Gender Based Violence A Silent Menace Consuming Women,  Children

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By; AUSTINE EMMANUEL, Kaduna

It has been said that, “there is no love in violence even as reasoning is weak where violence reigns.” The rising cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence, (SGBV) particularly against women and children have become a thing of serious concern in recent time.

World Health Organization (WHO) defines Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim in any setting.

WHO also refers to sexual and gender based violence as a major public and clinical health problem and a violation of women’s human rights that is rooted in and perpetuates gender inequalities. WHO also noted that, globally one in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, mostly by an intimate partner.

SGBV on the other hand is violence committed against a person because of his or her sex or gender. It is forcing another person to do something against his or her will through violence, coercion, threats, deception, cultural expectations, or economic means. Although the majority of victims and survivors of SGBV are girls and women, boys and men can also be harmed by SGBV, especially male children. (United Nations  High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR) 

Global index report also reveals a growing trend in SGBV, with rising cases recorded in times of crisis, disasters, banditry and the global 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. In 2020, approximately 47,000 women and girls were killed worldwide by their intimate partners or other family members; over 1.7 million Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) complaints received in 2021 in Nigeria, and about 401 women lost their lives in 2022 as a result of the endemic.

SGBV can happen in both private and public spheres and it affects women disproportionately, even as it can be sexual, physical, verbal, psychological or socio-economic and it can take many forms, from verbal violence and hate speech on the internet, to rape or to murder.

Experts over the years, have decried the surge in the number of reported cases, particularly in Kaduna state where different measures are believed to be put in place to prevent, curb and punish offenders. Although some experts said the surge in number is as a result of the mile stone recorded by different advocacy groups who encourage survivors to speak out rather than dying in silence.

The need to have best practices in the measure of justice to survivors of SGBV particularly against women can never be overemphasized, even as it will help to ensure that the right things are done in other for those who are dependent on the implementation of the relevant laws to get justice adequately through the implementation of those laws as panacea to discourage perpetrators.

Over the years, many governmental and Non Governmental Organizations have lend their helping hands to see that this menace is addressed to the barest minimum. For instance, in 1996 a feminist organization BAOBA for Women’s Human Rights was established to ensure that the rights of women and girls become an integral part of everyday life. We also have the International Federation of Women Lawyers, (FiDA) amongst several organisations championing the course of SGBV in other to uphold the sanctity of women and the girl child as they are more vulnerable to societal attacks.

Also, In 2016, the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and two term Governor of Kaduna state, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai established the first Sexual Assaults Referral Centres, (SARC) under the Ministry of Human Services and Social Development (MHSSD) located at Gwamna Awan General Hospital, Kakuri, to provide psycho-social counseling, forensic examination, medical treatment and legal services for victims of sexual assault.

The SARCs is a multi-sectoral with all the MDAs fully represented carrying out different functions. He also signed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, (VAPP Act) into Law in 2018 as ways to proffer lasting solution to such acts.

The Governor in 2019, further spread the SARC Centres to the three senatorial zone of the state, namely Yusuf Dantsoho Memorial Hospital-Tundun Wada, Gambo Sawaba General Hospital-Zaria, and Ibrahim Patrick Yakowa General Hospital-Kafanchan, all in Kaduna State so that survivors would not have to travel long distance to get intervention or services when the need arises.

During a tour to the four assaults referral centres, our news reporter, Austine Emmanuel, learned that the Centers had recorded a total of 6,736 cases of SGBV since inception in 2016 to December, 31st 2023, with the highest figure from Kafanchan Center, at 3,420.

The Kakuri Centre, established in 2016, said that they had recorded a total of 944, while Tudun Wada and Zaria established in 2019 recorded 1177 and 1195 cases respectively. The Kafanchan Centre was also established in 2019.

Speaking extensively with the Pilot Manager, Salama Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) Kafanchan, Kaduna during a courtesy visit to the Centre, Mrs. Grace Yohanna Abbin, narrated that men are also assaulted but in rare cases compare to the female folks.

In her words, Mrs Grace said, “out of the 3,420 cases recorded, 491 men were abused, while 2,949 women were assaulted by their husbands and boyfriends, out of which 98 adults were victims of rape”.

She also stressed that the Kafanchan Centre in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, Kaduna state have been able to get justice for some survivors, meanwhile the Pilot Manager lamented that some cases could not see the light of the day because they lack evidence as a result of late reporting especially cases that are related to Sexual Assaults.

