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Rape: We need to tighten sexual violence related laws – Gbajabiamila

By Oluwaseun Sonde

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The Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila has expressed concern on domestic and sexual violence-related laws, saying the bar has been set very low in Nigeria in terms of there’s need to look at the legislation to tighten the noose, tighten the definition.

Photo: Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila in the midst of the CSO members

The Speaker disclosed this while hosting some sexual and gender-based Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in his office on Friday, where he added that the House would consider working on sexual violence related laws to make them conform with the current realities.

He disclosed that the House would engage the House of Assembly in the 36 States of the Federation on the need for the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act, the Child Rights Act and the domestication of same, while the engagement would be technologically conducted due to the urgency of the sensitive but critical issue, considering the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the escalation of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in the country.

He said the House would work towards ensuring that the services of CSOs working on sexual and gender-based violence are classified as essential services. “My question has always been, first of all, why do we have this very significant uptick in cases of rape right now as opposed to in the past? It’s always been there, is it because of cultural shift and people are now emboldened to report these cases? Or is it just actually an uptick, with more cases of rape?

“I’m not sure which one it is, but whichever one it is, it’s been brought to the forefront and it is incumbent upon us as legislators, in fact, upon every Nigerians to confront it and eliminate it as much as we can. I believe the House has been very responsive on this matter. Fortunately, it falls in line with our 9th Assembly Agenda, the issue of women and the sanctity of their dignity and the constitutional rights of the dignity of their person.

“Fortunately, we had a motion on the issue on the floor of the House yesterday (Thursday) robustly debated with enough time, because it is beyond the dignity to person, it is a fundamental human right that has been abused. We reached far-reaching resolutions on the issue and we even resolved to wear black on our next sitting to show solidarity and the seriousness with which we have taken the issue. On Violence against Persons Prohibition and Child Rights Acts and the domestication of both, I’m aware that about 27 States are yet to domesticate them but we, as a Federal House will take that initiative to the States”, he said.

He added that rape is the most difficult crime to prove because of how to establish consent. “Sometimes it’s obvious there was no consent, but sometimes, it’s a slippery slope and it’s a grey area as to what exactly is a consent. Sometimes we have situations where women gave the consent and thereafter withdraw the consent but I believe the mantra has to be sustained that no is no and it doesn’t matter at what stage.

“So, maybe in our legislation, the definition of rape needs to be loosened up but to the extent that a man will know that no is no. “Part One of the resolution we reached yesterday (Thursday) was that every police station establishes a unit for sexual offences, separate from everything else. These are the kinds of things we are looking at to give teeth and to give bite to the offence of rape. So, we will need your input since women are most affected”.

Earlier, representatives of the sexual and gender-based- CSOs had complained about the refusal of many States to either pass or domesticate the Violence against Persons Prohibition and Child Rights Acts. Due to the escalation of rape in the country in recent times, the CSOs demanded a State of emergency on domestic violence against women while seeking for a deliberate criminalization of such offences since many victims of such violence do not come forward or get properly documented either at the hospital or police station.

They also pleaded for intervention over reported cases of aiding and abetting by police officers, which oftentimes lead to mishandling of cases of sexual violence Also, the CSO’s requested the intervention of the House on funding for establishments (CSOs) that handle issues of sexual and gender violence to enable victims to have justice at all times.

When the CSO’s complained that their services were not classified as essential by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, which made it difficult and almost impossible to respond to please by victims of rape and other gender-based complaints, the Speaker assured that the House ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 would liaise with the PTF on classifying it as essential.


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