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Why Victims Of Domestic Violence Need A Voice



Domestic Violence Cartoon

Did you read about the 46 year old father who had sex with his daughter of 14 or about the woman that was beaten, raped and eventually murdered? Did you see that school-age child hawking sachet water at the traffic light? These are the faces of domestic violence and VICTOR OKEKE writes on it.

“I remember that the ceremony of circumcision was prepared as a real celebration. It was held in a big house, relatives came round, and there was a kind of unusual enthusiasm in the air. There were about ten girls, not only neighbors, but also my sisters. I was six then myself.

There were dances, songs, treats, we were given sweets, and we played and were almost happy. I noticed that someone was suddenly being led away, and then that someone was crying, but after all we were children, and back then everything was perceived in a different way. I did not see the face of the woman that cut my clitoris off.

But I will never forget her and all the pain that I experienced. I remember a strange mixture, which she used as an anesthetic: it consisted of some herbs and tomato paste. And although I managed to avoid numerous infections, today I am perfectly aware of what was done to me and what my life could be if it were not for this,” Christiana Ibekwe narrated.

Chinedu Anardo also tells of the story of Mrs Uzoma who was married to Chinedu Onubuleze for seven years somewhere is in South Eastern Nigeria and together they were raising two girls and building up a business until Chinedu was killed in a traffic accident 2011. During this time of grief and pain, Uzoma’s in-laws accused her of causing Chinedu’s death through diabolical means. To make matters worse, she eventually discovered that her in-laws intended to take over her late husband’s business and that she was to be ‘inherited’ by one of her husband’s brothers in line with tradition. When Uzoma refused, she and her two daughters were kicked her out of their home. She is currently homeless.

These are the stories of Nigerians. Violence against persons is a reality in Nigeria and even as you read this article, someone somewhere is undergoing one form of abuse or the other.

According to public health expert and family planning advisor with EngenderHealth Nigeria, Olajumoke Adekogba, “everywhere in Nigeria, women and girls are suffering. If you don’t suffer domestic violence, you will suffer sexual or reproductive violence or financial violence.”

Adekogba urged health workers, unions, policymakers, police, researchers, students, activists and survivors from across Nigeria to be advocates for victims of domestic violence.

“You need to be their voice,” she said. “Dead people don’t have a voice.”

Regrettably, there are insufficient data on domestic violence in Nigeria.  This is primarily due to the stigma and silence surrounding this issue.

However, data available from 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey shows that domestic violence cuts across all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Thus, 28 per cent of all women, almost a third of all women in Nigeria, have experienced physical violence, a significant number in a country of almost 200 million, where almost half are women.

Up to 43 per cent of women thought that wife beating could be justified on the grounds of matters like burning the food, arguing with the husband, going out without asking permission,  neglecting the children; and refusal to have sexual intercourse.

The research showed that women in the North East were more likely to say that wife beating was justified, while women in the South West were least likely to say that wife beating was justified.  Women with no education were more likely to say that wife beating was justified.  Rural men were more likely to say that wife beating on any of the above-mentioned grounds was justified.  Men with a secondary education were less likely to justify wife beating than men with less education.

That study further showed that educated women were more likely to have experienced domestic violence.  Further women who live in urban areas are more likely than their counterparts who live in rural areas to have experienced domestic violence.  Women in the southern part of the country were also more likely to have experienced physical violence more than women in the northern part of the country.

It is not always easy to determine in the early stages of marital relationship if one spouse will become abusive. Engender Health Nigeria Country Project Manager for the USAID-funded Fistula Care Plus (FC+) project, Chief Iyeme Efem said abusers may often seem wonderful and perfect initially, but gradually become more aggressive and controlling as the relationship continues.

“Abuse may begin with behaviors that may easily be dismissed or downplayed such as name-calling, threats, possessiveness, or distrust. They may apologize profusely for their actions or try to convince the person they are abusing that they do these things out of love or care. What may start out as something that was first believed to be harmless spiral into excessive control and abuse,” he said.

There are different forms of abuse a person may be subjected to in the home. These include forced marriage and underage marriage, and physical abuse or battering.

According to the Chairman of Ezza North Local Government, Nora Oluchi Alo, who is also a medical doctor, “sexual abuse as a form domestic violence includes all forms of sexual assaults, harassment or exploitation.” She said it involves acts like fondling, digital or penile penetration, exhibitionism done to the opposite sex through the use of force. It also involves using a child for sexual purposes including child prostitution and pornography.

“With the passage of the VAPP Law in Ebonyi State, we are poised to eradicating all forms of violence against boys and girls and women in the state,” she added.

Marital rape also comes under this form of domestic violence. The question may be asked about how a husband can rape the wife! The answer in found in the fact that any sexual act that is done in some unwanted, degrading manner and sometimes involving threats to the life of the victim/wife should she want to resist such an act is regarded as marital rape.

Also, in this category is incest. This takes the form of any inappropriate touching or fondling or sexual intercourse with someone who shares a biological relationship with the victim who might be a sister, mother, cousin, or someone who has been adopted into the family.

Child labour takes the form of street vending, shop, market, or mall minders, beggars, guides for disabled beggars, head loaders in the markets, “wheel barrow boys”, bus conductors, etc. According to Simon Ishola of the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, “all of these violate the right of the child to education and good welfare.

At times, violence against persons come in the form of abuse of widows. When a man dies in a typical Nigerian context, the wife is put through all manner of abuse. She is always the prime suspect for the death of her husband. She is made to go through some horrible and dehumanizing rituals. Her case will be worse if she gave birth to only female children. She will be stripped of all her husband’s belongings. One can only imagine what the case could be if the marriage did not produce any children. At times, she may be turned into a “property” for a family member to inherit.

This reality highlights the need for legal reforms and access to justice for persons whose rights have been violated.

Commendably, on 25th May, former President Goodluck Jonathan, signed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill into law. The VAPP Act prohibits all forms of violence against persons in public and private life.

The Act is comprised of 48 sections and 9 schedules consisting of six forms. According to the long titled of the Act, the object of the VAPP Act is to eliminate violence in private and public life, by providing maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders.

It is the first criminal legislation in Nigeria to expand the concept of rape beyond penetration of the virginal and anus by the penis and to include penetration of the mouth by the penis. The VAPP Act is also the first instrument to prohibit and punish female genital mutilation, forced eviction by a person of his/her spouse and children, verbal, emotional and psychological abuses, harmful widowhood practices, political violence, etc.

However, the Act is restricted in its application to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, at a public function recently regretted that only three states of Anambra, Ebonyi and Oyo have domesticated the VAPP Act, and urged the remaining 33 states to adopt the law based on its attendant benefits to the nation at large.

Meanwhile, some states have laws in place to address domestic violence, such as the Prohibition Against Domestic Violence Law No 15, 2007 of Lagos State and the Gender-Based Violation (Prohibition) Law, 2011 of Ekiti State. But, until the VAPP Act, there was no federal law specifically addressing sexual harassment and domestic violence in Nigeria.

Section 1(1) of the VAPP Act provides a novel definition of Rape. A person commits rape whenever he or she intentionally uses any part of his/her body or thing to penetrate the vagina, anus or mouth of another person, provided the other person did not consent or the consent was obtained by fraud or by any other unlawful means. The traditional concept of rape is restricted to non-consensual penetration of the virginal by the penis.

Section 22 of the VAPP Act makes it an offence for anybody to intentionally administer a substance to another person with the intention of overpowering or stupefying such person, so as to enable any other person to engage in sexual activity with that person. The offence is punishable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or to a fine of N500,000.00 or both.

Professor Anthony Nwazuoke a lecturer in the Faculty of Law, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki submits that where in addition to administering the said substance, the victim was raped, an offence will also have been committed under s.1(1) of the VAPP Act.

Section 2 provides that a person who inflicts physical injury on another by means of any weapon, substance or object commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine of 100 thousand naira or to both. Physical injury extends from light injury to the more aggravated form known as grievous hurt.

Section 6 of the VAPP Act prohibits female circumcision otherwise known as female genital mutilation. A person who performs or procures another to perform female circumcision, is punishable with a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or a fine not exceeding N200,000 or both. Where a person attempts to engage in female circumcision is liable to imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding N100,000 or both. Female genital mutilation refers to the removal of a part or all of a female’s genitalia. The severest form is infibulation or pharaonic circumcision.

A victim of violence under S. 38(1) of the VAPP Act is entitled to material, medical, psychological and legal assistance from governmental or non-governmental agencies providing such services. He or she is also entitled to be informed of the availability of those services. The victims shall be afforded opportunity to acquire skills in any vocation of his choice and access to micro credit facilities.

Indeed, the length of time it has taken to get this far and the seeming reluctance by most states to domesticate the Act is an indication of how deeply violence, particularly violence against vulnerable persons, is entrenched in our society. It is also indicative of how long it takes to change policy.

A new law prohibiting violence is not be enough to change Nigerian society but it does send a strong message that impunity for such action no longer prevails and that this issue is a matter of national concern. However the government, civil society, international donors and Nigerians need to take continued action and implement the VAPP Act to ensure perpetrators are convicted and, most importantly, that the culture that permits and enables violence changes.

In fact, it has become germane for religious leaders to channel energy not only in theological evangelisation but on family rebirth and save society from the dangers inherent in allowing the trend to continue, whose negative impact is more futuristic than immediate. This has become necessary considering the fact that both victim and offender are all part of their congregation.