7 January 2013

Nigeria: Action Against Rape


The case of Miss Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old Indian student who died 13 days after she was lured into a bus, gang raped, and then thrown out of the moving vehicle highlights the tragic vulnerability of women around the world, particularly in developing countries.

Two weeks to the end of 2012, Pandey, a medical student, was brutally raped in New Delhi by six men who also shoved wood pieces into her genitals. She died of injuries with parts of her intestines removed by doctors. The episode shocked Indian society and sparked global outrage against sexual and domestic violence against women. In the United States, it has added to anger against the 112th Congress not extending the Anti-Violence Against Women Act.

The rage in India is linked to deep-seated undergrowths of sexual and other forms of violence against women. Figures show that about seventy per cent of married women in India between ages of 15 to 49 "are victims of beating, rape or forced sex. Incidents of foeticide, infanticide, child marriages, bride burning and sexual abuse of the girl-child are widespread.

India's National Crime Records Bureau reports that "every 60 minutes two women are raped. Every six hours, a young married woman is found beaten to death, burnt or driven to suicide".

The country has the "highest rate of violence during pregnancy". 61 per cent of high income males engage in sexual violence as compared to only 35 percent of migrant labourers, carpenters, barbers and blacksmiths. Women with high education also suffer greater chance of being beaten or burnt.

In 1991 Commonwealth Heads of Governments, of which India is a leading member, adopted the Harare Declaration of Principles. A key improvement to that document over the one passed in Singapore in 1971 is the inclusion of the principles of "equality for women", "equal protection under the law" within the wider framework of the "equality of all human beings, regardless of gender, race, colour, creed or political belief".

Ensuring that these principles are enforced is key to safeguarding those rights. In practice, India is not the only country in the world and in the Commonwealth that is soiled by pandemics of rape.

A bizarre case is reported from the Philippines where a former beauty queen was locked up in a room without food by her husband until she engaged in sexually entertaining other men. In Nigeria, the media carry numerous and frequent reports of rapes of infants, girls hawking food items, and incest by high society male parents.

There is here a window of opportunity to join India's season of rage within the framework of building a "global ethics" consisting of common women's human rights, healthy family values and obligations by all citizens and governments to ensuring and protecting the dignity of women against all forms of gender-based violence.

There are lessons to be harvested from the America's experience with its administration of the Violence Against Women Act. It established a fund to train 500,000 law enforcement officials, judges and prosecutors each year "to ensure that the legal system is better equipped to handle reported cases".

A National Domestic Violence Hotline enabled up to 22,000 women to call and report attacks against them. India's lawyers have given the world a precedent of conducting a demonstration in sympathy with the rape victim, and pledging not to defend the five persons accused of rape and murder.

The scandalous situation in which 64 years after independence from Britain, India is still using a law enacted in 1851, is indicative of factors shared across Commonwealth countries. The archaic laws are just one aspect of the problem. The justice system pertaining to rape is stacked against the victim. The police often are reluctant to take up reports of rape; instead, as some instances have demonstrated, law enforcement officials derisively advise the victim to seek settlement with suspects.

The world must join India in marking this rape victim and the youths whose wrath mourned her with massive, angry and sustained demonstrations demanding radical remedies by government agencies by launching a global programme of dredging out the accumulated filth of culture of rape and other forms of violence against women in every country.

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