The increasing rate of reported rape cases against minors in Nigeria is becoming alarming to the extent that not even toddlers are spared. Child Rape is one of the most traumatizing forms of violence against children, usually committed by persons in a position of power and trust in the child’s life. While several cases are officially reported to the appropriate authorities in Nigeria, most people believe the majority of rape cases go unreported mainly because parents want to protect their children from potential stigmatization and embarrassment.
What then is rape?
Rape is defined as sexual assault, usually involving intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person’s consent.
Rape is a conscious process of intimidation wherein perpetrators keep women and children especially, in a state of constant fear. Rape devalues the victim. It is a crime which traumatises and stigmatizes the victim; a crime of insult, oppression and revenge. Rape and other forms of sexual harassment need the urgent and serious attention of family, institutions, civil society groups, government and the international community, if we really want to ensure a violence-free society for all.
With the ever-increasing incidents of rape of minors in this country, one will wonder if our policies and laws are really working; or if at all there is a body that deals with cases of rape. Hardly can a day pass without reports of women and minors raped across the country. The punishment for rape as spelt out in Section 358 of the Criminal Code is life imprisonment, while an attempt to commit rape attracts 14 years imprisonment. In spite of the penalty for rape, it still thrives, because of bottlenecks of legal technicalities, and unwillingness of victims to pursue their cases to logical conclusions. A lawyer, Festus Keyamo, said that the problem hindering prosecution of rape cases was unwillingness of many victims to pursue their cases to logical conclusions. According to him, it is one thing to allege being raped and another to lodge a complaint and proceed with the prosecution of the offence. Mr. Keyamo attributed the situation to the complacency of the society and the nature of the act, which most victims perceive could stigmatize and tarnish their image.
With the current burning issue in the country such as the economic recession and unemployment among others, youths are loitering around; no work to do and their minds are not occupied. When a man’s mind is not valuably occupied, he can do any kind of evil. This menace has continued to make nonsense of efforts by parents and other stakeholders to nip the trend in the bud. However, some members of the society have attributed the increasing rate of rape to social decadence and nonchalant attitude of some parents. Truth be told, many parents, because of the downturn the country is facing, have been forced to pursue wealth at the detriment of proper care for their children. They will rather leave them with neigbours or even family friends to take care pending when they return to take them home. This kind of step taken by parents of minors or even teenage girls and boys exposes them to strangers who capitalize on the situation to indulge in such devilish act with them.
According to a report in Daily Trust Newspaper, in a survey carried out on rape in Nigerian universities, 100 per cent of rape/sexually harassed victims are female students. Of that number, 67 per cent did nothing after they were raped, while 33 per cent made some kind of feeble report of being raped to friends, or a course adviser, and others made reports to their parents or guardians. Nearly 88 per cent of respondents have heard of sexual harassment with 66 per cent being aware of more than two cases of rape. Of that number, 99 per cent of the students agreed that there should be a center where incidences of rape are reported.
If these number of students in the tertiary institutions would decide to keep quiet after being raped it means we have a very big problem facing us in this country. Keeping quiet after being raped may just be one very good reason why the crime is on the rise in Nigeria. We found out as well that most people keep quiet because they do not have confidence in the institutions that should champion their cause. This lack of confidence can make parents of the victims and the victims as well as the larger society begin to resort to self-help in the resolution of incidences of rape and sexual molestation in all strata of lives.
The growing rate of rape cases of minors in Nigeria is alarming and unacceptable. What is more dreadful is that those involved in these criminal activities are usually treated with levity whenever they are arrested by the law enforcement agents. This disposition must change if we are ever going to deal with a situation that puts the lives and future of many of our children at great physical, emotional and psychological risk.
A recent investigation by an organization involved in conducting public opinion polls within the country, NOIPolls, revealed that almost seven in 10 adult Nigerians (67 per cent) decried the high incidence of teenage rape in the country, while three in 10 (31 per cent) personally know of a victim of child rape in their local communities. The findings of the organization further revealed that almost four in 10 (36 per cent) adult Nigerians claimed that most often the alleged offenders involved in child rape are close family relatives or neighbours. And almost half (49 per cent) of those that personally know a victim claimed they were usually children aged between seven and 12 years. Some 78 per cent of these respondents claimed also that cases were reported without any serious effort by the police to investigate and/or prosecute the alleged offenders.
