Campaign against domestic violence, child abuse and rape

Saturday comment1

Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, Lagos State first lady, is committed to fighting domestic and sexual violence in the state, writes Omobolanle Ogunmola

Across the world, domestic violence is clearly making the headlines. Whilst women, men, boys and girls can be victims of domestic violence, women and girls are disproportionally affected.

Domestic violence occurs across cultures, and affects people irrespective of their economic status. According to a study, percentages of women who have reported being physically abused by an intimate partner vary from 69% to 10% depending on the country. In Nigeria, spousal abuse has become a scourge and there is a report that 50% of our women have been battered by their husbands at one time or the other and unbelievably, more educated women (65%) are in this terrible situation as compared with their low income counterparts (55%).

The problem of domestic violence is rooted in the socio-cultural complexes of various societies of the world, for this reason, a legalistic approach is now being adopted by many nations in the fight against this plague.

Common forms of violence in the home are perpetrated by males who are in positions of trust, intimacy and power over the female partners, like husbands, boyfriends, fathers, fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law, stepfathers and stepmothers, uncles among others.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, about 87,000 were killed worldwide in 2017, 58 per cent of them victims of domestic or family violence.

Our socio-cultural cum religious differences have also given room to diverse understanding of what constitutes domestic violence from one culture to another.

Basically, all forms of domestic violence have one purpose: to gain and maintain control over the victim. On the effect of domestic violence, children are often the most hit in terms of setbacks and the trauma they go through and which are most times irreparable. A child who is exposed to domestic violence during their upbringing will suffer in terms of developmental and psychological welfare.

Many victims of domestic violence usually lack the courage to seek legal redress on the violations of their rights due to lack of positive response from the society. Domestic violence is so entrenched in our society that even the victims condone such violations of their rights as some perceive it as sign of love and the socio-religious belief that a broken marriage or relationship is a mark of failure in life.

Due to poverty and economic dependence on men, many female victims may also choose to suffer in silence for fear of losing the economic support of the male perpetrator. This trend is evident in several of the reported cases where victims prefer to withdraw their complaints where it becomes apparent that punitive measures will be meted out to the abusive spouse. Their usual objective is for the authorities to appease rather than punish the abusive partner for fear of a backlash.

In Lagos State, the new face of Campaign against Domestic Violence is the First Lady, Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu. At a recent meeting with members of the Joint Legal Clinic of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Dr Sanwo-Olu stated that she has an onerous task of curbing domestic and sexual violence in the state. She said the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari has directed her to confront sexual and domestic violence frontally in the state.

The validity of involvement of first lady as advocate against domestic violence is the high level of visibility in the media, seriousness and collaboration across spectrum of stakeholders it would attract.

Now that Dr. Sanwo-Olu has pledged to support the team from the Ministry of Justice that has visited to seek partnership with the office of the first lady in protecting citizen’s rights, it is expected that the Joint Legal Clinic Team will improve on its public enlightenment and sensitization campaign.

Enlightenment and sensitization need to be scaled up as domestic violence is not yet understood by many as a human right issue which touches on the right to liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of movement among other rights. In spite of existence of agencies like Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), established to provide assistance to victims of the abuse in Lagos, many are still being persuaded to tolerate abuse rather than report to appropriate authorities. Despite that, according to DSVRT, Lagos recorded 3, 089 cases of domestic violence in eight months in 2018.

The reasons are not far-fetched. In some cultures, domestic violence is still being accepted as a cultural phenomenon or as a way of life instead of being treated as a criminal matter. We have this tendency of seeing the woman as a lesser or inferior human being. It is sad that many still encourage husbands to beat “madness” out of their wives.

Also, while the agency strives to ensure the abused get fair judgment from court, a study conducted by the Lagos State Government showed that evidence for 88 per cent of cases recorded within Lagos were either destroyed by the abusers or misplaced by the victims. A report by the state government in 2016, for instance, indicated that victims of the cases perpetrated within the period could not provide evidence that would assist the agency in court or in settling the case amicably between both spouses when the need arose.

The report further disclosed that of the 20 per cent domestic violence survivors who had sought the assistance of government agencies to get redress, 18 per cent withdrew their cases from court while 85 per cent of the victims blamed third party interference which includes mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, etc., for igniting domestic violence.

It is imperative that we all realize that though women are the most directly affected by domestic violence, it is the  society as a whole that bears the brunt as the scourge is a major obstacle to human development.

 Ogunmola is the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja