VAPP Act implementation: How well so far?

Rising cases of gender-based violence have remained a topic of concern especially for women rights advocates, even as new strategies are being explored towards finding lasting solutions. In this report, ENE OSHABA evaluates implementation of the VAPP Act so far.

Last week, Nigeria women commemorated the African Women’s Day, on July 31. The day was used to reflect on progress and challenges facing the African woman as well as for re-strategising. It was also an opportunity to access the implementation of the VAPP Law as well as the extent to which advocacy in this regard would be pushed forward.

Speaking during the event in Abuja, the Executive Director, Women Advocates Resource Development Centre (WARDC), Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, noted the high rate of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Nigeria.

According to her, GBV was far more than a violation of human rights and manifestation of gender inequality.

She added that physical, sexual and domestic violence, exploitation and discrimination were more than a violation of women’s integrity.

The executive director decried the fact that GBV has continued to impede the achievement of gender equality and undermine the contribution of women towards the development of their communities.

Covid-19 GBV epidemic

It is worth noting that statistics on prevalence of GBV before the Covid-19 pandemic also presented a worrisome picture.

Blueprint Weekend checks indicated that 30 per cent of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 were reported to have experienced sexual abuse, including a number of factors that had driven the prevalence of the incidence of GBV.

Some of these indices is said to be deeply rooted cultural beliefs, perceptions and norms, community acquiescence and stigmatisation.

Akiyode-Afolabi further noted that the reality that violence against women is escalated gender-based violence.

“The lockdowns and quarantine measures enacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the social isolation they have caused, saying this contributed to an alarming increase in physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence against women,” she said.

She recalled that in Nigeria, by April 2020, within the first month of government ordered lockdown, 23 states in the country had reported 149 per cent increase in GBV.

Within the context of IDP camps, women and girls face a high risk of having to use survival sex in exchange for mobility, safety and access to resources.

She further expressed worry that GBV risk for girls remained incredibly high, as they are at heightened risk of child marriage and child labour to alleviate economic hardship.

The executive director added that intersection of gender and disability increases the risk of violence for women with disabilities, adding that women and girls living with disabilities were twice more likely to experience GBV than women and girls without disabilities.

Global responses

In the global space, the United Nations has made concerted efforts in addressing gender inequality which happens to be one of the main drivers of GBV.

Nigeria is signatory to international treaties and conventions like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Convention against Torture (CAT) and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Section 19 (d) of the Nigerian Constitution provides recognition for international law and treaty obligations.

However, the challenges of overcoming GBV persists because sub-national governments in Nigeria (states) are either yet to domesticate the laws or have refused to domesticate it.

There are plethora of laws addressing the issue of Rights of Women in Nigeria including sexual violence and other forms of discrimination against women in Nigeria.

The Violence Against Person’s Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015 domiciled in the National Agency for the Prohibition Against Persons (NAPTIP) represents a milestone to address Gender-Based Violence and provide a framework to deal with perpetrators.

“The VAPP addressed the gaps in laws and challenges with the criminal justice system also contributed substantially to lack of deterrent factor for the perpetration of the act of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV),” Akiyode-Afolabi stated.

She further noted that the journey towards the passage of the Act witnessed so many challenges, having failed to be passed by the National Assembly in 2003 and 2007 respectively.

According to her, with renewed agitations by civil society groups led by Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence Against Women (LACVAW) in 2008, nine Bills relevant to eliminating violence against women in Nigeria were further harmonised into one Bill.

Continuing, she noted that the Bill was reintroduced the National Assembly in 2011, the House of Representatives passed into Law on 14 March 2013, but it took up to a year before it was transmitted to the Senate for concurrence on 16 October 2014.

“It was not until in 2015 that it was finally passed as the VAPP ACT. The spike of GBV in the year 2020 accelerated the demand for an end to GBV.

“The high -level advocacy by the Nigerian Governors Wives Forum ignited renewed political commitment to the fight on ending GBV, State of Emergency was declared on GBV by Nigerian Governors Forum.

“Following the State of Emergency, the VAPP has been passed in 30 states. WARDC supported the passage of the VAPP law.”

Similarly, the Sexual Offenders and Service Provider Register was launched in 2019 setting up a database service provider and those convicted for sexual violence to clamp down on abusers.

The register is available online to better help the public, state bodies and police conduct background checks and identify offenders.

In the national sex offenders register, 602 cases have reported, 120 cases verified, 38 cases convicted and 359 service providers registered.  The actions of the NWGWF further cumulated in establishment of Sexual assault referral centres commonly known as SARCs have been established in 18 States to provide crucial services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

Also the project successfully mobilised resources to support GBV Survivor Funds was also initiated to support the livelihood of survivors. So far, 40 GBV survivors have benefited from the Fund. Other measures include the launch of a call centre to attend to reports of gender-based violence.