Some rape cases of minors and teenagers recorded in the country recently.
According to some research carried out by Daily Trust Newspaper, in June, 2016, a 47-year-old man said to be HIV positive was arrested by the police for raping a 12-year-old girl in Kaduna. The accused raped the girl in her parent’s room in Unguwar Boro, a community in Chikun Local Government Area of the state. A resident close to the house said the man forcefully dragged the girl into the room and raped her, having noticed that her parents were not around. When the accused noticed that she was alone in the house, he asked her to come inside the room, pretending to have a message for her parents, but that the girl refused. The man pounced on her and dragged her into the room and raped her, the neighbour said.
Also in June, it was reported that a 24-year-old man, Haruna Tukur, was remanded in prison for defiling a six-year-old girl in Kaduna. The accused was said to have lured her to an uncompleted building in Malali and raped her.
Similarly in May, this year, a 31-year-old man was handed over to the police for allegedly raping his two year-old-daughter at Gonin-Gora, a community in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
There was a case of a 44-year-old man from Ini Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State who was alleged to have defiled his daughter and actually confessed to have had sexual intercourse with her several times. What then can we make of the man in Enugu who raped three of his children aged five, seven and nine? There was a case of another 10-year-old girl who cried out after constant defilement by her father for a period of 18 months in Lagos.
Another girl of eight years who resides with her guardian somewhere in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State has constantly been sexually abused by one of the young boys in the neighbourhood where her guardian usually keeps her and her little niece. On getting to know about the issue, the guardian instead of handling it with all the seriousness it deserves, reported the case to the perpetrator’s aunt who happen to be her friend. The aunt warned her brother and that was where the case ended.
A 55-year-old man, Magaji Dansale, allegedly raped his seven months old step daughter in Marmachi village of Musawa Local Government Area, Katsina State. According to reports by News Agency, the mother of the baby, Zeenat Muntari, told jouralists that she separated with the father of the baby and married Dansale. The mother said that she was suspecting that she drunk some substances that made her to sleep for several hours, the situation which paved way for her husband to allegedly commit the act. According to her, when she woke up to breastfeed the baby, she noticed blood in her private part. The man was said to have started weeping saying people will start accusing him of wrong doing.
Given the foregoing statistics and much more that have not been reported, the crucial questions are: Why is child rape on the increase in Nigeria? And what should be done to control this social malaise? We will be putting it mildly to say that rape is one of the most traumatizing forms of violence against children. It is even more damaging when carried out by a person in a position of power and trust in a child’s life. Against the background that the effect of rape is enormous, even for adults, specialists believe that a child who has faced that kind of ordeal could grow up believing everyone is going to hurt him or her and may have little or no self-confidence. Such a child could also be dreadful, inaccessible and lack respect for, and trust in authority.
This article serves as an opportunity to call on the judiciary to intensify efforts in removing the delay in prosecuting rape, being fully aware that rape cases is hard to prove. We believe that the law must no longer be lenient with rapists and perpetrators at all levels in the community so as to deter perpetrators in the society.
However, it is more worrisome that majority of rape cases involving children go unreported principally because parents want to protect their children from probable stigmatization. But perhaps the main challenge is that most people also realize that the victims may not get justice. Therefore, there is need for the authorities to do more in protecting Nigerian children. First, the perpetrators should receive a sentence commensurate with their offences. Most Nigerians have suggested a stiffer punishment of at least 14 years imprisonment against the few months that currently exist in the statutes of most jurisdictions.
Beyond the issue of commensurate punishment for offenders, there should also be institutions to help these vulnerable victims on how to handle the trauma arising from such crimes. We must work to protect our children from predators who are messing up innocent lives and getting away with it.
By Pupwaya Timothy Dibal