It has been argued that cases of violence against children are usually underreported and thus survivors, witnesses and their families are encouraged to speak out. However, speaking out can also come at a cost which further instils fear. Two recent cases come to mind which the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) has written petitions to the Lagos state commissioner of police to ensure that the culprits in question are apprehended and justice is served.
A 15-year-old school girl was gang raped in Ikorodu, Lagos, in February 2018, by four men. She has been living with the trauma of threats that she would die for reporting the incident or if she failed to honour any sexual invitation from the men who raped her. They also threatened to upload a video of the rape online. When the girl’s family reported the matter to the Ijede Divisional Police headquarters, and the police headed for an arrest, the family members of the culprit assaulted a police officer as well as one of the girl’s brothers.
The same year in Amuwo Odofin, Lagos, a 16-year-old girl was reported to have been abducted by a man to his house where he raped her. The child was afraid to inform her parents about what had happened to her. Eventually she got pregnant from the rape and the incident was reported to the Gender Unit of the Lagos State Police Command in October 2018. Prior to this, when the girl informed her rapist that she was pregnant, he provided her with some pills which nearly took her life – it was at this stage that her parents found out.
As of the time of writing, the FESTAC Police Division had made attempts to invite the perpetrator for questioning and he has successfully avoided them. Even the lawyer who represents him has been evasive in providing the culprit who allegedly has tried to bribe the victim’s father, Mr. Iwuagwu, to close the case against him. Upon Mr Iwuagwu’s refusal, the culprit resorted to death threats, “if you don’t drop this case, you or your daughter will be down”, as reported by Mr. Iwuagwu who also laments the rather lack of interest and thus slow reactions from the police towards the matter.
Between January 2018 and December 2018, the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Lagos, recorded 134 per cent increase in cases of rape, defilement and domestic violence in Lagos with 1,750 domestic violence cases, 279 child abuse cases, 78 defilement cases, and 44 cases of rape, among other cases. While the number of domestic violence cases increased by 817, the incidence of child abuse and defilement rose by 251 and 37 respectively. Rape cases was 24 higher compared to the 2017 report (‘Lagos Records 134% Rise in Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence” by Afeez Hanafi, Punch Newspapers, February 3, 2019).
According to the World Health Organisation, “Violence against children (VAC) includes all forms of violence against people under 18 years old, whether perpetrated by parents or other caregivers, peers, romantic partners, or strangers”. Nigeria is ripped with several cases of VAC such as these, however, several factors work against the child in the quest to curb the menace. A new report published by UNICEF and the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, notes that “about half of Nigerian children reported some form of physical violence prior to age 18 years by an intimate partner, parent, adult relative, or community member” (The Economic Burden of Violence Against Children, 2019).
At the family level, we find situations whereby children do not have close relationships with their parents or members of their families and as such tend to take matters into their own hands for fear that no one would believe them. At the community level, the culture of silence is quite the norm – this arises from the fact that in many traditional systems, a woman or girl who has been raped is seen and one who has brought shame to the family. Many-a-time, the perpetrators are protected. Last year in Kwami LGA, Gombe state, an 18-year-old girl was raped on her way to the farm. She became pregnant and the man in question denied any knowledge of the girl. The traditional leaders protected him when her parents took the matter to court. It was eventually learned that he paid the judge heavily to drop the case, while the parents of the girl were asked to pay a huge amount to the man for defamation of character.
Unfortunately, there are clauses in Nigeria’s Penal and Criminal Codes, customary laws, where gender based violence as well as certain degrees of violence against children, are not punishable. However, at the judiciary and policy level, more effort needs to be put into prosecution, bringing justice to victims, provision of adequate psychosocial care to cater for the trauma experienced by survivors, establishing, popularising and domesticating laws such as the Child’s Rights Act, Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, and the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bills/Acts.
A lot of work also needs to be done at the law enforcement level to equip the security forces such as the police, with the skills required to handle cases of child abuse and other related abuses. The Gender Units which have been established in police divisions across the country need to live up to their responsibilities as spaces where the abused can find solace.
This year, as the world marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and as Nigeria prepares for the ninth Senate to assume office, one cannot help but mention the need to review, pass and fund the bills related to the prevention of violence against children, as well as those in favour of police and justice sector reform, some of which have been standing in the queue for over five to 10 years. Furthermore, as Lagos state is one of the few states in Nigeria to have passed the Child’s Rights Act, the onus lies on the Lagos state government to be a flag carrier in setting the right standards for other states to emulate.
Acholonu-Egbuna, Women, Peace and Security Advocate, writes from Catherine Acholonu Research Centre (CARC) via [email protected]