The efficacy of the VAPP law was undermined by funding, to drive institutionalisation of the VAPP law, Bauchi state launched the Costed Model Action Plan for the implementation of the VAPP and the sum of N3.7 billion has been earmarked for implementation.

Pointers to GBV responses

Currently, there are on-going institutional strengthening particularly within Ministry of Women Affairs, data bank has been established within the ministry for collation of data on GBV cases and the development around enforcement of the VAPP Law is also critical.

Speaking on GBV responses the executive director explained that the development around coordination mechanisms through the establishment of State Action Plans across the states to ensure comprehensive and coordinated responses to GBV including coordination development around services such as SARCs and Shelter, prior to now only few SARCs or shelters existed. Currently there are 22 SARCS in the Country and more shelters for survivors.

Mitigating challenges

The forum stressed the importance to also speak to opportunities that will create opportunities for replication and upscaling of responses to GBV.

It was agreed that more political will from the Nigerian Governors forum, Nigerian Governors Wives Forum and conference of speakers to support the domestication and implementation of laws.

Increased community awareness which is evidenced in the fact that more survivors are more willing to report incidences of GBV Increased donor support on issues of GBV at the global and local levels and the spotlight initiative is one of the evidences of such support.

There is also the need to increase leadership on the side of CSOs towards activating and mobilizing movements to lead the fight on ending GBV.

It was noted that the progress made has also been accompanied with myriad of challenges such as: Limited capacity of SARCS: The efficacy of the SARCs is undermined by limited capacity of Staff to effectively take up case management of GBV.

Other issues affecting the centres are limited logistics, low knowledge on existence of the centres. The inadequacy of stock drugs, consultations, forensic medical reports, and hospital admission for survivors where necessary also get in the way of effective SGBV responses.

The saying justice delayed is justice denied constitutes major challenge in the dispensation of justice to survivors of GBV. Prosecution of cases in regularly courts is unnecessarily prolonged due to bureaucracy and cumbersome procedures.

The absence of a special court to hasten access to justice for survivors remains a barrier to justice for GBV victims and survivors. Sustainability of GBV intervention is undermined by limited funding, the absence of public budget allocation for GBV enables reliance on donor funding which in most cases are time bound.

The nature of GBV is recurrent and outlives the timeline for donor funding. At the Community levels traditional patriarchal norms still persist and fan the embers of GBV. Religious and traditional institutions that are key players in attitudinal and behavioural changes are rather perpetuators or sympathizers with perpetuators of GBV.

The perspectives of women living with disabilities are not adequately represented in the design of GBV interventions.

Way forward

As Nigeria makes plans for post-pandemic recovery, this presents opportunity to “build back better”, as the pandemic has revealed the stark inequalities and fragilities of society particularly limitations of GBV prevention and response interventions prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Similarly, the Nigerian government and key stakeholders are presented with an opportunity to build more effective, transparent and inclusive GBV prevention and response interventions.

Akiyode-Afolabi noted that the opportunities to include the Strengthening of access to justice, policy responses to GBV must ensure the ability of the justice system and law enforcement to act as mechanisms of accountability, leverage opportunities to create a more transparent jus- tice system this can be achieved by by giving special consideration to priority cases and expediting prosecution of GBV offenders through establishment of special courts for GBV cases.

The need to provide specialized training should be provided for GBV responders such as case workers, criminal justice professionals, police, prosecutors, judges and magistrates, lawyers and legal aid providers.

“Necessary investment on sensitization at the community level should also integrate community education with GBV awareness and ensure that women’s networks play key roles in community awareness and sensitisation.

“Leveraging these networks and platforms will also serve to amplify women’s voices and strengthen women’s leadership on eliminating violence against women and girls in the immediate response and in long-term recovery phases. Deploy human rights based approach in the provision of essential services for GBV Survivors.

“Due to certain limitations that women with disabilities encounter, they might have challenges in accessing these services such as health centres, sexual assault referral centres, police stations.

It is therefore noted that it is important to include the needs for every citizens, intensify advocacy for adoption VAPP Act across all states in Nigeria and public budget allocation for implementation of the law.

“Strengthen synergy among actors responding to synergy among response sectors, police, CSOs, Ministries, Department and Agencies. Need for specialised courts to address SGBV across Nigeria. Need for costed model action plan to ensure resources for gender responsive budget build the agency of women across Nigeria to demand for social accountability, develop systems and mentor young women to promote intergenerational learning,” she stressed.

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