Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Edo using legal instruments

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By Joy Odigie, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Ms Augustina Effong (not real name), a 28-year-old single mother, faces the heart-wrenching reality of raising her six-year-old son alone. His father, Mr. Francis Osagie, has abandoned them, refusing to take responsibility for their child.

Efiong recounts how she became pregnant for Francis, who initially promised marriage but later reneged due to tribal differences.

“His family members told him not to marry me because I am not from their tribe. I am still single but the father of my son is now married to another woman who has children for him.

“I am a cleaner and earn N15, 000 monthly. This money is too small for me to take care of myself and my son.

“My son doesn’t know his father because his father left me when I was pregnant. He is aware that I have a child for him, but he hasn’t come to see his son. I learnt that he lives in Benin with his family.

“All I want is for the father of my son to take full responsibility of his upkeep, education, health and otherwise.

I will not allow my son to have any dealing with him in future if his father doesn’t take care of him now”, she explained.

Mrs. Loveth Osaro (not her real name), a 30-year-old health worker in Edo, shares a similar tale of suffering. Married to an Uber driver in 2021, Loveth endures constant beatings and neglect from her husband.

“He does not provide for my upkeep and that of our child, he beats me anytime we have misunderstanding. He is a commercial driver and he is financially okay, but he doesn’t want to take care of his family.

Desperate for justice, Loveth learned about the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Law through a friend who connected her with a Non-Governmental Organisation in Edo.

The VAPP Law aims to punish perpetrators of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and provide justice for victims like Loveth.

Following the NGO’s intervention, her husband has stopped physically abusing her, but his family pressures him to evict her from their home.

Loveth is not certain about his intentions especially as he communicates with another woman.

In recent years, GBV has become a major social issue in Nigeria, with Edo being among the worst hit.

The UNDP’s GBV Factsheets: January 2020 –July 2022, recorded about 7, 349 incidents of GBV in Nigeria.

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According to 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey statistics, 28.3 per cent of women aged 15-49 in Edo State have experienced intimate partner violence, compared to the national average of 23 per cent.

In response to this alarming trend, the Edo government passed the reviewed VAPP law in 2021 to eliminate violence in private and public life, provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punish offenders of GBV.

The law is aimed at protecting both male and female, and vulnerable groups from all forms of violence, including domestic violence and sexual harassment.

It also criminalises harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and imposes stiffer penalties on offenders.

Notwithstanding the good intention of the law, stakeholders, including civil society organizations, women’s rights groups, and legal practitioners, argue that awareness about the law is abysmally low hence it is not achieving the desired results.

According to Mrs Ufuoma Akpobi, Coordinator, Association Against Child Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (AACSGB), Edo chapter “the domestication of the VAPP law in Edo State will help to reduce the crisis in the state when people are aware of the law.

“A lot of people are not aware of the VAPP law. During one of our sensitization programmes at Uselu community in Benin, we realise that there’s the need for awareness creation of the law because most persons we interacted with were not aware of such law,” she said.

She said though there had some convictions that were tied to the VAPP law, a lot still needs to be done.

“Justices have been served using the VAPP law, one is the case of the girl that pepper was inserted into her vagina, the perpetrators were convicted using the VAPP law.

There are also some rape cases that have been prosecuted using the law”, she said.

Mrs Nosazeme Lambert-Okao of Edo State Ministry of Justice said that sensitisation about the law would enable victims to seek redress through  proper channels.

“The male gender needs to know that rape and other forms of GBV are wrong. They should also know that there are laws put in place to punish violators and that justices must be served.

“Let people know that there is a VAPP law that says that such violence are offences; we know that violence is both ways, however, the women are the ones that suffer more than the men.

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“People should know that the VAPP law is in place and that anyone who perpetrates violence against anyone will be prosecuted.

“The truth is that a lot of offenders do not know that they are committing crimes, some know and they believe that they can get away with it. But right now in Edo, nobody gets away with GBV.

“Everybody is against it and all hands is on deck to make sure that this menace is curbed; and the ministry tries to attend to such cases speedily and efficiently”, she said.

Mr Olumide Dosumu, Edo State Coordinator, National Human Rights Commission, concurs that more publicity should be given to the law.

“Unfortunately, quite a number of people are not still aware of the law especially law enforcement officers, particularly the Police.

“A situation where someone who is meant to enforce the law doesn’t know about the law, it becomes difficult. Once they have the law, the next step will be to train them on the implementation”, he said.

He also advocated community-based women sensitisation on the contents of the VAPP law, saying that “this will help to eliminate violence against women and girls.

“Our advocacy should centre more hence forth on building the capacity of women and girls to become socio-economically strong to take decisive discussions that can lift them away from toxic environments and relationships.

“Achieving gender equity and empowerment of women and girls is not only a key human rights issue but also one of the 17 Sustainable Goal enshrined on goal 5 and also mainstreamed throughout the whole Agenda 2030”

Similarly, Dr Bright Oniovokukor, Project Manager, Indomitable Youth Organisation, said although the domestication of the VAPP law was helping in the mitigation of GBV cases in Edo, there was a need for more awareness.

“The VAPP law is currently in use in the courts and a couple of progress has been made in the utilization of the law.

“We believe that with continuous awareness creation and use of the VAPP law, significant improvements would be made with respect to reducing the prevalence of GBV cases.

“However, awareness about the VAPP law remains very low. During a recent programme, we organised in Egor Ward 6, the research aspect of it revealed that awareness on the VAPP law is still low’’, he said.

According to Blessing Eromon, Programme/ Administration Officer, CLEEN Foundation, and NGO, sensitisation should be taken down to the family unit to allow for much impact in the larger society.

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“The adult man is raised as a child in the family; once we start training the male child to respect the rights of the female child, he will do that when he becomes an adult’’, she said.

She further said, apart from advocacies and sensitization, the society should be intentional about mitigating GBV.

“We should focus on a set of persons, like children within the ages of 5 and 10 years; let’s start imbibing in them values because the value of our system is falling and it hurts a lot to see that the values that we upheld are now fading away.

“We should bring back the values, teach our children, so that they grow with them for a better future.

“As CSOs, we cannot reach everybody, so everyone should have the correct knowledge about GBV and share it with others especially at the community level.

“A lot of persons need to be aware about GBV and the VAPP law and Gender Policy are good documents to handle GBV, so that people don’t talk laws into their hands and do jungle justice”, she said.

Mr Obi Oyenbuchi of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons said: “It is better that we stop preventing GBV from happening by raising awareness about actions and laws that crimilisizes violence.

“We should at all times try to protect the fundamental human rights of everyone; both male and female.

“The message is that we should create more awareness to let people know about their rights. Most of the times, ignorance is a cause of SGBV.

“A child is being abused but the parents don’t know that it is their right to report the perpetrator for justice to be served.

“They think t it is wrong for them to report and it is also exposing the child to stigma”, he said.

Gender rights activists say the VAPP law is a step in the right direction towards tackling GBV in Edo.

It is therefore important that all stakeholders work together to ensure that awareness about the law as well as its implementation is created in a manner that will facilitate the achievement of its aims and objectives.

**If used please credit the writer and News Agency of Nigeria.

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