The House of Representatives would engage the 36 states Houses of Assemblies on the need for the domestication of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and the Child Rights Act, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has said.
According to the Speaker, the engagement would be technologically conducted due to the urgency and critical nature of the issue, considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the escalation of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in the country.
The Speaker disclosed this while hosting some sexual and gender-based Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in his office on Friday, where he added that the House would consider working on sexual violence-related laws to make them conform with the current realities.
Some of the CSOs at the meeting include Women Advocacy Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Education as a Vaccine (EVA), Dorothy Njemanze Foundation, Rule of Law and Anti-corruption Programme, Action Aid, Malala Fund, Heir Women Development and Disability Rights Advocacy Centre, among others.
The Speaker also disclosed that the House would work towards ensuring that the services of CSOs working on sexual and gender-based violence are classified as essential services.
He said: “My question has always been, first of all, why do we have this very significant uptick in cases of rape right now as opposed to in the past?
“is it because of cultural shift and people are now emboldened to report these cases? Or is it just actually an uptick, with more cases of rape?
“I’m not sure which one it is, but whichever one it is, it’s been brought to the forefront, and it is incumbent upon us as legislators, in fact, upon every Nigerians to confront it and eliminate it as much as we can.
“I believe the House has been very responsive on this matter. Fortunately, it falls in line with our 9th Assembly Agenda, the issue of women and the sanctity of their dignity and the constitutional rights of the dignity of their person.
“Fortunately, we had a motion on the issue on the floor of the House yesterday (Thursday), robustly debated with enough time. Because it (this issue) is beyond the dignity to person; it is a fundamental human right that has been abused.
“We reached far-reaching resolutions on the issue, and we even resolved to wear black on our next sitting to show solidarity and the seriousness with which we have taken the issue.
“On Violence Against Persons Prohibition and Child Rights Acts and the domestication of both, I’m aware that about 27 states are yet to domesticate them. But we, as a Federal House, will take that initiative to the states.
“I intend to write and communicate to all the Speakers of all 36 States for them to be proactive about this piece of legislation. Hopefully, we will set that up sometime next week to have a meeting, obviously by zoom conference with all the Speakers on a single item agenda which will be the issue of Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act and the Child Rights Act and the domestication of same.
“I’m sure, by the time we are through, I think all 36 States would, unless there is a reason which I cannot even think of, why any State would oppose such.
“I assure you, every single member of this House is on the same page with you on this matter”.
The Speaker expressed concern of domestic and sexual violence-related laws, saying, “I think the bar has been set very low in Nigeria in terms of definition.
“Perhaps, as a House, we need to look at the legislation to tighten the noose, tighten the definition and even rape because, universally, rape is considered by criminal definition, sexual intercourse and penetration without consent.
“Now, it is the most difficult crime to prove because of how to establish consent. Sometimes it’s obvious there was no consent, but sometimes, it’s a slippery slope and it’s a grey area as to what exactly is a consent.
“Sometimes we have situations where women gave the consent and thereafter withdraw the consent, but I believe the mantra has to be sustained that no is no and it doesn’t matter at what stage.
“So, maybe in our legislation, the definition of rape needs to be loosened up but to the extent that a man will know that no is no.
“Part one of the resolution we reached yesterday (Thursday) was that every police station establishes a unit for sexual offences, separate from everything else.
“These are the kinds of things we are looking at to give teeth and to give bite to the offence of rape. So, we will need your input since women are most affected.”
Earlier, representatives of the sexual and gender-based CSOs had complained about the refusal of many states to either pass or domesticate the Violence Against Persons Prohibition and Child Rights Acts.
Due to the escalation of rape in the country in recent times, the CSOs demanded a state of emergency on domestic violence against women, while seeking for a deliberate criminalization of such offences since many victims of such violence do not come forward or get properly documented either at the hospital or police station.
They also pleaded for intervention over reported cases of aiding and abetting by police officers, which oftentimes lead to mishandling of cases of sexual violence.
Also, the CSOs requested the intervention of the House on funding for establishments of CSOs that handle issues of sexual and gender violence to enable victims to have justice at all times.
When the CSO’s complained that their services were not classified as essential by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, which made it difficult and almost impossible to respond to pleas by victims of rape and other gender-based complaints, the Speaker assured that the House Ad-hoc Committee on COVID-19 would liaise with the PTF on classifying it as essential.