“The Kafanchan centre  has recorded favourable judgement of three life imprisonment, two discharged and acquitted, some years of imprisonment or option of fine of cases for perpetrators, 3 protection orders for their survivors, while some children reunited with their family after being trafficked to other countries, amongst others”.

Mrs. Grace also told us a story of one of her survivors, a woman who was invited from Kaduna to Port Harcourt for job opportunity and later trafficked to Burkina Faso for other business but was brought back home with pregnancy through intervention from the Ministry of Justice, Kaduna State and Kafanchan SARC. Another were three minors, 15, 16 and 17 years who were trafficked to thesame country but were brought back home through same intervention.

The Executive Director, BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, Bunmi Dipo-Salami, who spoke to this reporter described women as an integral parts of the human society and had experience different types of SGBV both in the past and present.

Salami said that the endemic has a huge negative impacts on the life of women and the girl child as most of them could not get to their full potentials as a result of emotional and psychological trauma, added that going forward, BAOBAB would deepen engagement with the media, expand the Male Allies against Violence against Women and Girls (MAA-VAWG) and the Volunteer Outreach programmes to more states across the six geo-political zones. 

“BAOBAB was established in 1996 and it became a legal entity in 1998. It exists to promote, protect, and defend the rights of women and girls in Nigeria. The organisation believes that through mobilisation, advocacy and provision of access to information, women and girls would become aware of their rights and seek redress whenever those rights are violated. 

“Similarly, engagement with relevant stakeholders within communities to advocate the rights of women, capacity enhancement of women and men to improve knowledge and change attitudes that are detrimental to the progress of women, as well as partnering with duty bearers and gatekeepers, including government institutions, traditional and faith leaders are essential for the elimination of discriminatory practices that hinder women and girls from actualising their full potential.

“Over the years, BAOBAB’s advocacy intervention initiatives have Enabled a better understanding of the rights of women living under Muslim laws in Nigeria, ensured that men take the lead in mobilizing other men against gender-based violence with the Male Allies against Violence against Women and Girls Programme (MAA-VAWG), ensured the breaking the silence at the national level on issues of violence against women particularly on sexual violence, contributed to building an effective and stable but growing volunteer outreach team in many states across the country, improved the capacity of journalists to report cases of violence against women and girls from a gender-awae perspective, amongst other interventions.”

“We will sustain the momentum through constant and consistent engagement with community heads and faith leaders and deepen the engagements with state and non-state actors who have mandates that support the protection of women and girls from SGBV to ensure they continue to share best practices and strategize to overcome the challenges they encounter in the course of their intervention activities. 

“We also plan to design products for ethnic minorities to enable a wider coverage of our work as well as collaborate with other actors in our area of focus, even as we continue with the implementation of our existing strategies and activities.” Madam Salami, said.

In the same development, a non profit organization, Sexual and Gender Based Violence Justice Network, (SGBVN) advocated on the need for Kaduna state government to establish a forensic Laboratory Facility where several degrees of test can be carried out especially when there is an injury or even cases of denial of paternity and generally in terms of criminal investigation.

A trustee of Legal Awareness for Nigerian Women, Rebecca John Sako, said “the facilities will help efficient service delivery for Kaduna residents, hence it’s a service at their doorsteps.  We were very happy when the previous government of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai budgeted for the Forensic Lab because we were at a point informed that they already have the equipments on ground but the structure to be put up, meanwhile w could no longer hear about the progress.” She disclosed. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice Kaduna state said they remain committed to end every form of Violence not just against women but in all and sundry. This is as the Director, Special Investigation and Prosecution Unit of the Ministry, Ayiku Ishaku Thomas, disclosed that the ministry aside the SARC Centres also receive complaints on various assaults.

Ayiku said, “We have issues of different abuses very often. We have them in the ministry of justice and also in the various SARCs citizen’s rights department in the ministry of justice and from the police. The truth is that we ensure perpetrators do not go unpunished. They only go unpunished if the survivor report late especially when it concern sexual assaults and as a result the prosecution officer lacks enough evidence to convict the perpetrator. Also, the shyness of the survivors themselves and their families due to the fear of stigma is another challenge on our path. 

