Civil Society Groups Fault Sexual Offences Bill


By Abiose Adelaja Adams

Civil society organizations working on gender and sexual violence have highlighted perceived defects in the newly passed Sexual Offences Bill.

At a roundtable on the proposed legislation in Lagos on Thursday, the organizations, including Media Concern for Women and Children, Spaces for change, Partnership for Justice, Project Alert, Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Team, ACTS Generation, commended the efforts of Senator Chris Anyanwu, the sponsor of the Bill, but observed that the bill lacks clarity.

“Paedophiles are growing in our country, and sexual offence is the number one offence in the country whether they declare it to be so or not. So what we have seen here today is a diversity of opinions to help further this cause,” said Princess Olufemi-Kayode, the convener of the roundtable.

According to her, there has been so much confusion in the air since the Bill’s passage, which is aimed at assisting the vulnerable and victims of the sexual assault to make sure they get justice.

“In other for her efforts not to be in vain, we want to look at what more we can add to better it before it becomes law; so we thought; why don’t we have a forum whereby we sit together and clear the air. And whatever the confusion is there will be an answer and if there is no answer we can a recommendation for a way forward,” Olufemi-Kayode said.

Their observations as they reviewed various sections include ambiguity in the use of language, lack of clarity of definition in the law, determinant of age of the child, lack protection of witnesses, the cultural and religious implications.

They, thus, called for a review of the Bill, noting that its good intentions may otherwise be obviated by the harm it could cause.

Speaking at the forum, Laila St.Matthew-Daniel, executive director of ACTS Generation, said while the passage of the Bill is welcome, it unfortunately has a lot of grey areas that need to be thoroughly addressed or it will be open to manipulation.

She specifically has a problem with Clause 6(2) of the 2015 bill which says that “A person who commits an offence of defilement shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life.”

“My question for her (Chris Anyanwu) is this, what is the age of the person defiled. Stating that age was not mentioned because it had already been addressed by established laws has left a loophole that can be manipulated by paedophiles,” she stated.

“Why not just state categorically that defilement (rape) of a child attracts life imprisonment and define who a child is clear and straightforward?” she queried.

Also speaking at the roundtable, Joe Okei-Odumakin, director of Woman Arise Initiative also questioned why a specific age is not mentioned in the section.

“Why would she not mention the age? Referring to the Child Rights Act for the definition of the age of the child is not enough because they are two different laws. It should have been mentioned in the law, so that nobody hides under it. Without definition, it is open to manipulations by paedophiles.”

Another loophole is in the area of protection of witnesses. A lot of times witnesses of sexual violence are intimidated, and so they should allow pre-recorded voice that can be played while in the court room,” she observed.

Anyawu has posited that there was no need to define who a child is because it had already been defined by the Child Rights Act.

Raising the section where the issue of incest was addressed, St.Matthew-Daniel said, “A punishment of 10 years for committing incest seems to me very inadequate for a serious psychological and physiological violation. Also the issue of 10 years for child pornography or N2 million fine which can be paid off by criminals who make a whole load of money in that industry seems inadequate punishment.”

After eight years of being in the National Assembly, the Sexual Offences Bill is one 46 bills speedily passed by the seventh Senate in the last few hours of its tenure and it seeks to protect different categories of people, including minors, teenagers, the aged and people with disability, from being sexually assaulted and in the event that they are assaulted, assist them get justice.

Another section of the Bill that has generated so much confusion and ripples is the provisions of Sections 7, sub- sections 1-5 which stipulate life imprisonment for any individual found guilty of rape or sexual intercourse with children under 11 years; 10 years imprisonment for incest offense; 10 years imprisonment for child pornography or a fine of N2 million; and 14 years for sexual abuse, among others.

Lending her voice to the debate, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, director of Spaces for Change, is worried about the age limit defined in the section.

She queried, “are we now saying that 11years is the age of consent for sexual intercourse or even marriage?

“That age of 11will never be acceptable to me as a mother and several mothers in the South west. Perhaps mothers from north where child marriage is common may not see anything wrong,” maintained.

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri observed that Anyanwu “had done a very detailed legislative work” but added that “the fact that she did not involve NGOs who have been working in this areas for decades also speak volume of the suspicion of the Bill.”

The contention about the age of stemmed from the position of renowned human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, and his wife, Funmi, as well as Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, who have reacted vehemently against the Bill.

In November 21, 2013, when the Bill was unanimously passed for a second reading by the Senate, it prescribed a penalty of life imprisonment for the offence of defilement of children less than 18 years of age.

The minimum age of 18 years stated in the original Bill was in line with the provisions of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003, and the Child’s Rights Convention of the United Nations which had been ratified by Nigeria.

Falana, in an open letter to the Senate had said that the initial 18 years was illegally removed when the Bill was referred to the Senate committee on judiciary and legal matters for further legislative work, and replaced it with 11 years.

“The inserted clause is inconsistent with Section 29(4) (a) of the Nigerian Constitution which provides that ‘full age’ means the age of 18 years and above, Falana had said.

Anyawu in her defence had also said: “Here is what was passed in relation to your
area of pre-occupation which is defilement clause 6 (2): ‘A person who commits an offence of defilement shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life.’

“You claimed that the bill re-defined ‘female adulthood as marital status.’ Where in the bill proposed by me and where in the bill passed by Senate did you see adulthood linked to marital status? The extreme distortion of the spirit, intent and even content of this bill leads me to think that you may be talking about an all-together different piece of legislation.”



    Olufemi-Kayode said that organisers of the even wanted Anyanwu to attend but that she could not make it.

    “I spoke with her (Anyawu) yesterday and I could understand her grievances. We were trying to get her to be part of this discourse today, but she couldn’t make it. She said there is no perfect law. And even if all the sections were amended. It will not still come out perfect,” she stated.

    Olufemi-Kayode also added that not much relevance is given to the boy-child.

    “It needs a lot of overhaul, re-writing of some sections. We will look at it thoroughly and not emotionally as we are responding to the document and not her (Anyawu),” she said.

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