Rape: Outside Court Settlement, Light Penalty Encouraging Vice in Nigeria

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Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba

Settlement of rape and sexual abuse cases out of court and offenders getting light penalty for such crime have been identified as factors encouraging widespread rape cases in Nigeria.

This observation was made at the Strategic Consultative Meeting on Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act held yesterday in Asaba, the Delta State capital, and organised by KIF in collaboration with the Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF).

The participants at the event were unanimous that the VAPP Act of 2015 “is a comprehensive and robust instrument to promote women’s rights,” which have often been undermined by out-of-court settlement and light punishment for penetrators of sexual abuses, including rape.

However, they noted that the political will on the part of respective state governors was also required for the domestication of the Act and its effective implementation at the state level.

The National Coordinator of the Nigerian Feminist Forum, Mrs. Blessing Duru, while lamenting that only 18 states in the country have so far domesticated the law, said looking at the VAPP Act from the feminist perspective, it was justified despite the gender balance of the law, because it seeks primarily “to ensure better protection for women and girls against violence, especially sexual abuse.

Duru underscored the importance of working for safer environment for women through various avenues like better health facilities, skills acquisition, opportunity to lead and accommodation of persons with disability in the scheme of things at all levels.

She urged the various stakeholders in Delta State to seize the opportunity provided by the domestication of the law in the state and the passion shown by the state Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, who in October 2020 accented to the VAPP Act passed by the state House of Assembly in July this year.

In her remarks, the Senior Special Adviser to the governor on Child Rights, Bridget Anyafulu, said the governor has demonstrated great interest and political will regarding the law by assenting to it amid the COVID-19 challenges, adding that “the state now has family courts where awaiting trial and diligent prosecution have been eliminated,” as lawyers were available to offer services on pro bono basis.

Also, the Executive Director of Koyenum Immalah Foundation (KIF), Faith Nwadishi, who was represented by the Delta State KIF Coordinator, Hope Nwadishi, said the nongovernmental organisation decided to partner the NFF to strengthen the process of implementation of the VAPP Act in the state.

According to the KIF boss, “We’re encouraged to partner the Nigerian Feminist Forum to strengthen what the state is already doing, having actually enacted the VAPP law, but a lot of Deltans are not aware of it. So, this event, which drew participants from strategic state ministries, departments, agencies (MDAs), civil society organisations (CSOs) and the media, is meant to strengthen the implementation through better awareness towards making it a household document; something we can discuss at social gatherings and our individual family circles.”

The Director of Overseas Development Agency (ODA), Mrs. Patience Ogbewe; Director, Ministry of Education, Mrs. Theresa Udochukwu; Rev Fedelia Njonkeonye (MIM); the state Focal Person of NFF, Chinonso Okechukwu, and representatives of several CSOs also attended the meeting.