Sustain fight against sexual offences, NGO tells Nigerian govt

SOAR initiative in one of their outreach programmes

The Sexual Offences Awareness and Response (SOAR) Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, has urged the federal government to combat all forms of sexual offences and child rights violations in the country.

Speaking at the close out event of the rule of law and anti-corruption programme in Abuja on Tuesday, the Executive Director of SOAR Initiative, Chinyere Eyo, said the government at all levels must work with communities and NGOs to effectively tackle the epidemic of child sexual abuse in the country.

SOAR Initiative had in January 2020 launched a grassroots intervention project against child sexual abuse, with support from the rule of law and anti-corruption programme, a programme implemented by the British Council with funding from the European Union, in area councils of Abuja including bottAbuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), Kuje and Gwagwalada.

Addressing journalists at the event, Ms Eyo said the project was aimed at changing gender inequitable norms, attitude and behaviours of community members to raise awareness about child sexual abuse and also provide psychosocial support for survivors of sexual violence in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

 It is not only girls who are sexually abused; we have cases of boys who were sexually abused, too, whom we were able to rescue and provide some form of intervention.

She explained that for all of the cases of child sexual abuse that were reported to her organisation, “we reported these cases to the rapid response team of National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP); and once we do that, they work with us to arrest the perpetrators. Then NAPTIP goes ahead with their investigation before taking these cases to court.

“It is usually a long process because you have to look for evidence; you have to look for witnesses. The onus is on the survivor to prove that he or she has been abused, which can be really a tedious task.

“I must commend NAPTIP for their doggedness and commitment in working to ensure that Nigeria and the FCT are rid of perpetrators of sexual violence.  

“From the violence against children survey, we learnt that one in every four girls and one in every ten boys will be sexually abused before they are 18-years old. It is an epidemic, but I believe that in order to successfully tackle this issue, we must go back to the grassroots, because majority of the children are being sexually abused at home in communities. That is why we came up with this strategy of teaming up with community members to establish what we call, the Community based child protection committees that are trained to understand that no child ever asks to be abused; and no child who has been a victim of sexual abuse should be blamed for it; instead the blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator that has violated the child.

“Sexual abuse is not an offence that can be settled at home. So, community members need to be mobilized, they need to take responsibility for their own children. They children had their capacities built to be able to recognize and report, and the community must rise to respond appropriately rather than try to hide it.

“The members of the community child protection committees were chosen by the communities themselves, and they were trained and equipped. So, that is part of our sustainability strategy, where the community takes ownership of the committees. We work with the local area councils, because it is their mandate to establish these committees in communities. Now, they have been set-up and they are now working. We have started seeing results from communities where about twelve cases came up; seven suspects have been arrested.

“So, these committees have been handed over to the area councils; it is now their responsibility to follow-up. Though the project is coming to an end, SOAR Initiative still maintains responsibility to work with communities. We have a centre where we continue to provide support services.”

However, the organisation noted that there were challenges in fight sexual offences.

“It was a huge challenge to get community members to understand that it is their responsibility to protect their children from sexual abuse and other child rights violations. We also have the challenge of threats to community members who report child sexual abuse cases. Again, the culture of silence is also a huge problem; even when cases are identified; it takes a lot of efforts to convince family members and caregivers to allow these cases to be taken up.”

In a goodwill message, women’s rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner, Ene Ede, called for the sustenance of the battle against sexual and gender-based violence.

The highlight of the event was a song performance on sexual rights awareness from pupils of Wuna community in Gwagwalada area council of the FCT.

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