Thursday, 17 December 2015

Violence against persons, particularly the vulnerable groups
which includes women and girls, is rooted in obnoxious
cultures and traditions commonly practiced in Nigeria. These
range from physical, sexual and emotional abuses. Many
women, especially in the southern parts of Nigeria, are prone
to violence such as female genital mutilation, forceful
ejection from marital homes owing to the death of a husband.
Other harmful cultural practices include forceful shaving of a
woman's head to mourn dead husband, being forced to drink
the bath water of the deceased husbands and being subjected
to physical humiliation such as battery and assault, all of
which arise from long-held abominable cultural beliefs are
only a few to be mentioned. Surprisingly, though, Section 55
of the penal code (in operation in Northern Nigeria) gives
legal backing to the corrective beating of a child, pupil,
servant or wife as long as this does not cause 'grievous bodily
harm'. In spite of this, the legal and judicial systems provide
women with little protection against violence. While rape is
punishable by life imprisonment in Nigeria, the burden of
proof hangs on the shoulders of the alleged victim. Also, the
pain and shame of reliving the experience coupled with
societal pressure to keep silent often discourage women from
reporting sexual violence. The police don't help her situation
either. They often dismiss cases of domestic violence as a
'family affair' and are reluctant to intervene even when the
woman sustained serious bodily harm. The customary law
offers even less protection. The Sharia provides that a
husband can withdraw maintenance if his wife declines sexual
intercourse. It also states that a woman alleging rape must
produce four witnesses. In the absence of proof, a woman can
be punished for adultery ranging from a prison sentence to
public flogging.
Just before leaving office, on May 25, 2015, President
Goodluck Jonathan signed a number of bills earlier passed by
the National Assembly into law. Prominent among them is the
Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 bill, which
has now become an Act of the National Assembly. The Senate
had earlier in May, passed the Violence against Persons
(Prohibition) Act 2015 into law. Although the Act prohibits all
forms of violence against persons in public and private life,
its implementation is the needed tool to reducing violence in
Nigeria. The VAPP Act adequately addresses forms of
violence against women and girls, which are more often than
not, overlooked and condoned by society.
The VAPP Act seeks to prohibit female circumcision or
genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful
widowhood practices. It also prohibits abandonment of
spouse, children and other dependants without sustenance,
battery, and harmful traditional practices. VAPP also intends
to eliminate violence in private and public life and provide
maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of
violence, and punishment of offenders. It also prohibits
economic abuse, forced isolation, and separation from family
and friends, substance attack, depriving persons of their
liberty, incest, and indecent exposure, among others. But,
until the VAPP Act, there was no federal law specifically
addressing sexual harassment and domestic violence in
Nigeria.
Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who
presided at the session where the bill was passed, said the bill
would provide adequate protection for the vulnerable in the
society and punish those who take advantage of them.
The VAPP Act is a child of 14 years of agitations by the Civil
Society Organizations with the formation of the Legislative
Advocacy Coalition against Violence against Women
(LACVAW) in 2001. Activists have consistently pushed for
national legislation prohibiting violence against women. First
presented to the House of Representatives in May 2002, the
Bill on Violence Against Women became a Bill on Violence
Against Persons in 2008 when it was harmonized with 8 other
Bills on gender-based violence in the National Assembly. It
took some seven years for it to be passed into law.
Under the new law, spousal battery, forceful ejection from
home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse,
harmful widowhood practices, female circumcision or genital
mutilation, harmful traditional practices, substance attacks
such as acid baths, political violence and violence by state
actors suck as government security forces constitute offences.
Victims and survivors of violence are now entitled to
comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal
assistance by accredited service providers and government
agencies, with their identities protected during court cases.
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in
Persons (NAPTIP) is named as the service provider.
Presently, the applicability of the VAPP Act outside the FCT is
subject to legal debate. There is, however, clamoring for the
VAPP law to be passed in all the 36 States of the federation so
as to protect the vulnerable in the rural setting. However, 13
States have enacted related legislation with Plateau state
joining Imo, Ekiti, Kogi and Anambra to become the fifth
state to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities Act which
seeks to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women
in education, employment, indigeneship and other spheres of
life.
Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator
Aisha Jummai Alhassan at a media parley themed: 'Parleying
to popularize the VAPP Act', organized by her ministry in
Abuja recently, urged all states to harmonise their Acts in line
with the VAPP Act. According to her, "issues of violence
against women has for long been trivialized by both the
general public and policy makers. Consequently, the true
extent of violence against women and gender-based violence
in Nigeria is not known".
Senator Alhassan hailed those states that have taken concrete
steps to improve the situation of Nigerian women through
laws, policies and institutional mechanisms that promote
women's human rights. These state-level initiatives include
the protection of widows against human rights abuses viz Oyo
and Anambra states, Protecting the Girl-child, Benue,
and Kano, Trafficking in Women and Girls, Edo, Gender
Based Violence, Ebonyi state, Protection Against Domestic
Violence Law, Ekiti state, Violence Against Women Law
among several others.
This calls for all states to embark on legal reforms and access
to justice for women whose rights have been violated.
Interestingly, some states already have laws in place to
address domestic violence, such as The Prohibition Against
Domestic Violence Law No 15, 2007 of Lagos State and the
Gender-Based Violation (Prohibition) Law, 2011 of Ekiti
State.
"Violence against women has become one of the most visible
social issues in the country so for me, the 14 years of
continuous struggle that led to the successful passage of the
VAPP Act on May 5, 2015, and its subsequent assent on May
25, 2015, is highly commendable. In addition, the resilience
and participatory posture involving a coalition of actors led
by the ministry was apt and worthy of praises", the minister
said.
Alhassan was optimistic that the VAPP Act would ensure
justice is done to women, girls and other vulnerable groups
who are being subjected to all forms of violence. The VAPP
Act is presently the only Act that prohibits all forms of
violence against persons both in private and public life and
provides maximum protection and effective remedies to
victims and punishment for offenders. To achieve full
implementation of the VAPP Act, Nigeria must deliberately
eliminate the entrenched barbaric cultural practices to protect
her most vulnerable citizens from all forms of abuse.
"Recognizing the work ahead, I call on all stakeholders, to
work tirelessly to ensure that a holistic strategic action is put
in place to actualize success in the VAPP Act implementation.
I also wish to call on religious and traditional leaders as well
as the media, our Civil Society Organisation partners,
especially the LACVAW coalition group. I urge you to join
hands to lift the veil of silence, to support all vulnerable
persons especially women and girls to speak out against what
is happening to them and to protect them from violence. I
canvass your support in ensuring the VAPP Act is passed,
adopted and implemented across all states of the federation",
she said.
In her remarks, Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mrs.
Binta Bello who said the goal of the media parley was to set in
motion, coordinated engagements and institutional
mechanisms to drive a coherent implementation of the VAPP
Act, posited that "The Act is clearly not enough to end
gender-based violence, but the media parley is seen as a
critical beginning, a call to action, a tool for securing
concerted efforts across all sectors and an opportunity to
mobilize all sections of the society.
"The rationale for the media parley is the need for awareness
creation on the VAPP Act which will ensure its
implementation at all levels and ultimately guarantee the
protection of the rights of women and girls and to ensure that
investments made in enacting the Act are sustained and that
stakeholders have a better understanding of the provisions of
the Act. The main thrust of the project is to institutionalize
and implement the VAPP Act with relevant government
Millennium Development Agencies, MDAs, security officials,
the Judiciary and working closely with the Civil Society
groups and partners", she said.

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