The rape epidemic in Nigeria seems to be deepening its roots into our contemporary society due to many factors which fearfully, have become a norm, welcomed by the nation with open arms. Some of these factors no doubt include fear (of stigmatization), poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, corruption and a terribly slow judicial system. The prevalence of this phenomenon, which mostly affects children, calls to question the activities of certain agencies, set up with the sole aim of preventing the Nigerian child from any and all forms of abuse.
Apparently, child molestation can be said to be the new dimension to rape incidences in the country as the media, on a daily basis, headlines no less than a rape story involving victims which most times are children. Just like other states in Nigeria with increasing records of child molestation, Oyo state is no different. Section 34 (1) of the Child’s Right Law of Nigeria, 2006, domesticated by the Akala’s administration in the state has it that “No person shall have sexual intercourse with a child”. By the specification of this law, a child is a person who has not attained the age of eighteen.
A child subjected to labour is vulnerable to sexual abuse. Such is the story of 13 -year old Abike(not real name) who was left in care of her grandmother and made to hawk “eko” in the evenings. After being stalked for a while in her neighborhood by two men believed to be in their thirties, she was forced into an uncompleted building and was raped. Abike could have been left alone to deal with the trauma and stigmatization which in most cases, often resulted in depression, but she was taken in by Williams Marcus of the Child Protection Network, cared for and sheltered.
Sadly, the alarmingly slow legal system in the country has made it entirely difficult to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of this heinous crime who still freely roam the streets. Meanwhile, it is quite heart-warming to know that Abike has continued from where she left-off and has returned to school. But this one story is about Abike who was lucky to have gotten help. What happens to several other victims who have been left alone to bear this burden?
Then, here is another story of Tolani, a nine-year old, repeatedly molested by an “Alhaji” in her neighborhood who threatened death if she ever said a word to anyone about what transpired between them. With a late mother and a commercial motorcyclist father, no one had the time to take care or protect her from the evil machinations of Alhaji who lured her in to his apartment on Sundays and raped her. The girl with no knowledge about what was being done to her tries it out on a younger boy, a family friend of hers, and was caught in the act. Again, the perpetrator has not been made to pay for the committed crimes, due to the terribly slow judicial system in the country. The same Child Protection Network responsible for taking care of Abike (in the first story), does same for Tolani, and just like every other well-meaning Nigerian, they are concerned about how the law enforcement agencies in charge of such cases have done little or nothing at all to bring the perpetrators to book, to at least serve as deterrent to prospective abusers.
The Chairperson of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, Oyo state chapter, Yetunde Adegboye also agrees that the legal processes involved in the prosecution of a rape culprit is extremely slow. She explains that the initial process involved in reporting a rape case begins at the Police Station where an arrangement will be made for the victim to undergo medical examination. The charge is then forwarded to the Magistrate court which has no jurisdiction to try rape cases but could remand the suspect in police custody. The prosecutor is then ordered to present the charges to the Director of Public Prosecution in the Ministry of Justice, who originally bears the burden of attending to all major crimes coming in from literally every angle in the state. The ministry, after looking into these charges then tries to see if the suspect is liable to go through trail (or trails) in respective courts. The process in itself is tiring and while some prosecutors give up half-way into pressing these charges, the perpetrators, either with influence or affluence of find ways to escape trial by applying for bail at the High Court.
The Nigeria Police Force has a whole lot to do in a bid to ensure that the required punishment is meted out to the perpetrators of such grave crime by ultimately seeing the reported cases through to courts. Victims of rape should also help the police effectively carry out their legal duties by providing every bit of information they can make available to help in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators. The society also has a very important role to play in protecting her children from the seemingly inherent dangers by fishing out those responsible for such crimes and handing them over to the law enforcement agencies to follow-up on their prosecution.
Williams Marcus has called for the establishment of family courts which he says will see to the timely prosecution of abusers; most important are the child rapists, as it is the responsibility of the government at all levels to protect the child from acts that could negatively affect the child’s physical, sexual and mental well-being.
Parents and the society at large should also ensure they make themselves available at all times to provide all the necessary love, care, protection and support to and for their children.
The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow. We need to protect them.