Domestic Violence: Nigerian Women at Risk
The recent death of one of Nigeria’s leading gospel music artistes, Osinachi Nwachukwu, who was allegedly battered to death by her husband, has elicited nationwide outcry. Christian leaders have since risen in outright condemnation of the dastardly act, with many calling for her husband to face the hangman. Her death however, revealed the scary statistics of women who are subjected to inhumane and violent treatment in the hands of their spouses. Gender Rights Activists, Osai Ojigho, Amanda Demechi-Asagba and Uju Peace Okeke discuss Gender-Based and Domestic Violence, suggest ways in which escalating spousal abuse can be reduced, and how victims can find respite
One Death Too Many: The High Cost of Domestic Violence
Gender-based violence (GBV) which is violence targeted at a person because of their danger, and often perpetrated against women and girls, is pervasive in Nigeria. Generally, most people are familiar with the alarming statistics of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which estimates that 1 in 3 women would be subjected to either physical or sexual intimate partner violence, or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (2018 NDHS) further showed that, 30% of females between 15 and 49 years had experienced sexual violence. During the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, cases of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) soared. Therefore, VAWG is not only a shocking reality for many women and girls, it is also a health emergency requiring more attention than it is currently getting.
Article 1 of the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) and Section 46 of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) Act of 2015 provide that, violence includes those acts which cause or could cause physical, sexual, psychological, and economic harm, including the threat to take such acts and applies, whether in private or public or in peace time or times of conflict. The definitions are therefore very encompassing, and form the basis of addressing GBV as a human rights issue that has implications for the enjoyment of rights of every person.
Late Osinachi Nwachukwu: Domestic Violence
Nigerian gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu died on April 8, 2022, allegedly due to abuse and beatings from her husband. When the story about the circumstances around her death broke out, the public were not only shocked, they queried how such a gifted singer suffered domestic violence for such a long time without respite. Sadly, Osinachi joins several cases of women across Nigeria, whose untimely death and injuries were because of domestic violence often by a spouse or intimate partner. For example, the case of 21-year old Airwoman Solape Oladipupo (Shomzy) killed by her boyfriend, Airman Kalu Bernard in March 2017; the case of Titilayo Omozoje killed by her husband Akolade Arowolo in June 2011; and of Seun Mojiyagbe who was stabbed with a pair of scissors by her husband in November 2021.
However, the real number of women who have died arising from domestic violence remains largely unknown. There are also other cases of men who have lost their lives after domestic squabbles with their spouses, like Biliyaminu Bello who was stabbed to death by his wife, Mariam Sanda. Evidence abounds that predominantly, women are largely impacted by domestic violence.
In the VAPP Act domestic violence is defined as “any act perpetrated on any person in a domestic relationship where such act causes harm or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or well-being of any person.” The VAPP further provides in Section 46 that a person is in a domestic relationship where: “(a) they are or were married to each other including marriages according to any law, customary religion; (b) they live or have lived together in a relationship in the nature of marriage, although they are not or were not married to each other; (c) they are the parents of a child or children or are the persons who have or had a parental responsibility for that child or children; (d) they are family members related by consanguinity, affinity or adoption; (e) they are or were in an engagement, dating or customary relationship including actual or perceived romantic, intimate or sexual relationship of any duration; (f) they share or recently shared the same residence.” Therefore, the definition is quite extensive covering spousal, intimate partner, parental, sibling relationships, and extended family members living together, and domestic workers.
Prior to the enactment of the VAPP, Ebonyi, Cross River and Lagos State had laws prohibiting domestic violence. Section 18(1)(g)(i)-(xiv), Protection Against Domestic Violence Law 2007 of Lagos State provides that domestic violence includes: physical abuse; sexual abuse exploitation including but not limited to rape, incest and sexual assault; starvation; emotional, verbal and psychological abuse; economic abuse and exploitation; denial of basic education; intimidation; harassment; stalking; hazardous attack including acid bath with offensive or poisonous substance; damage to property; entry into the complainant’s residence without consent where the parties do not share the same residence; or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant, where such conduct harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or wellbeing of the complainant; deprivation.
In Osinachi’s case as gleaned from the Hon. Minister for Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen observations after visiting the late gospel singer’s family, we understand that money from her singing career were paid to the husband’s account, making her dependent on him. She also lived in fear while in the house, and was beaten a lot. It appears that Osinachi suffered several breaches of the VAPP Act such as forced financial dependence or economic abuse (Sections 12 & 46); placed in a fear of physical injury (Section 4); Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse (Section 14); and spousal battery, which is the “intentional and unlawful use of force or violence upon a person, including the unlawful touching, beating or striking of another person against his or her will with the intention of causing bodily harm to that person” (Section 19). And with her death, the spouse could be facing murder charges under the criminal laws.
The VAPP Act provides for an opportunity to apply for protection orders from the High Court by complainants, but by others, including the Police, a protection officer, accredited service provider, counsellor health service provider, social worker or teacher “who has interest in the well-being of the complainant” on behalf of the complainant. The has to be done with the consent of the complainant, except they are not in a position to give consent as described under the Act (Section 28(4) VAPP Act). This means that anyone who knew of the abuse could have applied for an order of the court with Osinachi’s consent, to stop the abuse and warn the perpetrator of consequences of breaching the protection order. This is one area that, as a society, we need to explore more, considering that after Osinachi’s death, many people came out to say that they knew about the abuse and wanted it to stop but felt helpless to help. If a protection order was applied for and granted, this could have ordered the perpetrator to stop committing further acts of domestic violence, and even taking steps prevent the perpetrator from access to their home so that the victim/survivor could be safe at home or work (see Section 31 VAPP Act). A protection order can offer victims of GBV, especially domestic violence victims/survivors some respite, as the law prosecutes offenders pending the final determination of the suit.
The Presidential Commission on Reform of the Administration of Justice in Nigeria, 2006 noted that, a deficient criminal justice system which is not sensitive to women worsens the chances of women survivors of violence seeking justice. Amnesty International Nigeria in a research, ‘Harrowing Journey: Access to Justice for Women and Girl Survivors of Rape’, published in November 2021, noted that many survivors are discouraged from pursuing their cases, due to revictimisation by the Police and insensitive questioning practices. The Police may be influenced by cultural beliefs about protecting family units, and evidence shows that there is a tendency to treat cases of domestic violence as private matters, declining to prosecute or even act as mediators for reconciliation between parties and families.
The state of emergency for GBV declared in 2020 by the Nigerian authorities, should translate words to resources for providing support for survivors of GBV and their families, as well as facilities to prevent, prosecute and punish perpetrators of violence. More States have domesticated the VAPP Act, with Yobe State being the most recent after the Governor assented to the law in a statement shared on April 16, 2022. It is one thing to pass the law, its another for it to be implemented holistically and all the services available to victims and survivors provided at little or no cost.
The Nigerian Governors Forum and the Nigerian Governors Wives Against Gender-Based Violence (NGWA-GBV) are initiatives that need to do more, in terms of ensuring the political will for implementing the VAPP in States that have domesticated, and adoption in States yet to have appropriate laws to deal with GBV, including domestic violence.
The VAPP Act implementing agency is the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) (Section 44 VAPP Act). NAPTIP has set up a Nigeria Sexual Offender and Service Provider Database (NSOD), which holds a list of State and not-for-profit GBV responders and service providers. It launched the first VAPP annual implementation report 2020 during 16 days on activism in 2021, and now has in place the Domestic Violence Reporting Coordinator (Section 42 VAPP Act). NAPTIP, in carrying out its task, should not only coordinate all the relevant agencies in the multi-agency HIMAT platform comprising of relevant Federal agencies including the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, security agencies and National Human Rights Commission; but provide regular monitoring mechanism reporting and follow-up with cases that can be readily accessed by survivors and the general public beyond the annual reporting mechanism. Putting information on its website on successful cases and tips for combating GBV, can be helpful. The awareness and education component can be enhanced through concerted collaboration with the National Orientation Agency, civil society and community group.
The FCT has the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Response Team (FCT SGBVRT), and several States have similar bodies meant to be a first stop service provision centre for survivors. While there are now 32 State established sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) in 18 States out of 36 States in Nigeria, there is a huge demand for more SARCs to cater for millions of people in the country. Private shelters run by mostly NGOs, are overstretched with not enough space to respond to the cases of GBV they receive daily. It continues to be an onerous burden to deal with the alarming cases of GBV, and even more alarming deaths resulting from GBV especially domestic violence. Some have argued for a moral and religious response to tackling this, but the danger is that rather than aiding the situation, such practices can limit progressive laws from dealing with the situation with the seriousness it deserves. I have argued elsewhere, about how the cultural and religious settings in Nigeria make it difficult for women to speak out about violence. Cultural norms reinforce patriarchy by enforcing the notion that the male is superior to the female, and in this sense, women must serve the interests of men (Prohibiting Domestic Violence through Legislation in Nigeria, in Agenda (2009)). Therefore, a human rights perspective should be applied, if women are to be treated equally and with dignity as required under international law and the Nigerian Constitution.
