SPOUSAL abuse, whether in form of marital rape, physical, psychological or economic injury is now a punishable offence in Lagos State, and whoever is found culpable risks years of imprisonment.
To show the seriousness on the matter, the state government, through the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation in collaboration with the United Nations Funds for Population Activities (UNFPA), held a two-day sensitisation workshop for police, immigration and customs officers at the Chartered Institute for Personnel Management (CPIM), Ikeja, Lagos to sensitise them on Domestic Violence Law.
The Deputy Director, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Yinka Adeyemi, who analysed and simplified the contents of the Lagos State Domestic Violence Law, said that by virtue of the current Domestic Violence Law in Lagos State, acts of violence against anyone now constitute a serious offence and whoever is caught would be handed over to the police for prosecution.
Under the new law, the police do not necessarily have to obtain a warrant before they arrest a culprit. The provisions of the law are explicit that the police could move in and arrest a suspect with or withoutwarrant when the offence is committed.
Also, Sections 5 and 6 of the law provides for protective order for the victims of domestic violence, while the case is being prosecuted in the court.
Under the protective order, the respondent is prohibited from committing further act of violence by entering the complainant's residence or place of work, or enlisting the help of other persons to reach the complainant/victim.
It is unfortunate that despite the seriousness and criminal nature of domestic violence, cultural beliefs have weighed down the law and made it less serious as law enforcement agents often view it as a family affair.
The Lagos State Government must therefore be commended for putting necessary legal instruments in place to ensure that the spate of domestic violence is drastically reduced in the state.
Section 24 of the 1999 Constitution explicitly states that: 'Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly; (a) no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment; (b) no person shall he held in slavery or servitude; and (c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) similarly provides that no person shall be held in slavery or servitude, and slave trade shall be prohibited in all forms.
This is even as the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981 and Nigeria ratifying it in 1985.
Unfortunately, acts of violence, especially against women have continued because governments at all levels have neither not domesticated these laws and conventions nor shown serious commitment at implementing them.
Domestic violence, simply defined as a range or pattern of abusive behaviour involving one or both partners who are involved in intimate relation such as marriage, family, dating or even at work, has been on the increase in Nigeria lately.
For instance, on June 16, 2011, Akolade Arowolo was said to have murdered his wife, Titilayo Omozoje Arowolo, a banker, during an argument.
In Kwara State, Hadiza, the daughter of a retired Chief Justice, Justice Kamaldeen Bello Atoyebi, was also murdered by her Kano-born husband, Mohammed Jemilu, in a hotel in Tafa Local Government Area of Niger State on May 9. In Lagos, a naval officer simply identified as Harry, also allegedly stabbed his female lover, Itoya, also a naval officer, to death at the Nigerian Naval Base, Ojo.
Harry was said to have engaged Itoya in a fight over charges of infidelity before stabbing her. In Port Harcourt, a man identified as Emezi, allegedly pierced the right eye of his wife, Igoh, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member during a quarrel over domestic issues on October 7, this year. These are just a few of the reported cases of domestic violence.
The Lagos State Government's law on domestic violence is timely and deserves commendation, given the sudden upsurge in spousal abuses across the country.
Many women have been sent to their early graves due to unaddressed domestic violence they suffered in their homes.
To be sure, the high prevalence of violence against women remains a direct obstacle to women's participation in development projects.
Even as women's involvement in development continues, as it is bound to happen, concern about problems caused by violence against them often diverts their energy from pursuing and achieving their goals.
Hence, the success of efforts in integrating women in development depends in part on addressing the issue of violence against women. Addressing violence against women does not only eliminate a major obstacle to the development of women, it also actively addresses women's realisation of their full potential.
The time has therefore come for other states to similarly pass laws criminalising domestic violence.
Spousal abuse must be recognised as a criminal issue through the amendment of existing legal instruments and domestication of international treaties that deal with violence, especially against women who are more often than not at the receiving end in cases of domestic violence.
Stakeholders should also be sensitised on the need to eliminate violence against women. There is need for enlightenment campaigns to educate the populace to appreciate the need for close conjugal relationship rather than the familiar male-dominant culture.
Educational programmes should show, through research and training, that religious doctrines do not support violence against women and they are not at variance with the principle of egalitarian societies.