19 February 2013

Nigeria: Rape! Incest! Violence! Women! Children!


Suddenly the word Rape is on everyone's lips, Stella Obiageli Ugboma explains...

Recent news coverage has publicised the 'one billion rising' campaign which held on February 14, 2013 and is a series of events to protest against sexual violence aimed at women. Incredibly, the 1 billion figure is the estimate of the number of women that will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, and the event has unfolded principally following the atrocity committed on a bus in India against a 23 year old woman who later died from her injuries. We have all heard the story and seen the level of outrage that it caused in the world's largest democracy, India where a million people came together to say 'enough is enough!'.

In Nigeria, Africa's largest democracy, this campaign has also made an impact as groups sprang up from Benin to Lagos to support the campaign. Our antiquated laws which, for example, do not currently recognise rape within marriage remain unchanged. Little wonder then that the mainstream attitude which is tainted by misogyny is quick to blame the victims of rape and sexual violence rather than hold the attacker responsible for their own actions.

What does the length of a skirt have to do with it when we all know that women who are covered from head to toe are also raped? What excuse do we have when a young child is abused in her home or teenagers such as the young schoolgirls who were attacked on a commercial bus as they made their way home for the holidays? What of the young university student subjected to an ordeal by five male students? What of the wife, who rather than being seen as a partner in the institution of marriage is seen as property and must therefore provide unlimited access to her body to the man who paid her bride price?

At worst we seem to prefer to punish the victims rather than their attacker and at best turn a blind eye or provide excuses for what is an abomination and an evil scourge. In the same way that we condemn other nefarious acts including corruption and kidnapping, Nigerians must stand together, young, old, women and men and add their voices in support of the 1 billion victims of this terrible crime.

Suddenly the word Rape is on everyone's lips either in sympathy or outrage. Demonstrations have been held against the perpetrators of this Evil Act that invades the privacy of another person in most cases a woman, who is dehumanised and humiliated. Some women have committed suicide because they could not live with the pain any longer. But the worst victims are the children, some of whom are too young to understand the pain inflicted on them. Some as young as less than a year old who cannot talk or express the pain and injuries that they have suffered. There is also the horrible issue of incest where fathers because of their promiscuity and evil tendencies, corrupt and permanently injure their daughters.

Violence on women is rising everywhere, in every corner of the globe. However, its high visibility could be because more cases are being reported today than it was in the past. The reality is that the conviction rates in rape cases around the world is very low. In Nigeria the position is the same, as some rape cases become public only if death occurs.

According to the US Department of Justice, a woman is raped every two minutes in America. And according to Wikipedia, the US Bureau of Justice's statistics shows that about 59% of rapes were not reported to law enforcement. The US has a relatively high rate of rape when compared to other developed countries.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the prevalence and intensity of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world. There, rape is often described and justified as a weapon of war.

In South Africa the incidence of child and baby rape is the highest in the world. This high incidence is often associated with the myth that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure a man of HIV or AIDS. Some researchers have also reported that the myth also exists in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

The Times of India reports that one in three women on the planet is raped or beaten in her lifetime. Young or old women face violence worldwide.

What then is the reason for the new dimensions of violence against women? Recall the recent case in India of a young woman raped and killed by a group of men. In South Africa a teenager was attacked by five men. Recall also the killing of a woman in Nigeria by three men whom she met online. Also the rape of a girl which was recorded live and circulated on U Tube. Only last week in South Africa, an 18 year old girl was raped and murdered by five men.

There is indeed a demonic influence on young people who have no conscience or regret in perpetrating acts that are inhuman. Even middle aged and old men are also engaged in these despicable acts. Even old women are raped by youths without any regrets whatsoever.

On September 22, 2012 a protest demonstration, (SLUTWALK) which took place in the United Kingdom, was organised by Rape survivors urging Governments to protect all rape survivors and to prosecute rapists. The protest movement was sparked off by a Canadian policeman who advised students to "avoid dressing like sluts", in order to avoid being victimised. Since then thousands of people worldwide have taken to the streets to highlight a culture in which they say the victim, rather than the abuser is blamed.

The Protesters are angry that:

1. Only 7 out of every 100 reported rapists are convicted and the other 93 go free.

2. There was no justice for the thousands of rape survivors who were told by the police and courts that they were dressed too provocatively.

3. That they didn't scream loudly enough.

4. That they were too drunk or too young or too mentally ill to understand what had happened to them.

5. That they must have consented because the rapist was their (ex)husband or (ex)boyfriend.

6. That they were sex workers and should be prosecuted rather than their attackers.

7. That they were asylum seekers and should be sent back to the detention centre or deported.

It is clear that without justice there is no protection for women and girls anywhere in the world. In Nigeria, rape victims who have gone to police stations to make a report are again raped by those who are expected to protect them and also prosecute their attackers. What can women do to get protection?

Punishment for rape differs from country to country. In the US the average time spent is 5-4 years and the average sentence is 11-8 years. In France the standard sentence is 15 years, 20 years for raping a minor, 30 years for killing the victim, and over 30 years for torture. Many countries have similar escalating sentences. In Saudi Arabia public beheading is the punishment for murder and rape.

In Nigeria under the Criminal Code the punishment for Rape is life imprisonment with or without caning (Section 358). Section 283 of the Penal Code prescribes a punishment of life imprisonment or for any lesser term and shall also be liable to a fine. Incest is punishable with 6-7 years imprisonment and shall also be liable to a fine (Sec 390 of the Penal Code)

There must be stiffer punishment for these offences bordering on Violence against Women. The National Assembly must pass the Violence against Women Act which has now metamorphosed into Violence against Persons, as a way of placating men who believe that women also inflict violence against men.

The Law Enforcement Agencies must carry out their responsibility with more dedication and sympathy and they must be trained to face the realities of the changes in their responsibilities.

Religious bodies must teach moderation and decency to young persons. Parents must also guide and direct their children on everything they do. Some children under 12 watch pornographic films in their homes and their parents are ignorant of what is happening right under their noses. There is moral decadence all over the world.

Coincidentally, the 57th Commission on the Status of Women will be coming up from the 4th to March 15, 2013 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Priority Theme of the commission is "Elimination and Prevention of all Forms of Violence against women and girls". This is a very relevant and important theme at this time when there seems to be madness all over the world. Hopefully, Governments and Non Governmental Organisations will sit down to find solutions to this problem which is destroying the lives and future of women and children all over the world.

Mrs. Ugboma is former International President of FIDA

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