In all lands and climes, rape is a social ill heavily frowned at and in the African cultural setting, it is particularly a great taboo.
Nigeria is, however, facing a frightening scenario because of the rising wave of children’s rape, a situation which many concerned citizens describe as a very sore point in the nation’s sociocultural history.
Nigerians are inundated daily with news of rape and molestation of innocent little children, including boys and the most annoying aspect of the development, observers say, is that most of the perpetrators of the heinous crime go scot-free, while the molested child is left to cope with the scars and trauma.
Experts point out that the effects of rape on the victims are very traumatic and could be a lifelong experience if there is no proper counseling.
The Criminal Code, defines rape as an “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with a consent obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act.”
The Penal Code, which operates in northern Nigeria, also criminalises both rape and “defilement” of girls.
Rights activists note that Nigeria is not oblivious of the global movement toward protecting the children’s rights, as the country in 2003 enacted the Child Rights Act, which domesticates the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The activists also say that the Act, which was enacted at the federal level, however, has a limiting proviso that requires state legislatures to enact it for its application in their respective states.
Other keen observers say that currently, 24 out of the country’s 36 states have passed the Child Rights Act. They note that the remaining 12 states have yet to pass the law in spite of the intense advocacy visits made to their governors by successive Ministers of Women Affairs and Social Development,
Some analysts, nonetheless, express reservations about extant laws on rape and societal attitude to the crime, which seemingly provides escape routes for rapists, thus leading to an upsurge in the crime.
Some medics have even ascribed child rape tendencies to some psychiatric problems in the perpetrators.
“I feel that the rape laws of the land are highly inadequate. Enough of the ‘talk-talk’, there should be some examples to deter others from engaging in such inhuman acts,” says Dr Jasper Oniru, a medical consultant.
“If stiffer penalties are enforced, perpetrators of such acts will think twice before engaging in the dastardly act. It is because of the inadequacies in our laws that people commit the crime and carry on as if everything is normal”.
“How can you explain the N100,000 option of fine given to a man who used a screwdriver to poke the private part of a young girl?
“It is simply ludicrous and any time I remember the incident I feel outraged. Such a man should be sent to the psychiatric hospital immediately and not to prison,” Oniru says.
Mr Idris Bawa, who is a consultant to the Justice and Growth Programme of the British Council, says that many of the sentences passed by the courts on rape cases are “disturbing”.
According to him, many of the sentences, with option of fines, do not meet international standards.
He says that the Presidency should set up a task force to review comprehensively existing laws, including those on rape, to make them relevant to our contemporary needs.
Bawa says that about 13 bills relating to the rights of women and children, which are pending at the National Assembly (NASS), should also be harmonised and passed.
He says, however, that UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the British Council had facilitated a workshop where all the pending bills were harmonised and a copy sent to NASS through the WRAPA, an NGO.
Mrs Josephine Anenih, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development affirms that urgent steps should be taken to review the old laws and the prescribed sanctions, so as to deter potential offenders.
“ I think it is a serious problem that should not be handled with kid gloves. I can assure you that stakeholders are meeting and consulting widely to come up with a lasting solution to this problem,” she assures.
Sharing similar sentiments, a lawyer, Halima Shekarau, who is an executive member of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), says that a review of laws on rape is imperative.
“Some offences that pertain to rape were not included in the old law. Punishments were not provided for offences like forced oral sex, anal sex, finger insertion, amongst others,” she says.
Halima, who also works with IPAS, an NGO, stresses that efforts are being made by stakeholders to create public awareness of the need to review rape laws.
Some observers also note that existing laws are silent on the rape of young boys, which is a rising phenomenon.
Mr Femi Akin-James, a businessman, however, thinks that the problem is not about new or reviewed laws but rather on enforcement.
“You will agree with me that Nigeria boasts of the best policies concerning any issue. On paper, the policies are usually flawless but the problem is always implementation,” he says.
Rights activists recall that a report issued last year by Amnesty International (AI) described rape incidents in Nigeria as a “silent killer” and called on the Federal Government to be more firm in dealing with the offenders.
AI’s Africa’s Director, Mr Kola Olaniyan, alleges in the report that some unscrupulous security officials also perpetrated rape offences.
The story of a boy, who was raped by a neighbour that is married to four wives in Nasarawa State, incenses Mrs Joyce Obiakor, a housewife, who wonders if the world is indeed coming to an end.
“How else will I explain that? A 10-year-old boy raped by a man with four wives? That is abominable,” she says.
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to celebrate the Children’s Day, advocates of child and women’s rights stress the urgent need to safeguard the future of the children.
They call for concerted actions by all stakeholders to stem the sexual abuse of women and children, which is assuming a frightening dimension in the country.
Bada writes for NAN.