It is perhaps trite to aver that violence of various shades is precipitously on the rise across the world. Homes, workplaces, schools, religious grounds, and relaxation hubs are fast becoming dreadful places to many people, especially women and children, on account of the indescribable violations and acts of violence increasingly playing out there. Where violence is intensely focused – as in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) –, age, educational status, class, religion, race, ethnicity, and tribe are immaterial. Thus, where women and girls across varied societal strata are not being violently involuntarily engaged in sexual acts (rape, prostitution, pregnancy, abortion, et cetera), they are either being freely violated by nefarious traditional practices like early marriage, genital mutilation, and insufferable widowhood rites, or psychologically violated through patriarchal discriminatory systems.
All of the foregoing averments are supported by extant statistics and research findings ably undertaken by international organisations like the United Nations, governmental organisations in the Euro-Western axis, and international non-governmental organisations. The World Bank document, known as World Development Report, which provides data and research outcomes on development from country to country, outlined and discussed in its 1994 report 10 particular risk factors confronting women and girls. Of those 10, according to the report, rape and domestic violence rank above war, highly dangerous diseases, and automobile accidents as potential causes of danger to women and girl children. While sexual and domestic violence against women and children have not abated, war, diseases, lack of access to education, unemployment, poor maternal and reproductive health, among others, continue to make happy, healthy, and halcyon living horrendously impossible for these groups of people over the last 22 years since the publication of that study.
Globally, it is estimated that, in their lifetime, 36% of women and girl children suffer wide-ranging sexual and physical violence. And in many third-world countries, about seven out of 10 women are subjected to shocking sexual and physical violence.
In the area of underage marriage, statistics published by the UN reveal a more disturbing reality. A disproportionate number of women across the world today became wives when they were children. According to the International Centre for Research on Women’s ‘Child Marriage Facts and Figures’ (2012), one-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18; and one in nine are married before the age of 15. ICRW found out that 70 million women (ages 20-24) around the world had been married before the age of 18. It feared that if this trend progresses apace, 150 million girls would be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. In other words, an average of 15 million girls will be married each year before they reached the age of consent.
ICRW further reported that the hot spots of this abominable violence are Western and Sub-Saharan Africa, due to population size, and South Asia, where the largest number of child brides reside. Poverty, lack of education, violence, and health challenges define child marriage, which sadly is supported by a variety of religions in many countries of the world.
It noted that more countries had put in place national action plans to put the malevolent wind out of the ruinous sail of violence against women. In international and regional organisations, a number of protocols on violence and issues of women’s rights have been legislated. Across countries, many NGOs and Civil Society Organisations (CSO) are playing critical roles in creating awareness and enlightenment on these laws and those enacted locally.
In Nigeria, where GBV is alarmingly on the rise, the advocacy efforts of about 14 years of a couple of NGOs resulted in the emergence of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015. After its precarious journey through the frustrating labyrinth of the National Assembly, the bill was passed by the 7th Assembly and was signed into law on May 28, 2015, by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
As its Explanatory Memorandum shows, the VAPP Act ‘prohibits all forms of violence against person in private and public life, and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders’. Made up of 48 sections amenable to easy comprehension, the VAPP Act makes available sharp legal fangs against all kinds of violence, some of which include rape, incest, physical injury, female genital mutilation, harmful widowhood practices, stalking, forced isolation/separation from family and friends, abandonment of dependants without sustenance, forceful eviction from home, and administering substance with intent – all of which are rife in many states and communities across the federation. Though women and children are often the victims of these offences, the Act protects men too. As the title indicates, it is for all persons.
The daily occurrences of violence, especially against women and children, underscore the dire imperative for robust and concerted actions on the part of critical stakeholders in the society. The statistics on GBV in Southwest region of Nigeria alone are so discomfiting.
To this end, the media (in their traditional and new forms) have a binding duty to give the same level of attention accorded political events to issues bordering on violence against persons and the VAPP Act, particularly redress for victims.
Similarly, community heads, leaders of market women, women organisations, heads of schools, gender-desk officers across police stations, NGOs, government agencies and departments, among other critical stakeholders, must not only know about the VAPP Act, they must also commit themselves to its implementation. It is the path to walk if the evil shrew of violence against persons, especially women, children, and the vulnerable, is to be expeditiously tamed and contained for the wellbeing of our society.
- Ademola writes from Bodija, Ibadan.