“They are afraid of coming out to complain. Even if they come out to complain, those that they call as witness usually do not show up in court. In that way you cannot properly prosecute and convict because every criminal case must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. But for those who came out to complain and speak out to testify in court we convict. We do not prosecute but we have other partners like the International Federation of Women Lawyers, Nigeria Bars Association, including lawyers and Non governmental organizations (NGOs) that come out to render probono services.”

One of the SGBV survivors, a 15 year old girl impregnated by her sister’s husband, spoke with News-Direct Newspaper on condition of anonymity said “I was threatened not to tell anyone.” The 16 year old SS 2 girl explained that the man had molested her severally for over three years but she continue to endure the situation, hence she is an orphan and had nowhere to go. She explained that she had opened up to one of her friends, who advised her to tell the sister but she was afraid because of whatever repercussion that may arise at the end of the day.

Another was a case where a neighbor of about 60 years assaulted a 6-year old girl, (name withheld) The man was caught by a friend of the girls’ elder sister, who is a 200-Level student of chemistry in one of the prestigious Nigerian tertiary institutions. The girlfriend explained that she heard the little girl crying while going to the farm, but could not hear the sound of anyone and so decided to check inside for the possible cause. She disclosed that she saw the little girl with biscuit, while the elderly man was raping the child, that led to her shouting before the nearby community people came out. The child according to her, is undergoing treatment.

A 28-year old young man was also caught sleeping with a mentally deranged girl of 11 years. Lamenting the incident, the elder brother said she had heard of sexual assaults, but never believed until she caught them by herself. Different men according to him, usually take advantage of the girl’s condition, leading to the family locking her up. Meanwhile she told New Nigerian Newspapers that her younger sister of about 13 years was left at home with the girl on that faithful day before the “Uncle” sent her on an errand  and began to abuse the  child before she caught them and could not withhold her emotion, but shout until people gathered. 

Several cases of sodomy, were also recorded. A barbing salon owner was also molesting his apprentice of 13 years through the anus. The boy who said he was tired,  reported to the mother, who got the man arrested. The 45 year old mother said she  noticed the child’s walking  for sometime and the fact that the boy became suddenly quiet like a case of adult with depression, so she began to question him before he opened up. She said at times, the boy would refuse to go to work without any genuine reason. The boy was undergoing rehabilitation and could not talk to us as at the time of filing this report.

From the report above, it can be deduced that SGBV remains one of the leading cases of human rights violations worldwide, cutting across, nationality, colour, gender and class. One also can opine that although Kaduna State Government has put up a lot of measures to curb the menace, however they have not done enough, especially in the area of sensitization, where residents of the state can take full advantage of the relevant laws in place.

Sequel to the above  issues surrounding Sexual and Gender Based Violence, it is therefore, important to note that whatever  affects the female folk also affects the  society. The economic effects of crime against women are enormous, because if you have people who cannot even perform because of psychological trauma, maimed or hurt physically, people who are not even taking part in that for whatever the issue is, it affects the overall performance of that society.

The Kaduna State Government during the last administration, suggested incarceration for rape. Since then, the punishment is yet to be administered. There is need to use anyone found guilty as a scape goat so that others can take caution.Therefore, the state government should step up its game, partner NGOs, CSOs and relevant stakeholders to increase sensitization and advocacy. This is because many residents are not aware of those laws as such, they   maintain the culture of silence.

The Kaduna State Government and NGOs should also strengthen their advocacy through strong collaboration with the media, whom the society believes to be the carrier of truth.

Outreach  to rural areas must be prioritized against urban sensitization. This is because, SGBV happens more in remote communities than urban settings. 

Kaduna State Government should provide toll free lines for social workers in case of emergency. This will help for quick response to any form of violence.

The current administration of Governor Uba Sani should investigate the remote cause of delay in establishing the Forensic Laboratory Facility, (a project we believe kick started by the immediate past governor of the state), reinitiate the project if need be and thereafter, see to the overall success of the initiative.

Kaduna State Government should take advantage of public owned media station and periodically come up with adverts, jingles and other means to enlighten residents on SGBV related matter.

Sex education should be adopted in  school curriculum, both primary and at the secondary level.

Parents and caregivers should pay attention to their wards, the kind of friends they keep and their use of language on daily basis.

Religious and traditional leaders who opt for out of case settlement should be arrested and prosecuted. SGBV is a crime against the government and not the victims.

Kaduna State Government should declare a state of emergency on all violence, especially SGBV.

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