There is an urgent need to enforce the law on violence against persons

Last Saturday, November 25, marked the United Nations International Day for the elimination of violence against women. Unfortunately, the campaign has not resonated much in Nigeria, essentially because it coincided with a period the role of women in domestic violence has come under intense searchlight. With the ongoing murder trial of an Abuja wife who allegedly stabbed to death her husband, son of a prominent politician, and another case in Gusau, Zamfara State, where a man is similarly battling for his life after being stabbed by his wife, there is the tendency to underplay the violence women and girls are exposed to in our country. That would be wrong.

While spousal abuse cuts across both sexes, women and girls are predominantly the victims, even in our country. Yet for fear of being stigmatised by the society, there seems to be a conspiracy of silence. Where incidents are reported or noticed by third parties, the advice is usually reconciliation, while our police are known to have actively discouraged reports of assault between spouses, trivialising such occurrences as ‘domestic’. Yet, violence against women and girls, according to the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, is fundamentally about power and “it will only end when gender equality and the full empowerment of women” becomes a reality.

On the basis of the latest UN data, between 2005 and 2016 for 87 countries, 19 per cent of women between 15 and 49 years of age said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to the survey. More instructive is that in 2012, almost half of all women who were victims of intentional homicide worldwide were killed by an intimate partner or family member, compared to six per cent of male victims. Moreover, only just over half (52 per cent) of women between 15 and 49 years of age who are married or in a relationship make their own decisions about consensual sexual relations and use of contraceptives and health services.

While the foregoing represents the global picture, the situation is as bad in our country despite the stringent provisions in the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015. The law prohibits, among others, abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance; provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and girls and also prohibits economic abuse, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, substance attack, depriving persons of their liberty, incest and indecent exposure. It also intends to eliminate violence in private and public life and provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of violence, and punishment of offenders.

However, enforcing the law is a big challenge. The fear of being ostracised, the lack of material and financial resources and the general lack of sympathy and support from the public have contributed immensely to the growth of domestic violence in many Nigerian homes. Curbing these tragic incidents is therefore a collective responsibility. It is also the duty of governments, at all levels, to protect the most vulnerable by supporting the establishment of the necessary infrastructure and wherewithal, including safe houses, wherein abused women can be securely accommodated, counselled and enabled to regain some confidence and self-respect.

The authorities must come to the aid of these unfortunate women, and be alerted to the fact that battery and assault remain felonies in our law books, even where inflicted between spouses. We must understand that ignoring the subtle signals of violence inflicted on our females can only lead to disruption in our families and in our society. It is therefore a collective responsibility of all stakeholders if we must end domestic violence in our homes.