The daily occurrences of violence, especially against women and children, underscore the dire imperative for robust and concerted actions on the part of critical stakeholders in the society. The statistics on GBV in South-West region of Nigeria alone are so discomfiting.
It is perhaps trite to aver that violence of various shades is precipitously on the rise across the world. Homes, workplaces, schools, religious grounds, and relaxation hubs are fast becoming dreadful places to many people, especially women and children, on account of the indescribable violations and acts of violence increasingly playing out there. Where violence is intensely focused – as in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) – age, educational status, class, religion, race, ethnicity, and tribe are immaterial. Thus, where women and girls across varied societal strata are not being violently and involuntarily engaged in sexual acts (rape, prostitution, pregnancy, abortion, et cetera), they are either being freely violated by nefarious traditional practices like early marriage, genital mutilation, and insufferable widowhood rites, or psychologically violated through patriarchal discriminatory systems.
All of the foregoing averments are supported by extant statistics and research findings ably undertaken by international organisations like the United Nations, governmental organisations in the Euro-Western axis, and international non-governmental organisations. The World Bank document, known as World Development Report, which provides data and research outcomes on development from country to country, outlined and discussed in its 1994 report, 10 particular risk factors confronting women and girls. Of those 10, according to the report, rape and domestic violence rank above war, highly dangerous diseases, and automobile accidents as potential causes of danger to women and girl children. While sexual and domestic violence against women and children have not abated, war, diseases, lack of access to education, unemployment, poor maternal and reproductive health, among others, continue to make happy and healthy living horrendously impossible for these groups of people over the last 22 years since the publication of that study.
Globally, it is estimated that, in their lifetime, 36 percent of women and girl children suffer wide-ranging sexual and physical violence. And in many third-world countries, about seven out of 10 women are subjected to shocking sexual and physical violence. In terms of displacement, records have it that women and children are more affected than men. More than half of the estimated 60 million globally displaced persons happen to be women.
In the area of underage marriage, statistics published by the UN reveal a more disturbing reality. A disproportionate number of women across the world today became wives when they were children. According to the International Centre for Research on Women’s “Child Marriage Facts and Figures” (2012), one-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18; and one in nine are married before the age of 15. ICRW found out that 70 million women (ages 20-24) around the world had been married before the age of 18. It feared that if this trend progresses apace, 150 million girls would be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. In other words, an average of 15 million girls will be married each year before they reach the age of consent.
ICRW further reported that the hotspots of this abominable violence are Western and Sub-Saharan Africa, due to population size, and South Asia, where the largest number of child brides reside. Poverty, lack of education, violence, and health challenges define child marriage, which sadly is supported by a variety of religions in many countries of the world.
Accordingly, in a bid to tame the remorselessly vicious shrew of violence, especially the GB variant, a number of countries have enacted laws and are making progress, and some are still in the process of putting in place laws that prohibit gender-based violence and ensure justice for victims. The famous UN ‘In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women’ (2006) reported that 89 countries already have laws on domestic violence. It noted that more countries had put in place national action plans to put the malevolent wind out of the ruinous sail of violence against women. In international and regional organisations, a number of protocols on violence and issues of women’s rights have been legislated. Across countries, many NGOs and Civil Society Organisations (CSO) are playing critical roles in creating awareness and enlightenment on these laws and those enacted locally.
In Nigeria, where GBV is alarmingly on the rise, the advocacy efforts of about 14 years of a couple of NGOs resulted in the emergence of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015. After its precarious journey through the frustrating labyrinth of the National Assembly, the bill was passed by the Seventh Assembly and was signed into law on May 28, 2015, by President Goodluck Jonathan.
As its Explanatory Memorandum shows, the VAPP Act ‘prohibits all forms of violence against person in private and public life, and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders’. Made up of 48 sections amenable to easy comprehension, the VAPP Act makes available sharp legal fangs against all kinds of violence, some of which include rape, incest, physical injury, Female Genital Mutilation, harmful widowhood practices, stalking, forced isolation/separation from family and friends, abandonment of dependants without sustenance, forceful eviction from home, and administering substance with intent – all of which are rife in many states and communities across the federation. Though women and children are often the victims of these offences, the Act protects men too. As the title indicates, it is for all persons.
…the media (in their traditional and new forms) have a binding duty to give the same level of attention accorded political events to issues bordering on violence against persons and the VAPP Act, particularly the redress for victims. The VAPP Act provides vast improvement on existing laws in the country.
The daily occurrences of violence, especially against women and children, underscore the dire imperative for robust and concerted actions on the part of critical stakeholders in the society. The statistics on GBV in South-West region of Nigeria alone are so discomfiting. According to a report obtained from the New Initiative for Social Development (NISD), among the female population of 1,183,470 in Ekiti, 25.8 percent have experienced physical violence and 6.6 percent sexual violence; of the 4,394,480 in Lagos, 43.9 percent, 5.8 percent; of the 1,886,233 in Ogun, 22.8 percent, 4.3 percent; of the 1,715,820 in Ondo, 43.7 percent, 5.2 percent; of the 1,682,810 in Osun, 12.8 percent, 2.2 percent; and of the 2,778,462 in Oyo, 48.0 percent, 3.9 percent.
It is equally worrisome that while some of the states are without effective laws to curb the menace and even pussyfoot when bills that seek to address it are brought before their lawmakers, those which already have legislations against the scourge record very low or zero implementation arising from inaction on the side of the implementing ministry officials, lack of awareness of the law on the part of the people, especially victims, and ignorance of procedure on the part of law enforcement agents. Ogun, Ondo, and Oyo states are yet to domesticate the VAPP Act and do not have similar pieces of legislation. Interestingly, the State of Osun House of Assembly had already enacted a piece of legislation that prohibits GBV two years before VAPP came into existence (Protection Against Domestic Violence Law 2013).
As at the time of writing this piece, a bill similar to VAPP is before the Oyo State House of Assembly lawmakers. But for the spanner thrown into the works by the lawmakers during the speakership of Hon. Monsurat Sunmonu, this would have been passed. The present lawmakers have a duty to sensibly speed up action on the passage of the bill in order to rescue the state from the damaging whirligig of GBV. A 2013 report by the News Agency of Nigeria revealed that more than 20 cases of rape were reported on a monthly basis in Ibadan. That year, the Oyo State Police Command reported that 365 rape cases and indecent assault were reported and investigated in the state. This is even more than the total number of armed robbery recorded in that year (59 robbery cases were reported while 103 arms and 198 stolen cars were recovered). This horror has been on the increase since then, with many more underage girls falling victims.
Having played a crucial role in the emergence of the VAPP Act, the NGO – NISD – is not resting on its oars. Prodded by its experience of the incredible fact that legislations on violence against women enacted by State Houses of Assembly are neither publicised and/nor made available through mass production of copies by the implementing ministries, NISD took a major step to print and circulate, beginning from the South-West, copies of the VAPP Act as a means of creating sustainable awareness and enlightenment on the Act among members of the public.
More, in collaboration with the official development agency of the government of the United Kingdom, Department for International Development (DfID), NISD organised a one-day workshop in Ekiti State for journalists and media practitioners in the South-West in order to enlist them in the efforts to tame the shrew of violence. For the organisation, enlisting journalists in the efforts is essential to the promotion of a violence free society.
To this end, the media (in their traditional and new forms) have a binding duty to give the same level of attention accorded political events to issues bordering on violence against persons and the VAPP Act, particularly the redress for victims. The VAPP Act provides vast improvement on existing laws in the country.
Similarly, community heads, leaders of market women, women organisations, heads of schools, gender-desk officers across police stations, NGOs, government agencies and departments, among other critical stakeholders, must not only know about the VAPP Act, they must also commit themselves to its implementation. It is the path to walk if the evil shrew of violence against persons, especially women, children, and the vulnerable, is to be expeditiously tamed and contained for the wellbeing of our society.
Ademola Adesola, a journalist, social and literary analyst, writes from Ibadan.