Despite the domestication of Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act signed in 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari , sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), has remained on the increase, especially in the Federal Capital Territory. JOY YESUFU writes that in a bid to ensure speedy prosecution, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) is currently training paralegals on how to get on -the- spot evidence while treating complaints of rape and all forms of gender -based violence.
According to the Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2018 report, 31 percent of women and girls in Nigeria experience some form of physical abuse and sexual violence, while 9 percent experience sexual abuse, 20 percent of them suffer female genital mutilation.
The NDHS survey also showed that 55 percent of the women who had experienced violence never sought help or told anyone about the incident. It was found that among women aged 15–49 who have survived physical or sexual violence, only 32 percent sought help from any source, and 12 percent told someone about their experience but did not seek help.
In a 2019 World Bank report on Gender-based violence in Nigeria, it was highlighted that one in “three surveyed women agreed that a man is justified in beating his wife in some cases, including if she burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children, or refuses to have sexual intercourse with him.”
However, due to cultural beliefs and traditions, most cases of SGBV in the country are tolerable.
In some other cases, justice-sector institutions, such as the police and the judiciary, lack the knowledge, understanding, or capacity to address cases of GBV with a survivor-centered approach. It was found that the police often refuse to intervene in cases of intimate partner violence and often describe it as a ‘domestic issue’ or a ‘family matter.’
Interestingly, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation whose core mission is to protect, promote and preserve the rights of women and children , in response to the rising incidents of violence against women in the FCT has commenced the training of paralegals on how to get on -the- spot evidence while treating complaints of rape and all forms of gender -based violence.
This move , according to FIDA is because the state of the legal system prior to the enactment of the Law in the FCT was generally unfavourable to women who suffered beatings and abuse from their partners.
Para legalism is the art of training and equipping non-lawyers with the basic knowledge of the law and legal procedures to enable them enlighten members of their community.
Among other roles, they are meant to bridge the gap between community, lawyers, judicial system and the police by helping to pass on legal information to the police, follow up and investigate the cases.
LEADERSHIP Friday gathered community leaders, members of community based organisations, retired teachers, civil servants, retired police officers, urban/rural youth leaders, religious leaders and students volunteers are those mostly trained as paralegals
During one of the trainings, the country vice president and national president of FIDA Nigeria, Rhoda Tyoden , called for the establishment of sexual assault referral centers or One -Stop- Shop in all local government areas and communities to make prosecution easier and faster.
She described the One -stop -shop or sexual assault referral centre as a place where victims of Sexual and Gender Base Violence (SGBV) are referred to .
According to her, such centres, usually has police officers who takes down report, as well as psychosocial therapists that counsels victims. Such centres, she further disclosed, will also have medical personnels to attend to victims, take their test and as well as a lawyer to advise.
The FIDA country vice president expressed the optimism if established, victims will confidently visit such centres to lay their complaints without fear.
She said: “FIDA and other Civil Society Organisations are advocating for the establishment of these sexual referral centers in all our local government areas and our communities because it will be a place where a victim of SGBV will go to have the police take your report, you have psychosocial therapist that will counsel you, you have the medical personnel that will attend to you and take your test, you also have the lawyer that will also advise.
Rhoda said: “And so, it is a one -stop- shop and that way, it makes it easier because most people don’t want to come out to go to the police station to report due to their believe that they don’t get the actual response that should be given to them. Victims will rather suffer in silence but with this centres, they will feel more comfortable to report whatever has taken place with the confident of a positive response.
She also described the training as part of their corporate social responsibility which raise and empower the trainees as champions that will fight against SBV in their various communities.
Speaking at another training venue in Jahi, the chairperson, FIDA , Abuja branch, Racheal Adejoh -Andrew advised law enforcement agencies to desist from mediating any form of crime, especially rape , to pave way for the law to take it full course for any crime committed.
She also emphasised that rape is inexcusable, unacceptable, bad immoral, and against the law.
She said: “The problem we have centres around implementation of the existing law. The question is, are these laws being implemented? Are the police up and doing in their investigations? Do they conduct their investigations ? Are they still promoting the family affair/ call for home settlement which we consider unjust treatment for victms?
“We need to understand that you don’t mediate crime, this is what we have been saying. Once a person commits a crime, let the law take its full course. Rape is inexcusable, it is unacceptable, it’s bad, it is immoral and it is against the law” she added.
Andrew further added that the Abuja chapter of FIDA chose to train community members who are already in some form of leadership positions in the FCT , in a bid to eradicate violence against women and children.
She said: “these persons are being trained as paralegals who will serve as middlemen between us and members of their communities, such that when there are issues that concerns any form of violence or crime to relates to rape, defilement, incest and things like that, they can confidently confide in them.
“You must be aware that a lot of times, when such things happen in these communities, victms and.their relations usually do not know where to report such cases and who to talk to. In fact, most times, we hear that such cases are reported at police stations, and sadly, they are asked settle it as a family affair.
The programme officer of the Embassy of Switzerland, Ms. Ojoma Ali, said the country is supporting this project to mitigate GBV through training of community paralegals in the FCT, so that there would be increased knowledge of basic human rights, as well as protection from GBV within the framework of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015.
A participant, and the Prince of Jahi community, Idris Adam , promised to reciprocate the gesture by enlightening both young men and women in his community about the effect of rape , and to encourage them to do what is right at all times.
With these recent step by FIDA, chances are that cases of GBV will be reduced to its barest minimum and prosecution of offenders made easier.