiterated the commitment of the centre towards empowering women with the skills that would enable them to generate revenue, thereby reducing the risk of being vulnerable to any forms of abuse.

Also, the wife of Ekiti state governor Bisi, said it was important that the country adopted the political will to enforce laws that would protect women and children from all violence.

She stressed the need for community ownership, which would ensure that members of community also play active role in curbing sexual gender violence.

“As Nigerian women, we are tired of being raped, we are tired of being sexually exploited,” she said.

Global bodies support Nigeria’s action

The 74th President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, speaking during his tour to Nigeria for the first time after being elected, said rape is clearly a taboo which should addressed, just as he decried the increasing rates of gender-based violence meted on women in particular.

He re-emphasised the commitment of the assembly towards ending all forms of violence against women and children and promoting their rights, saying women must be at the centre of all national development issues for Nigeria to be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“If we must leave no one behind as the SDGs theme says, then women must be at the centre of what we do,” he said.

Speaking during the launch, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, noted the increasing rate of violence against women, adding that the EU/UN spotlight initiative has been rolled out to end gender based violence here in Nigeria, just aa she urged the federal government to ensure culprits are brought to book.

“The UN is committed to supporting government in the world including Nigeria to save girls and women from violent act. The 16 days activism against gender-based violence themed “Generation Equality Stands Against Rape’’ is a call for all to speak out against rape and other forms of violence, as well as ensure necessary actions were taken to curb the scourge,” she said

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) Ambassador and Head of Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Mr. Ketil Karlsen,  has noted that sexual and gender-based violence is a global pandemic, stressing that it requires fundamental and coordinated action that would guarantee the safety and security of vulnerable women and children across the world.

Karlsen assured of the EU support in highlighting the importance of the fight against SGBV through a campaign aimed at raising public awareness, as well as a call to action by the citizens and the government.

“To support Nigeria’s fight against SGBV, the European Union (EU) through its Rule of Law and Anti-corruption (RoLAC) Programme, which is implemented by the British Council supports the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and other security agencies, to develop and establish a Sex Offender’s Register in line with Section 1(4) of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, 2015.

“The register, which is a digital tool, will document the identity of persons reported, arraigned and/or convicted of offences of a sexual nature. While the information on convicted persons will be accessible to the public; those of persons reported or arraigned of sex crimes will be available to security agencies, but to the public on request.”

 Also, the programme director at the British Council, Dr. Bob Arnot, lauded the idea of a sex offenders’ register, saying the approach is expected to serve as deterrence to potential offenders and contribute to the reduction of escalating cases of sexual assault, especially against women and girls.

On her part, the UN country representative to Nigeria and, Ms Comfort Lamptey, stresses the need for the government to reflect on the achievement made towards resolving the plights of women and children in the country.

Lamptey also stressed the need for government to re-strategise and reconnect on ways to address the issue of gender-based violence, with the view of ending it at the root.

She said “We must root out all forms of violence against women and children. Invest in the empowerment of women and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice, while victims are supported.”

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