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Rape: Confronting the new pandemic

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BY HADIZA ISMAIL

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The numbers and dynamics of rape cases and sexual assault victims are troubling. On Monday, July 13, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dame Pauline Tallen made a startling revelation when she visited Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege. According to her, over 3,600 rape cases were recorded across the country during the lockdown alone. The number, as bizarre as it is, is even a conservative estimate, if the number of unreported cases are factored into the statistics. Almost every day, the media report cases of rape, ranging from an uncle sleeping with a niece, street urchins gang-raping a minor, or a father having carnal knowledge with a daughter. The stories are endless.

The trauma is better imagined than experienced and a trip to any of the Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) in Kaduna State reveals the sad reality and the pervasiveness of the scourge. There are four of these centres in Kaduna State, located at Gwamna Awan Specialist Hospital Nasarawa, Sir Patrick Yakowa Memorial Hospital Kafanchan, Yusuf Dantsoho Hospital Tudun Wada and Gambo Sawaba Hospital, Zaria. Indeed, they provide free psycho-social counseling, forensic examination which will be used to prosecute rapists in court and medical treatment for victims of sexual assault.

At the SARC centre in the Yusuf Dantsoho Specialist Hospital, Tudun Wada, the mother of an eight-year old victim narrated how her daughter was lured and raped by a vigilante group member. This happened few metres outside her daughter’s school in Rigasa. According to the victims’ mother, the perpetrator conned her daughter into a public bathroom, raped her and threatened to kill her if she ever let anyone know what happened.

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Another victim is a 12-year-old girl in Zango area, Tudun Wada, Kaduna, who was raped by the man she knew and trusted. Her mother narrated that the perpetrator is a 30-year old tea seller who lives a stone throw away from their home. He deceived her by sending the minor on an errand, when she returned, he dragged her into his room and raped her. He then gave her N100 and biscuits to buy her silence.

Significantly, underage girls are not the only victims of rape or sexual assault. Four boys between the ages of eight and nine were sexually abused by a man in their neighborhood. These boys who live at Kaura town, along Makama Street, were lured with money and gifts and sodomised by man they barely knew. According to the victims’ narrations, these sexual assaults happened on several occasions.

According to reports, the centres have recorded an unprecedented increase in the number of sexual assault cases in the state. From January to May 2020, 485 Sexual Assault cases were recorded and 337 of these victims are females, representing 69% of the total number recorded. The figures also show that more males than females were sexually assaulted in Zaria, as out of the 123 cases recorded, 67 were males, representing 54% of the cases. Kafanchan SARC, on the other hand, had the highest number of rape cases, with a total of 218 cases.

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Indeed, the courts have been prosecuting rape offenders but the litigation process are often long and tortuous. On 3rd June 2020, Usman Bashir was sentenced to death by hanging for raping a two year-old girl to death. Usman was sentenced by the Kaduna State high court sitting in Zaria because did not only violate the Child Rights Act but also committed culpable homicide, which is punishable by death. This news of his prosecution was greeted with praises and people commended the state justice system for bringing Usman to book. Howbeit, there is a myriad of other cases which are yet to see the light of day. So far, the Kaduna State Ministry of Justice is currently handling 108 rape cases in the courts.

Owing to the rampant cases of rape and the fact that there seem to be no end in sight, some people have advocated for castration of such sex offenders. Specifically, Governor El Rufai called for drastic measures to tackle rape and other sexual assaults, during a webinar organized by Movement Against Rape and Sexual Violence. However, in Kaduna State, rape is a capital offence and Section 258 (1) of the Penal Code, which was reviewed in 2017 and the offence provides Life Imprisonment.

Right now, the ‘’other pandemic’’, as some commentators refer to rape, is getting both national and global attention because of the frightening numbers and its sheer cruelty in the country. For example, Kaduna State has gone beyond condemnation and advocacy as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Aisha Dikko has constituted a special prosecution team to handle rape cases and other sexual assaults. In addition, the State Executive Council has set up a committee to recommend measures of curbing the ‘’pandemic’’. At the same time, work is on-going to complete the forensic lab for scientific analysis of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) samples collected from rape victims. According to the Commissioner, this will help in the prosecution of offenders, as DNA evidence is about 99% accurate.

At the national level, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Alhaji Abubakar Malami, revealed that a gender-based management committee, comprising skilled officers from his ministry and Ministry of Women Affairs, will be inaugurated to proffer practical solutions to address all forms of violence against women and children in the country. The Ministry, according to Malami, will review all existing laws, which will be presented to National Assembly for necessary legislation. Individuals, government and non- government organizations, human rights organizations have argued that the fluidity of our laws is making the fight against sexual violence seem like an unending battle. To this end, some pundits have advocated for the need for a ‘’Sex Offenders Register’’ which should be made public, so as to name and shame the perpetrators. In addition to this, it is imperative for states to domesticate the Child Welfare Protection Laws. Above all, the law should also be reviewed to include sanctions for parents who abdicate their responsibilities to their children, by exposing them to all forms of sexual assault. Likewise, parents should be sensitized to know that rape and other sexual assaults should not be treated as family matters as these are crimes against the state. Adequate training for the Nigerian Police and other security outfits, lawyers, social workers on investigation of rape cases will go a long way in preventing rapists from escaping from justice, by exploiting loopholes in our laws. Be this as it may, the greatest responsibility falls on the state by ensuring that all rape cases are prosecuted and justice prevails.

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Hadiza is a special assistant to the attorney-general of Kaduna state

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