Reports of abuse of minors in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja are on the increase. Experts say many more cases are unreported. In this report, Emiene ERAMEH reveals the reasons for the rising trend and factors responsible.
JENNIFER was four years old when she was raped by the family cook, Idris Ebiloma, on August 31, 2016, at their residence in Asokoro Abuja.
Her mother, Kimberly says there was anal and vaginal penetration of the child by Ebiloma.
She filed a suit to seek justice for her child, but her efforts were frustrated as the FCT Police Command, according to Kimberly, refused to tender all the evidence in court.
She, however, got some respite when the current FCT Commissioner of Police, Bala Ciroma, took over and instructed the Command’s Legal Department to prosecute the matter diligently.
Head Legal and Prosecutorial Department of the FCT Police Command, James Idachaba, however, denies stalling the case saying the department has done its best on the matter.
“But for us, the doctor’s report and everything is already there. All these things we are talking about are already incorporated in the evidence before the court on the part of the prosecution. I read through all the proceedings from day one and what has been filed.” Idachaba said.
Blessing, a three-year-old girl was also raped by her neighbour, Francis, a 17-year-old secondary school boy in 2018 in Mararaba, a suburb of the FCT.
Her parents reported the incident and Francis was arrested and detained by the police. But the accused was not held for long as he was released after two days. The matter was later dropped and he was set free after his parents reportedly brought a religious cleric to plead on his behalf.
A civil society group, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR) took up the case and insisted on getting justice for the victim, but her parents declined the offer. CDHR said it was forced to abandon the matter because even if it had wanted to prosecute the accused on behalf of the state, it would have been difficult to get witnesses to testify.
Blessing’s parents who reside in Maraba refused to speak on the case when our correspondent contacted them. Blessing and Favour are among the minors and teens who are victims of sexual abuse in the FCT.
According to data from Fabmumng, an online parenting platform, there are different types of sexual abuses, including non-genital touching, genital touching and penetrative. Ninety-five per cent of child sexual abuses go unreported because of fear of stigmatization, while 90 per cent of child abuse victims know their abuser.
Section 31 of the Child Rights Act states that sex with a minor is rape, and anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child is liable to imprisonment for life upon conviction.
The Senate on July 9, 2019, directed its committees on Judiciary, Police Affairs, Women Affairs and Social Development, which has been reconstituted, to work with relevant stakeholders to strategize on implementation of all legislation and policies aimed at protecting minors from rapists and other forms of violence.
It also directed the committees to review relevant legislation with a view to providing stiffer penalties against sexual abuse of minors in the country. The House of Representatives similarly passed a resolution on July 16, 2019, calling for the amendment of the relevant laws to clarify the age of consent in the child rights act.
Sponsor of the motion, Shina Peller, said the review will help in the successful prosecution of rape cases.
“And like I said, the first part of it which is talking about the age of consent of sexual activity in Nigeria. I think it is very important because according to the child rights act, that is section 7 subsection 1, 2 and 3. I believe that provision is not clear enough, because subsection1 says 11 years old, section 2 says the age limit is 16 years, subsection two says 16 years and subsection 3 is saying 18 years. So I think it is high time for us to put some consistency in the provisions of that Act.”
Statistics on the UNICEF website shows that abuse in all its forms is a daily reality for many Nigerian children and only a fraction ever receive help.
According to the 2015 Violence Against Children Survey “, approximately 6 out of every 10 Nigerian children under 18 have experienced some form of physical, emotional and sexual violence.
One in two children experience physical violence, one in four girls and one in ten boys experience sexual violence, and one in six girls and one in five boys experience emotional violence.”
In spite of the reportage of these cases, however, the numbers continue to rise.
Data obtained from Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF) in Abuja shows that it handled four cases in 2016, six in 2017, seven in 2018 and seven cases already in the first half of 2019.
Favour, another eight-year-old, was also repeatedly abused by a man who claimed to be her “Uncle”.
She eventually summoned the courage to report the abuse and was taken away from the aunty and uncle she lived within Jikwoyi, another suburb of the FCT.
Upon investigation, officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, learnt that the girl might be a trafficked victim, as her purported aunty said she could not remember where her sister who is supposed to be Favour’s mother resides.
Three years after Favor’s case was first reported the matter is still in court. Amina was 16 years old when she took up employment as domestic staff in 2017 in Nyanya, Abuja and on her first day at work, her madam’s husband raped her. After a cry for help, she was rescued but three years later the matter is still in court.
“They catch him, he said that is a lie, he did not do anything. So we now went to the court and talk, he was doing eye for me not to talk. I now raise my eye up.”
Kenneth is a teenager who was sodomized by his relative with whom he lived with in Jikwoyi. He was 16. The relative threatened to harm him if he reported the abuse.
Kenneth said he was traumatized by the incident and did not know how to react. But he eventually summoned the courage and confided in some of his classmates who encouraged him to report to the school authorities, and that is how he was able to get help from NAPTIP. Three years later after NAPTIP took up the matter, it is still in court.
“So they called my uncle, he came, they started the case, the case is in court. We’ve gone four times, but twice, the judge is not around, twice the judge is around but my uncle is not around”.
Bottlenecks with establishing rape cases
Establishing that a child was abused is not easy. First, the matter has to be reported at a police station and tests conducted within 72 hours after which it becomes difficult to establish the crime in the event that there was penetration. There is no clear cut guideline for this.
Gerald Katchy of CDHR says it is even more difficult to prove if there was no penetration, and it is not uncommon to hear the perpetrator say he/she only “fondled” the victim.
However, according to the Criminal Code, rape is when any person has sexual intercourse with a person, without his or her consent, or incorrectly obtained consent.
Consent can be incorrectly obtained where it is obtained by force/threat/intimidation, by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, by a person impersonating a married woman’s husband in order to have sex.
Under the Criminal Code, sexual intercourse with underage girls or a person with unsound mind is the offence of defilement, and so technically a person could be charged for rape and defilement.
This has been the problem with Jennifer’s case. During the trial, Ebiloma’s lawyer, Feyisayo Folorunsho, insisted that she was not raped and claimed that his client only used his fingers.
But Jennifer’s mother says this is not true as she has gory pictures to prove that fingers could not have inflicted such injuries on her child.
Difficulty getting evidence to prosecute rape cases
Due to lack of funding, the Nigeria Police has no provision for paying the cost of investigation and for test, a victim may have to bear some of the cost of the investigation.
Once a rape case is reported at the police station, tests are required to be carried out to determine if the act actually took place.
The tests usually have to be conducted within 72 hours. Dr. Olusegun Shoyombo, a Senior Registrar, Department of Psychiatry, National Hospital Abuja says required tests include a pregnancy test, HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, VDRL, HVS, ECS.
Emergency contraception might be required according to Dr. Shoyombo, and physical examinations will be carried out with pictures taken. All the examinations needed may cost between N30, 000 and N40, 000.
Dr. Shoyombo says there is no straight cut approach to getting how much is needed to test to ascertain if a child was raped because every case is different.
“Usually, it is that it should be reported immediately and then a medical examination should be conducted immediately. With time it becomes difficult to establish. There are basic things that you need to establish in a medical examination,” the medical doctor said.
Rape is a violent crime usually, so you want to get evidence of that violence, you want to see evidence of that sexual violation, Shoyombo added.
He explained that in cases where the person has not used any barrier protection such as condom, he might have ejaculated if it is a man raping a woman. “And then you can take samples of the semen. And children you want to establish that the hymen has indeed been breached etc.”
Shoyombo hinted also that there are quite a number of tests that can be done. Of course some of the tests, he stated, are precautionary where “you want to check the HIV status, other infectious diseases, hepatitis and all that. And then you come back and repeat those later because that is another risk the victim stands.”
Amina says she was lucky to have an organization speak up for her as she would not have been able to afford the tests. Poverty was the reason why she was released by her parents to work as a house help.
Sometimes, victims do not report cases of abuse early and so when tests are conducted they do not reveal anything.
Ngozi Ikenga of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) says in her experience, police prefer results obtained from hospitals they run, but not everyone have access to these hospitals.
Spokesman of the FCT Police Command, Anjuguri Manza, says police prefer to work with results obtained from government hospitals and in cases where the victim is located within the city centre, then he/she is referred to the police hospital as they are more trusted to give independent and accurate results.
“Anything can happen with another hospital and we have that, for the sake of credibility, these are institutions that we know that have names, and we can lay trace to whenever they provide result, the result can be acceptable,” Manza said.
“Its not about just providing the result because anybody can go and concoct anything and bring it.
But we feel the best place to bring the result that is more credible and that can be used when it comes to the issue of prosecution is for us to get it from government hospitals, recognized government hospitals. We also run such tests like in the police medical facility. We also run it in our own medical facility.”
While Ikenga of FIDA acknowledged that the police are more receptive now than they used to be, she said a lot still needs to be done.
“I believe for those who are aware, that is why they contact organisations like ours. Because sometimes when they go as individuals, they don’t get a good response, police do not take their matter seriously, but once they get to us or some like-minded organizations they sit up. Anytime we enter such a case. Sometimes they don’t get a good response from the police so they involve organizations,” Ikenga explained.
Manza says every police station in the FCT has a Gender Desk Officer, who is supposed to handle rape cases but Gerald of CDHR said the way a case is treated in a police station depends on the DPO in charge of the station.
Victims are blamed by people who pass comments like “what did you wear”, “why did you go to his house” if she is female.
But a psychiatrist Ifedilichukwu Uchendu says it is never a victim’s fault that he/she was raped especially when the victim is a minor, stressing that the victim may not even be aware of the enormity of what has happened to him or her.
“The stigma depends on the age, the much younger ones don’t know what really happened, they might just feel that maybe uncle is playing with her, or their brother or you know, or cousin or whatever,” Uchendu said.
But it is people who are a little bit of age who have an understanding of what is going on, especially maybe if they might start having that feeling and depending on where the act took place or with who.”
“I mean, for example, for someone who is raped on the road or raped by somebody she did not know. You know rape can be by somebody who is familiar with a person. And rape can be by somebody in a bus, one chance, or in a party, so it depends and might be by armed robbers who came to the house.”
According to the psychiatrist, each of these episodes could affect people individually, and then it also depends on if it is something that happened within the house, is it from a cousin, a brother, or somebody who is known or a big brother or an uncle.
“People react to it differently. I have managed people who have such challenges and some are not too traumatized, the family wants to make sure that the person is not infected with any sickness, after some time you check for HIV and other things.”
“But if it is a minor, most of them might not really understand, it is when they are growing some of them might end up remembering what really happened. Maybe that is when the psychological challenge might start coming, it might also affect their relationship with members of the opposite sex.”
Katchy, who said the stigma is one of the reasons why parents refuse to report cases of abuse, called for sensitization to get them to open up and get justice.
Culture of silence dying slowly
Another reason adduced by Imaobong Ladipo-Sanusi, head of the Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation, is that the seeming rise in the number of cases of sexual abuse of minors. This, she said maybe because more people are speaking out.
“There is a rise because people are getting much, much more aware, there is a rise because of increase in population.
“There is a rise because people are speaking and then you get to find out. And I am saying there is awareness because a lot of NGOs are specialized on child sexual abuse or even domestic violence so to say. A lot of NGO’s are specialized in violence against children.”
Ladipo-Sanusi explained that it was a shame to admit that one was raped in time past. “Perpetrators would threaten the victim saying if she was female, she would not be able to find a husband. For instance, a 16-year-old girl who was raped by an Islamic cleric threatened to commit suicide if her family accepts an offer to settle out of court,” she said.
Premium Times in a report on August 2, 2019, said the settlement proposed by the cleric includes the accused admitting to committing the offence, tender an unreserved apology and pay N17 million for damages done.
The police had arraigned the accused before the magistrate court on a three-count charge of ‘kidnapping’ the underage girl; ‘unlawfully taking her away against the will of her parents, with intent to carnally know her’; and ‘unlawful and indecent assault by touching her breast’.
The cleric had also allegedly sponsored posts on social media insulting and maligning the integrity and chastity of the victim.
Premium Times in its report discovered that members of the victim’s family share dissenting views on the settlement. While some believe that the out-of-court settlement is in order to save them further “disgrace”, some said the matter should be treated as a criminal case and justice should prevail.
Lack of support for victims
While Lagos State has a Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, victims in the FCT have to depend on Civil Society groups and Non-Governmental Organisations like SOAR Initiative who work to rehabilitate victims of abuse.
How can sexual abuse of minors be prevented
Imaobong of WOTCLEF says prevention and policy responses to sexual violence against children need to be based on an understanding of the problem, its causes and the circumstances in which it occurs.
In the case of the sexual abuse of boys, many of the considerations relating to support for girls who have been raped which is more widespread can be extended to boys.
The FCT has no agency like the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team of the Ministry of Justice in Lagos State to handle cases of rape and sexual abuse.
- The names of victims who are minors and their parents have been changed to protect their identity.
* This investigation is supported by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.