As Kano fails to implement SGBV laws, justice remains elusive for rape survivors

When Memunat Hawwal realised that her 17-year-old daughter was raped by 25-year-old man in the Nassarawa Local Government Area of Kano State, she informed her husband.

By the meskene of the day of their discovery, they reported the incident to their community leader, who advised that the National Human Rights Commission should be involved. However, the bureaucracy at the Kano office of the agency frustrated the survivor’s parents.

Though the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act was signed into law by the Nigerian government on 25 May 2015, rape remains one of the most common crimes in Kano due to the failure of the government to domesticate the law.

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The VAPP Act was meant to, among others, ensure due punishment for perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and ensure justice for the victims. The VAPP Act outlaws and stipulates punishment for acts such as sexual abuse, domestic violence and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and forced marriage.

Like the VAPP Act, the Child Rights Act (CRA), which was earlier enacted in 2003 to protect the rights of children is also yet to be domesticated in Kano. Section 31 (1) and (2) of the CRA stipulates that any person who has sexual intercourse with a child commits an offence of rape and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life. The CRA provides that it is immaterial that “(a) the offender believed the person to be of or above the age of eighteen years; or (b) the sexual intercourse was with the consent of the child.”

The CRA does not restrict victims of rape to the female gender and also recognises that rape can be committed by either a male or female. Therefore, under the two laws, boys and girls can be victims of rape.

While Kano state relies on penal code to try sexual offenders, the law does not recognise men or boys as victims of rape and does not recognise marital rape where the woman has attained the age of puberty. Yet, young married women and young boys have been victims of rape in many reported cases in Kano State.

Speaking with BUK FM, Kano, the Director of Research, Planning and Statistics of the Kano State Ministry of Women, Children and Disabled Affairs, Yakubu Salihu, said his ministry is currently tackling about 300 rape cases and the survivors include young girls and boys.

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He explained that the incidents mostly happened in the victims’ homes, neighbourhoods, and communities and on their way to school and were mostly perpetrated by the victims’ loved ones, relatives and also strangers. Corroborating this, a community head in Nassarawa LGA, Bala Shehu, said the community frequently received complaints of rape and there are no sufficient laws to deal with the issue.

Established by the state government to tackle issues of sexual assault, the Kano State Sexual Referral Centre (SARC), Protocol Officer Aminu Usman, said it receives about 100 cases in a month. “It is (getting) out of hand. In a month we can receive 95-100 cases of rape. Currently, in this month, January, so far, we have received over 50 cases. Just last week, 17 cases were brought to us on a single day from one community that I cannot disclose because of confidentiality.”

He estimated that 60 per cent of offenders escape justice and return to the community to continue their atrocities. He said the centre had been advocating for the VAPP Act to be domesticated in the state as the only way to mitigate SGBV in Kano.

Meanwhile, the police said it has a Gender Desk at the police headquarters that handles SGBV cases. A Senior Magistrate also said rape has become a worrisome issue in Kano, explaining that the existing laws do not directly render significant help to rape victims because there is a gap in the kanunî framework.