According to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s General recommendation No. 35 on gender-based violence against women, paragraph 15: “Women’s right to a life free from gender-based violence is indivisible from, interdependent with other human rights, including the right to life, health, liberty and security of the person, the right to equality and equal protection within the family, freedom from torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, freedom of expression, movement, participation, assembly and association”.
Women and girls should have access to a remedy, when their human rights are violated. It is too late to bring to life Osinachi and other women who have lost their lives as a result of domestic violence, but the State can help those still in a cycle of violence to get support to report their abuses and seek redress. Survivors of domestic violence need compassion and support, not abuse or condemnation for not leaving their abusive partners. We need to recognise that it is a process. It is the reason why legal intervention is definitive, as it has the force of the law.
Osai Ojigho, Lawyer; Human Rights Expert; Gender Equality Advocate; Civil Society Leader; Country Director of Amnesty International Nigeria since April 2017
Call for Government Action Against Gender Based Violence
Definitions of Domestic Violence
Section 18(g) of Lagos State Domestic Violence Law defines Domestic Violence.
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as
‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
The Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), Article 3 states:
‘Gender-based violence against women shall mean violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or that affects women disproportionately’.
The United Nations defines domestic violence as a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner which could be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.
Types of GBV
Sexual, physical, verbal, psychological (emotional), or socio-economic and it can take many forms, from verbal violence and hate speech on the internet, to rape, defilement, murder, trafficking, Sexual exploitation etc.
It can be perpetrated by anyone: a current or former spouse/partner, a family member, a colleague from work, schoolmates, friends, an unknown person, or people who act on behalf of cultural, religious, State, or intra-State institutions. Violence against Women, as with any type of violence, is an issue involving relations of power. It is based on a feeling of superiority and/or inferiority, and an intention to assert that superiority and or cover up for the inferiority complex in the family, at school, at work, in the community or in society.
The difference between GBV and Domestic Violence is that GBV can be perpetrated by anyone anywhere in private or public, while Domestic Violence is perpetrated by someone in a relationship, husband or brother, uncle or in-law, any family member or close family friend or domestic staff of a family, lesson teacher and or Pastor in the home and anywhere or neighbour etc.
In Nigeria women and girls are subjected to multiple forms of violence in the home ranging from deprivation, starvation hitting, suffocating, burning, acid baths, poisoning, neglect, lack of care, verbal insults, degrading comments, torture and intimidation, female genital mutilation, child marriage, child abuse, denial, neglect, deprivation and abandonment.
Over the years, there has been a surge in the number of domestic violence incidents and reports, consequent to increased efforts to enhance the protection and promotion of women’s rights through the enactment of laws and policies internationally, regionally and nationally. Such efforts have resulted in standard setting documents like the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, (CEDAW) the Beijing Platform for Action etc at the international level, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights at the regional level and at the National level – National Constitutions – The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPP) 2015, Protection Against Domestic Violence Laws, Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team Agency Law 2021.
Unfortunately, despite the legal framework, the rate of GBV/DV is increasing astronomically. Yesterday it was Arowolo, the Defendant that was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. What is the fate of the child of that marriage? For Joy Ndubwueze who narrowly escaped death as she was allegedly shot by her fiancé, a Police Officer, Eze Aiwansoba in 2021 at Opebi Lagos causing her serious bodily injury that requires multiple surgeries – still on trial. Who is responsible for the cost of multiple surgeries she requires? What is the State doing to ameliorate her suffering?
And today, Osinachi Nwachukwu who died allegedly as a result of injuries sustained from physical assault on her by her husband.
These deaths caused by intimate partners is referred to as Femicide and/or Gendercide.
Gendercide is defined as the systematic killing of members of a specific gender. The term is related to the general concepts of assault and murder against victims due to their gender.
Many have gone unreported to protect the family name, and some settled amicably and or forcefully by threat to life.The question is, who is next? Can we save this avoidable irreplaceable and irreparable losses?
Alarming and Scary Statistics and Facts
1. 137 women are killed by a member of their family every day.
2. UNODC reports that 47,000 women and girls worldwide were killed by their intimate partners or other family members in 2020.
