Lagos State recently recorded over 3,000 cases of sexual and domestic violence in eight months, an alarming figure that forebodes a terrible moral character for society. Chiemelie Ezeobi writes

Each day, the mainstream newspapers and the social media are inundated with tales of abuse; either domestic or sexual. Although these vices have been on the increase, nothing seems to underscore their frightening dimension than the revelation recently by the Lagos State Government that the state recorded over 3,089 cases of sexual and domestic abuse in a little over eight months.

As alarming as the figure is, the reality is that it only accounts for the reported cases. A lot more remain unreported.

The Report

According to the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), the figure of 3, 089 represent over 200 per cent increase compared to last year’s figure of 1,044. The unit was created by the state government in 2014 as a response to the increase in incidents of rape, defilement, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect and maltreatment in the state.

The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem, made the disclosure at the commemoration of this year’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Awareness Month, themed, “Securing the Home against Violence: Everyone’s Responsibility.”

Kazeem, who is the chairman of the team, said seven people were convicted during the period under review. According to him, from January till August this year alone, the team handled 1,037 cases in the office: 930 domestic violence, 245 child abuse cases, 40 defilement cases, 22 rape cases, and 13 cases of attempt to commit rape and sexual assault by penetration.

The commissioner also said 10 cases of sexual assault by penetration and 48 other cases were recorded, adding that they see an average of 150 new cases monthly.

Kazeem said there had also been reported cases through the 6820 USSD platform, which was commissioned last year, to facilitate the swift reporting of incidents of Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence and Child Abuse.

Further breaking the statistics down, he said from January till date, DSVRT has received 2, 052 reports via the 6028 short-code. He added that a total of 718 actual cases were reported. Hence, DSVRT has responded to 357 reports of domestic violence, 195 reports of sexual abuse and 166 reports of child abuse, all reported via the 6,820 platform.

Kazeem said the team had also given a stronger focus on children who had witnessed intimate partner violence in 2018. He said a total of 1,187 children have been exposed to domestic violence within the home. The attorney-general said the trends from the data revealed a steady increase in men coming forward to report cases of domestic violence.

He said the Lagos Public Interest Law Partnership provided free legal assistance to 52 of the survivors of the Domestic Violence, ranging from judicial separation, divorce, custody of children, mediation and settlement.

Kazeem, who spoke through Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Funmilola Odunlami, said the government had dedicated September of every year to boosting the campaign against sexual violence-related activities and abuses in homes.

Policy Formulation for DSVRT

Since its establishment, DSVRT has identified protection of children from neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation as an important aspect of societal and governmental responsibility that should be given priority.  Led by Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, the DSVRT has since inception embarked on various initiatives aimed at ensuring that the rights of children are adequately safeguarded.

Upon creation, they drafted and facilitated the ratification of the Executive Order on Mandated Reporting in 2014, the first of its kind in Nigeria. In 2016, DSVRT drafted and facilitated the ratification of the Executive Order on Safeguarding and Child Protection, another first of its kind in Nigeria. The Executive Order establishing the Lagos State Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy has proven to be a catalyst for awareness and commitment of all stakeholders, including every member of the community in the protection of children.

Child Protection Programmes

The Safeguarding and Child Protection Programme was developed to prescribe management systems in place to create and maintain a safe environment for all our children. It also in clear terms, articulates procedures to be adopted when disclosures of abuse are made.

According to the team, the Safeguarding and Child Protection policy highlights the importance the administration accords the protection of the lives of all children in the state given that it applies to all state government organisations, public and private schools, child-centred institutions, and orphanages located in the state.

Ultimately, the ratification of the Executive Order was to reduce and possibly eliminate incidences of child abuse, establish a culture of early identification and effective intervention of cases.

Solution

One of the solutions proffered by the DSVRT team was to publish the Safeguarding the Rights of a Child Workshop (STRAC) book, which seeks to inform and educate children on their rights and responsibilities. It is to strengthen the reading culture of children, empower them and serve as a preventive tool against all forms of abuses against children. The book was produced after consultation with relevant stakeholders, namely, care givers, children, Faith Based Organisations, Civil Society Organisations and Law enforcement agencies.

In the past, they had Child Protection Trainings for mandated reporters in the school system, social workers and guidance counsellors. Also using STRAC, children are appropriately sensitised on how to avoid being a victim of sexual abuse, self-defence and how to preserve evidence when physically or sexually assaulted. Not left out were multi-agency trainings to ensure full implementation of the Safeguarding and Child Protection Programme.

Carried along in the scheme of things are the primary care givers- parents, through the Parents Association Conference on Safeguarding and Child Protection. According to Vivour-Adeniyi, even as law enforcement, religious institutions, social workers, school administrators, health workers, community leaders and other relevant stakeholders are being trained on how to appropriately respond to child abuse in the state, parents, who should usually be first responders must not be left out as they have a pivotal role to play in preventing and responding to child abuse.

She said parents are therefore engaged in a non-judgmental atmosphere, and empowered with information as to what child abuse entails, as well as the ramifications and importance of child’s rights, adding that parents are further informed of the signs to look out for if there is a suspected case of abuse, and steps to take if a child is indeed being abused.