By Ayo Afuwape
The issue of rape in today’s society, especially in Nigeria, is beginning to take the centre stage, occupying front pages of both local and national dailies while critical issues bordering on national discourse and economic debates rarely get that much attention. Today, the issue of rape has gone beyond a matter of sex without consent between a stronger male and a weak female or between one weak female and two or more stronger male. There have been cases where defenceless female were gang-raped by stronger male in most bizarre circumstances.
There had been call from different quarters including NGOs on the need for tougher punishment for rapists and abusers of children. In Lagos State, for instance, the State Government has been working hard to ensure that no child abuser goes unpunished. The Lagos state government recently organised stakeholders’ forum, in collaboration with the United Nations International Children Educational Fund, UNICEF, on ‘Prevention of Sex Abuse in Lagos’. A highlight of the forum is the need for culprits of rape cases to be prosecuted under the provision of criminal offences as against the provisions of the Child Rights Law in order to stem the tide of these inhuman behaviours. This, according to participants at the forum, would signal an end to these vices in our society.
Participants at the forum also advocated a close monitoring on children exposing themselves to the various social networks which could in turn make them vulnerable to abuses from older ones. They said the responsibility of safe-guarding children should not be seen as the exclusive preserve of government, but rather as a joint responsibility involving the police, social workers, teachers, lawyers, media practitioners and especially parents who should play their own part in addressing the menace from its formative stage and from the perspective of the law.
However, it is rather sad that the resolve of government and other stakeholders to seriously address the issue of rape in the country is not being helped by the provisions of the law. Unfortunately, in this regard, the punishment stipulates by the law for rape offenders is, to say the least, too mild. Hence, it has not served its intended purpose of discouraging rape offenders as cases of child abuses and rape keep increasing. According to statistics from Partnership for Justice, a Lagos-based human rights organisation, cases of rape have been in the increase in places such as Oshodi, Ikeja, Agege and Ketu in Lagos State. Managing partner of the group, Itoro Eze-Anaba, disclosed this recently during the opening of the Marabel Centre – a sexual assault and referral centre – located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH.
According to the statistics, from July to November 25, last year, the centre offered free services to 124 rape victims in the state. This figure only represents the few who could summon courage to seek for professional help. A larger number of sexually abused victims often prefer to bear their indignation in silence for obvious reasons. If we are to really tackle the issue of rape head-long, we would need to take a cue from some countries that had already criminalised sexual and other related abuses against children. In Scotland and England, for instance, rape had been criminalised for over two decades. It would not be out of place if Nigeria borrows a leaf from these countries with a view to addressing loopholes in our laws.
Another controversial aspect of the rape issue is what should really be classified as rape. Going by the definition of rape, every form of sex without consent is rape, whether it takes place within a marriage or any other kind of relationship. Gone are those days when a woman is believed to have no legal protection from rape by her husband. Rape within marriage and other relationships is now clearly recognised within the law. Sexual relationship within or outside marriage should be consensual and anything contrary to this falls under rape. Recently, Alex Ojuala reportedly hypnotised his wife, Mrs. Glory Ojuala, who is a nursing mother, for three days in order to have sex with her, just a few days after she was delivered of a baby at her matrimonial home in Lagos.
For a society beset with horrendous crimes against women, it is pertinent for our lawmakers to combat this new wave of criminality and violence of man’s inhumanity to the younger ones and women in general by pursuing a bill on this rape issue with the same zeal deployed in prevailing over the issue of same sex marriage and other laudable legislations. Also, the authorities concerned with enforcement of laws in this regard should not be slack in doing so because it is only when the relevant laws are implemented to the letter that the propensity for rape would be checked.
Government agencies such as the Ministry of Education should as a matter of urgency remove the veil used in covering issues similar to this all in the name of keeping some information away from them which they believed the children are not ripe enough to know. Sex Education should be re-introduced in the education system for students in secondary schools and ensure that children are elaborately educated and oriented on the various indicators of sexual abuse. Parents should yield to the call from government, especially the Lagos State Government that all children within school age should not be seen hawking during school hours as doing this portends greater risk to them and make them vulnerable to abuses.
One would love to recount the words of the late president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela: “safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children , women and other vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” How apt!
•Afuwape writes from Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.