3. It was estimated that of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half (50,000) were killed by intimate partners/husbands or family members.
4. More than 640 million women aged 15 and older have been subjected to intimate partner violence.
5. Fewer than 40% of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort. In the majority of countries with available data on this issue, among women who do seek help, most look to family and friends, and very few look to formal institutions, such as Police and health services. Fewer than 10% of those seeking help appealed to the formal institutions.
6. AWLA Secretariat receives no less than 30 domestic violence cases a month.
7. Data from AWLA show 80% report on domestic violence while other reports come within 20%.
8. Data from AWLA show for sexual assault 80% report of child defilement and 20% report on rape.
9. AWLA report revealed a significant increase in domestic violence since Covid-19.
10. Globally, it is estimated that 736 million women – almost 1 in 3 – have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both.
11. 7 in 10 women in the world report have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.
12. Over 130 countries have laws that penalise domestic violence, for over 603 million women, domestic violence is still not a crime in their countries and or States.
13. Women and girls together account for 72%, with girls representing more than 3 out of every 4 child trafficking victims.
*Women and girls are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
14. 15 million adolescent girls worldwide, aged 15-19 years, have experienced forced sex.
15. In the vast majority of countries, adolescent girls are most at risk of forced sex (forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts) by a current or former partner, or boyfriend. Based on data from 30 countries, only 1% have ever sought professional help.
16. Globally, 1 in 3 students, aged 11-15, have been bullied by their peers at school.
17. Nigeria is one of the top 10 countries with the highest homicide rate: (34.52 per 100,000 people)
Light at the End of the Tunnel: Legal Framework
Nigeria has domesticated the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Some of the domestic laws the Government has entrenched to protect women and the girl child from all forms of violence and abuse includes the following:
1. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
2. African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Ratification and Enforcement Act: Articles 3 and 19 of the Act provides that everyone is equal before the law (both men and women). Article 28 further provides that every individual has duty to respect his fellow human beings without discrimination and reinforces mutual respect and tolerance.
3. Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 and Laws of States: This Act filled a lacuna that was hitherto existing in our criminal law, with regard to violence against women. In particular, before the enactment of the Act, some peculiar forms of sexual abuse against women which was not catered for under the Criminal Code Act, has been entrenched in the Act.
Also, the Act provides for compensation for victims of sexual abuse and rape. Most laudable is the fact that the Act expressly prohibits female circumcision otherwise known as female genital mutilation, an act that has been denounced by several human rights activists. VAPP criminalises the act and other harmful traditional practices, and subjects offenders found guilty of the act to imprisonment and or fine.
VAPP also prohibits forceful ejection of one’s spouse from the house, and damage to property with intent to cause distress. The Act also expressly prohibits physical, economic, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse and domestic violence (spousal battery), forceful separation from family and friends, as well as abandonment of spouses and children. These offences have been shown to affect a large number of women and girls in comparison to men and boys.
4. Criminal Code Act: The Act criminalises different form of sexual abuse, which women or females suffer. The Act prohibits defilement of girls, and indecent treatment of girls. The CCA also prohibits procuring or encouraging girls for prostitution.
5. National Centre for Women Development Act.
6. National Commission for Women Act.
7. National Gender Policy 2006.
8. Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2015: Statistics has shown that for every one man trafficked, three women are being trafficked. Therefore, the provisions of the Act would apply mostly to women than men.
9. Child Rights Act 2003.
10. The Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009: By extending the locus standi for people who bring actions with respect to the violation of their rights to include third parties, the new regime has enabled NGOs and human/women’s rights advocates to institute actions on behalf of women who have suffered violence in one form or the other.
11. Malpractices against Widows and Widowers (Prohibition) Law 2015 in Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Ebonyi, Anambra.
12. Law to Prohibit Domestic Violence Against Women and Maltreatment Law No. 10 of 2004 Cross River.
13. Inhuman Treatment of Widows (Prohibition) Law 2004 Edo State.
International Conventions, Treaties and Protocols
Nigeria is a signatory to several international and regional instruments that specifically deal with the attempts to stop violence against women. These include:
I. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948);
II. The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (1981);
III. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1981);
IV. Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) (2005);
V. Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (1985);
VI. Vienna Declaration (1993);
VII. Beijing Platform for Action (1995).
1. Enforcement of laws: It has been established that Nigeria is not short of good laws; the major problem is in the enforcement of the laws. It is therefore important that law enforcement authorities are properly educated, so as to help safeguard the rights of women as provided under the law. It is essential that the Police Force are adequately equipped and trained, in order for them to be efficient and gender sensitive in the prevention and control of violence. This is because they are central in helping victims get access to justice. However, due to their ignorance which stems from the largely patriarchal society we live in, most times, they dismiss matters on violence against women (especially domestic violence) as a domestic affair that should be settled within the family. Or they go off to victim-blaming.
