Stiffer penalties should be activated against the growing aberrant behaviour of rape, writes Adewale Kupoluyi
On a daily basis, one keeps ruminating over the litany of moral decadence afflicting our society. What seems more disturbing is the prevalent cases of rape and defilement of children, toddlers and babies across the land. Rape should never be tolerated. It dehumanises and is emblematic of degradation of societal values and ethos. It becomes unpardonable when an innocent and harmless child is attacked by an adult that is old enough to father her, if not by her father. That is the rot that we are witnessing in our sick and diseased society today.
Few days ago, it was widely reported that doctors at the Federal Medical Centre Yola, Adamawa State battled to save the life of a five-year-old girl allegedly raped by an unidentified man. Doctors at the hospital said the development had caused severe damage to the girl’s body such that it would require major corrective surgery to save her. The little girl was said to have been rushed to the hospital after the defilement in a critical condition. There are ample examples whereby children and toddlers have been sexually abused, raped or killed in the country.
Before the Adamawa episode was the one involving a headmaster in one of the schools in Lagos State, who was caught having sex with a primary school pupil in one of the school’s toilets. Similarly, a 15-year-old girl was discovered to be impregnated by an elderly man and close confidant that it took a lot of persuasions to get the girl to confess. This dire situation inflicting our nation requires urgent attention more than ever before. A 2015 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report showed that six out of 10 children in the country are vulnerable to sexual abuse before the age of 18. With these statistics, it can be seen that the plague of child sexual abuse has eroded the moral and social foundation of the society that we all live in.
Unfortunately, parents, guardians and the government appear helpless and clueless concerning poor legislation and enforcement. The stigma and criminal procedure involved in establishing a prima facie case of rape in the country is highly complex and cumbersome, making victims to prefer to remain silent and making the circle of criminality to continue. At times, some females lure men into raping them. The prevailing situation in the country suggests that full tracking of rape and rapists is still not available. What this simply means is that previously rapists or paedophiles can still be employed by schools without knowing, to teach children and make them further vulnerable.
There seems to be conspiracy of silence against rape and rapists as people prefer to avoid talking about it as if it’s a non-issue. From the cases recorded lately, most of them occurred in schools. To arrest this disturbing trend, parents and wards should be more vigilant by ensuring that they look out for the moral integrity of the teachers and workers in their children’s schools. They are also encouraged to teach their children the basics of sex education. This is to ensure that unnecessary myth centred about sex is made known to the girl-child early in life.
Despite being classified as one of the countries that signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Nigeria can said to have done little to ensure that school authorities and government adequately protect children and girls at crèche, nursery, schools and educational institutions from sexual abuse. The convention prescribes that children should have right to survival, develop to the fullest, protection from harmful influences, free from abuse, exploitation and ensure full participation in family, cultural and social life. We recall the story of a failed society when a 13-year-old girl, Elizabeth Ochanya died from Vesico-Vaginal Fistula disease that she suffered from sexual assault in the hands of a father and his son in Makurdi, Benue State.
The fate that befell Ochanya was one of the reasons the Child Rights Act was enacted to cure. Regrettably, poor enforcement of such laws continues to make thousands of girls from less privileged families to be constrained by serving as housemaids or slave labourers, where they are daily sexually-exploited and limited in the realisation of their full potential in life. Some are bodily deformed and made barren for life due to no fault of theirs when raped. It is saddening that only about 20 out of the 36 states of the federation and Federal Capital Territory have domesticated the Child Rights Act meant to ensure that every girl-child is protected from abuse.
The continued cruelty against our girls and women is vividly captured by the Ghanaian writer, Amma Darko, in her fiction titled, Faceless. In the typical state, as depicted by her Sodom and Gomorrah, criminality, corruption – immorality and injustice are order of the day – where women and girls struggle to live in the harsh, greedy and merciless in the male-dominated world. In Faceless, there is an attempted rape of Fofo by Poison, as a weapon to silence and intimidate her cursed mother; Maa Tsuru, to cover up his (Poison’s) complicity over the murder of Baby T; Fofo’s elder sister at the Agbogbloshie market despite the calculated attempts to cover-up.
Maa Tsuru herself, a victim of sexual abuse, is faced with the huge challenge of raising her children alone as a single mother. Along the line, Fofo manages to escape from Poison’s trap unlike the submissive Baby T, who is unlucky and sexually abused early in life by Kpakpo, her step-father and mother’s irresponsible husband. Not only is Baby T serially molested by the ‘apparently kind neighbour’ and superstitious Onko. Baby T could not overcome the overbearing pressure of the lustful men, as she was eventually turned into child prostitute and exploited by elders and even close relatives. Poison, notorious and greedy for money, is equally a product of a bad family upbringing and known for habitually using fear to intimidate girls and women.
Maa Tsuru’s non-challance, stupid manipulation by men, lust for money and poor decision-making, led to the tragedy that befalls her innocent children and family. Partially lucky Fofo, a very confident girl, who wants succour for vulnerable children like her, wants to see the government at all costs. She believes that seeing the government would liberate her and her sister; Baby T from bondage, not knowing that our governments are helpless and dysfunctional to meeting the yearnings of citizens. Fofo’s benefactor, Kabria, through her non-governmental organisation, eventually saved her from jungle justice and later rehabilitated her into normal life without any governmental intervention.
In Nigeria, rape can be said to have reached an endemic level. No female is really safe from being raped. The country’s criminal justice system should be better activated against the growing aberrant behaviour through stiffer penalties. In the many countries where rape cases are promptly dealt with, including the United States of America, sex offender registers are kept by all states and districts. We should replicate this policy in the country to tag serial rapists and reduce the possibility of them committing the same offence. Rape victims should summon courage to come out fight this social cancer.
Borrowing from Faceless, collective effort is required to end the scourge as government alone cannot end it. Rape should never be deployed as an instrument for settling rift and difference. Mothers should shield their daughters from being vulnerable. Until rape is taken as a national tragedy, it may remain the same and difficult to eradicate by making life miserable and worthless for our toddlers, girls and women. More importantly, boys and men should take a vow never to rape.
Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta