Mr. Ndagi and his wife, Adama looked back and cursed the day they promised off their unborn daughter to a sly monster in exchange for few notes of the Naira for their survival. Their 12-year-old daughter, Asabe was kidnapped, drugged, and raped for days by 45-year old Badigi whom her parents had betrothed her to. He was her parents supposed ‘benefactor’ whom she never knew about. Badigi decided, his betrothed had begun to attain puberty, and if not impregnated on time, may end up with another man. Badigi owned up to the act and ready to take home his “Bride.” According to tradition, a man has authority over a promised bride and can take her away once she attains maturity; Badigi has committed no crime in the face of culture.
This is the typical situation some girls from very poor backgrounds find themselves in Niger State of Nigeria, as revealed during the Women-Led Integrated Protection Action Against Gender Based Violence project implementation by ActionAid Nigeria, funded by the Foreign Common Wealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Plagued by abject poverty, some families have jeopardized the future of their daughters. At first, it usually seemed a fair bargain, but as the girls grow and blossom, parents begin to have a re-think. To avoid opportunities for negotiation, the lenders, most of whom pretend to have forgotten about the agreement, seize the available opportunity and violently defile these innocent girls after which they are taken away as Child Brides. Either way, the life and dignity of the girl-child remain a Pun in the hands of the King (Parents) and the Queen (Lenders) in what has been trivialised by culture into a game of “Chess.”Some of these cases were reported to the Police, but cases die naturally mainly due to societal stigma which results in loss of follow-up. Sadly, arrested perpetrators are often released and continue leading normal lives.
The past few months have seen increased agitation from women’s rights organisations for the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act in all states of Nigeria. The uniqueness of the law for Rape cases is that it amplifies the existing legal stance that Rape offense is a crime against the state. Just like armed robbery, the action or inaction of Rape victims and their families cannot stop the process of prosecution once evidence is established. If this kind of law was operational in a state like Niger, maybe one or two convictions would have served as a deterrent for future offenders. Unfortunately, Niger state is still one of the 13 states of Nigeria yet to pass the VAPP Act. Although Civil Society Organisations are making significant efforts to address this heinous crime, and the current sitting governor’s passion to curb the scourge of GBV is seen through the establishment of a steering committee to work towards fighting GBV, a consolidated strategy in which the law efficiently supersedes deep-rooted tradition and complements grassroots sensitisation effort for case reportage.
In Nigeria, survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence are usually further traumatised by the response structure. For instance, a rape survivor might have to tell her story several times to different agencies and might be subjected to multiple tests. In most instances, survivors are responsible for covering the logistics cost associated with seeking justice. To lighten this burden on survivors and their families, the Nigerian government can better protect women and girls through the following:
- Establishment of functional Sexual Assault Referral Centers in every state. These centers should be sustainably funded and supported by relevant government agencies of health, law enforcement, and social welfare; these agencies should work in synergy.
- Full criminalization and prompt state-led prosecution of Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) cases, irrespective of requests or interference by the victim’s family or other interested parties.
- Functional Family Support Units and Force Gender Units that are well equipped to address SGBV cases – to mention a few.
Asabe’s case is one of many instances that amplifies the intersectional issues of poverty, harmful cultural practices, and stigmatisation as strong forces that fuel violence against women and girls and impedes the achievement of gender equality in Nigeria.
Disclaimer: Names are not real, experiences are true.