2. Sensitisation: Violence against women is a major public health problem, and there is a dire need to reach out to marginalised, rural and urban girls to enlighten them on the various forms of violence. There is a need for sensitisation programmes about the various forms of exploitation, enlighten them, and build their confidence to speak against these acts or report when they are victims. The general public should be educated on the occurrences, and dangers of violence against women. The sensitisation programmes should also focus on creating awareness, on the institutions that are particularly focused on the protection of women’s rights. This will prove to be a useful tool to combat the menace and reduce the rate of victimisation in the country.
The Government in conjunction with custodians of culture; traditional heads, faith-based organisations and NGOs can carry out these awareness programmes. Social media would prove to be useful in creating awareness against gender-based violence and to spread news, information, and adverts to sensitise the people.
3. Establishment of support centres for women: It is imperative that a safe space and environment is created for women, to be able to air their sufferings to others. It is important that there should be active listening to persons, who have been victims of one form of violence or abuse. An adequate response to the needs of these people, is likewise, important.
4. There is also the need to provide funds to support women, to empower them. Adequate funding of the Judiciary and the Legal Aid Council is also very important, so that they can adequately cater for women’s rights.
5. Education: It is vital that we place so much emphasis on encouraging girl-child education, and creating structures that will make them stay in school. Education is a tool that will enhance women’s ability to exercise self-determination in the control over their own bodies, and secure them with economic power. In the long run, it will translate to more women involved in policy making.
Legal Proposals to Stop Violence Against Women and Girls
The legal framework in Nigeria is robust, with laws that protect women and girls. Thus, to completely eradicate violence against women and girls, there is the need for implementation agencies and the establishment of centres that cater for victims of violence. These centres should be fully equipped with facilities, to protect women and girls who have been victims of violence. The Government can go further to provide at least one well equipped shelter in every State, to protect persons who have been victims of violence from further violence, and provide qualified personnel to cater for the needs of these victims. We at AWLA, propose a one stop centre to deal with victims of violence from rescue to rehab and reintegration.
Additionally, there is the need to strengthen law enforcement agencies for the arrest, prosecution and reporting of the cases of violence and trial in court. This would serve as a deterrent to the general public, from repeating the offences. There is also the need to strengthen community reporting of cases of violence against women and girls, and provide security and welfare for victims and their immediate family. This is essential in order to eradicate the culture of silence, shame and compromise that shrouds the incidence of violence against women and girls.
Need for accelerated hearing in domestic violence cases, as the delay in getting justice is actually discouraging many from reporting, as well as encouraging compromise. Imagine defilement cases taking as long as six years and still counting…
Institutions such as the Nigeria Police Force, Legal Aid Council, National Agency for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Federal Ministry of Youth and Social Development, The Law Reform Commission, National Human Rights Commission, African Women Lawyers Association( AWLA), FIDA, DSVRT – the Judiciary both State and Federal, can all work together to complement efforts to provide justice and protect the human rights of women all over Nigeria and in the world.
We also call on the private sector to go the extra mile, to assist in the prevention of these crimes against women and girls, by creating an enabling environment for women at the workplace and implementing the 35% affirmative action in their employment and appointment policies, as well as in their corporate social responsibilities towards empowerment of women and girls.
Amanda Demechi-Asagba, President of African Women Lawyers Association
Domestic Violence: Who Will Save the Nigerian Woman?
Uju Peace Okeke
Human beings are relational in nature, and sometimes in these relationships, violence occurs. Violence is any act which causes a person physical, psychological, sexual, verbal, emotional, economic harm in private or public life, in peace or conflict situation. Much as everyone could suffer violence to a certain degree, girls, women, and elderly are more susceptible. Therefore, violence against women and girls (VAWG) is that violence directed at them simply because they are females. It is achieved through the use of force, direct pressure, orientation, ritual, tradition, law, language, customs, usages, education and the division of labour. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that 3800 people die from violence every day. This translates to 1.4 million needless deaths, yearly. To make matters worse, for every death from violence, many more suffer a range of injuries and other problems.
