Nigeria: Castration, Death Sentence for Rapists

21 September 2020

Governor Nasir Ahmed el-Rufa'i of Kaduna State recently signed the amended Penal Code Law, 2020 into law, which took effect from September 11, 2020, and provides for death, surgical castration, and bilateral salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tube) as punishment for rapists.

The state House of Assembly had earlier amended the Penal Code Law, No. 5 of 2017 based on an executive bill submitted by Governor el-Rufa'i. The bill sought to amend Section 258 of the Penal Code Law, which states that "Whoever commits rape, shall be punished by imprisonment for life."

The amended law provides in subsections 1, 2, and 3 of Section 258 that "Whoever rapes a child below the age of 14 years upon conviction will be punished with surgical castration and death". Similarly, "Whoever has sexual intercourse with a male child below the age of 14 years shall be punished with surgical castration and death"; and "Where a female adult is convicted for the offence of rape of a child, the court shall punish the accused with bilateral salpingectomy and death." The new law also provides that "Where the victim is above 14 years, the court shall on conviction sentence the accused with the punishment of surgical castration and life imprisonment."

However, where the convict is a child, the court shall order as appropriate under the Child and Young Person's Law, Cap 26, Laws of Kaduna State, 1991. In this case, the court shall in addition to the conviction under subsection 1 and 2 order‎ that the convict to be listed in the convict register to be published in the media by the Attorney General of Kaduna State. In the trial of rape cases involving a child below the age of 14, the law provides that "the corroboration of a medical report shall be necessary".

Rape is today the most common violence against women in Nigeria. It would be recalled that the high incidence of rape reached a disturbing level in recent months especially during the lockdown that was occasioned by COVID-19; prompting widespread outrage and calls for surgical castration of convicted rapists. Incestuous rape is also now a common occurrence. Nigeria's federal law, which provides between 14 years and life imprisonment as punishment for rapists has practically failed to deter offenders, some of whom have become serial rapists. Countries, where rapists are punished through castration, include Indonesia, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine. While the sentence for rapists in China is death, rapists are sentenced to death by firing squad in North Korea. Convicted rapists are hanged in Egypt, Iran and Afghanistan.

The House of Representatives had through a voice vote in June this year rejected castration, which was suggested by Honourable James Faleke as punishment for convicted rapists. Barely three days after members of the House of Representatives rejected Faleke's motion, the Minister of State for FCT, Ramatu Aliyu, advocated for it in order to deter potential offenders; adding that death penalty was not the best. Some gender activists have, on the other hand, raised human rights concerns over castration as punishment for convicted rapists; arguing that castration would damage the accused for life.

While the heinous crime of rape requires a harsh and scary penalty, subsections 1 and 2 of the new law in Kaduna, which prescribes castration alongside death sentence for rapists upon conviction fail to clarify whether surgical castration and death are to be applied together or separately. With discussions ongoing about the punishment for rapists, we encourage federal lawmakers to further debate the matter until a national consensus is reached from which an Act of the National Assembly should evolve.

A lot of public education is required to be carried out by religious and traditional leaders on the need for their communities and followers to reject fetish dogmas, which make them to believe that defiling little girls or boys begets wealth and power. Since the burden of proof in rape cases is on the prosecution, proving them is often tedious and technical. Trial judges should, therefore, be thorough in accepting pieces of the evidence brought before them. This is to forestall delivering judgments that would cause permanent damages to the accused in error.

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