The Law & Penalties
In Nigeria, we are daily inundated with news of different forms of violence – if it is not the husband killing the wife, it will be the couple using nails on a house help, or a near relative raping the children. To curb this menace, the National Assembly enacted the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA) in 2015, which due to our Federal system of government, applies only to Abuja. This Act holistically protects all persons from different aspects of violence, in private or public life. Many States have localised the Act in form of Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Law (VAPPL) and Domestic Violence Law (DVL).
The laws penalise six different forms of violence which are:-
i) Physical violence – an act of physical aggression towards another person, whether extreme or insignificant.
ii) Sexual violence – an act that violates sexual integrity of another, that is, obtaining sexual act by force or coercion.
iii) Psychological/Emotional/Verbal violence – a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards a person.
iv) Economic Violence – denial of financial and other economic resources that one is entitled to.
v) Harmful traditional practices – these embrace all traditional behaviours and cultural practices affecting fundamental rights of any person.
vi) Domestic Violence – an act perpetrated on any person in a domestic relationship causing harm to the safety, health, or well-being. The law sees domestic relationship as one, between a person and a perpetrator of violence where they are or were married to each other, live or lived together in a marriage-like relationship, are the parents of a child, are family members, are or were engaged, in actual or perceived intimate relationship and or share or recently shared same residence.
Domestic violence seems to attract more attention, because all forms of violence do take place within a domestic environment. For instance, in our work at Centre for Mmadu on Human Rights (C4M), victims have reported issues of spousal battery (physical violence); rape and defilement (sexual violence); insults, ridicule, repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness, invading liberty and forced isolation (emotional violence); denial of inheritance, starvation, denial of basic education and abandonment of dependents without sustenance and household necessities (economic violence); child marriage and widowhood malpractices (harmful traditional practices).
Myths about Domestic Violence
Again, violence here is so insidious, and could go unnoticed for as long as possible. One of the reasons for this is that, over time, people came up with myths used in explaining away violence. For instance, they say it is cultural, but the Constitution which is our grundnorm provides in Section 21 that the State shall protect, preserve and promote the Nigerian cultures which enhance human dignity. Others attribute it to poverty or lack of education, but, in reality, it is common at all levels of society amongst rich or poor/educated or uneducated. Some even opine that it is masculine to be violent to women. but this questions whether men who do not abuse women are lesser men. Some say that men cannot control their anger and frustration, but research shows that it is intentional conduct, and batterers are not out of control, but carefully targets certain people at certain times and places. Especially as they generally do not attack their bosses or people on the streets, no matter how angry or frustrated they become. Some suggests that women who are assaulted often like it, but in reality, women are not masochists and do not find pleasure in abuse. They are disgusted by it, but could remain in abusive relationships for many reasons, including social stigma of divorce and fear of having their children wrestled away. Ridiculously, some say it is a sign of love, but men beat their wives to show control, disrespect and degradation.
Internalising these myths, women are made to endure violence as a mark of submission, and because many people consider it a family affair, women suffer in silence, believing that exposure will ridicule the family. The nation witnessed a 60% increase in domestic violence during the Covid-19 lockdown. Unfortunately, it is yet to abate as evidenced by recent happenings. As a result of the culture of silence, only a few people report, and many times, even reported cases do not see the light of the day.
Consequences of Domestic Violence
Violence causes victims untold hardship in the form of: low self-esteem, depression, suicidal bouts, poor health results, death, loss of job/productivity and violation of human rights. The worst part is that children witnessing it, is itself violence. The society suffers through reduced taxes due to lost wages and demands on courts, health facilities and Police. Further, increase in broken homes due to violence distorts the fabric of the society, as family is the foundation of every society. Again, it constitutes obstacle to achieving equality, development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Many Non-Governmental Organisations have taken up the duty of educating victims as well as the Police, that these are offences penalised by the law because the law intends their punishment. It is very important that Government steps up awareness creation programmes, and equipping the Police with adequate resources to carry on its responsibilities, because VAPPA/VAPPL though a huge step, is not a magic wand that will eradicate violence. In the absence of its implementation, it will remain book protection.
Seeing that accumulation of small cruelties leads to societal decay that will affect all, it is imperative that everyone who witnesses any form of violence speaks out, if we must experience violence free society.
Uju Peace Okeke, Executive Director, Centre for Mmadu on Human Rights (C4M)