Friday, July 4, 2014

Sexual Violence: Women Affairs Minister prescribes stiffer penalties for offenders in new bill

ABUJA (Women Affairs Ministry Report) – In the quest to ensure that victims of sexual violence in the country obtain justice, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Zainab Maina has urged the Legislature to make penalties stipulated in the proposed Sexual Offences Bill 2014 more punitive, stressing that some of the recommended penalties are too light and may not deter would-be perpetrators.

The Minister who gave the charge on Monday June 30, 2014 in Abuja during her presentation at the Public Hearing on Sexual Offences Bill 2014 and the Administration of Criminal Justice Bill 2014 called for the harmonization of related bills before both chambers of the National Assembly as well as clearer definitions of terms to achieve a uniformed aim which is the protection of women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

On the defilement of children under Section 7 of the Bill, Zainab Maina stressed the need to merge sub-sections (1)-(3) and part of (4) into one section as they are all crimes committed against minors (ages 0-17 years) and liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life. She also noted that for cases on indecent act with a child or adult, under sections 10(5) of the proposed Bill, the Ministry considers the option of N20,000 in place of imprisonment of not more than seven years to be very light and recommended a minimum penalty of N500,000.

Other penalties suggested by the Minister include: a minimum of 10 years for those who engage in child pornography, a minimum of N500,000 for the offence of indecent exposure in place of the proposed N20,000 fine and a minimum of N500,000 fine for sexual harassment, instead of the proposed N50,000 fine, among others.
"For cases related to the promotion of Sexual Offences with a Child, Child Trafficking and Child Sex Tourism captured under Sections 11, 12 and 13 of the proposed bill, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development insisted that the penalties attached to these offences be punitive and prohibitive for natural and juristic persons respectively.

"Consequently, we consider the sum ranging from N500, 000, N1, 000,000, N3, 000,000 penalties for juristic persons to be a slap on the wrist. These organizations/companies peddle in women, girls and drugs and have immense financial resources at their disposal; therefore the payment of penalties stipulated in the Bill will not in any way affect their resources. The amount should be increased in order to deter would-be perpetrators of this offence," she emphasized.

Zainab Maina while explaining that the introduction of stringent sentences such as life imprisonment for convicted offenders without any option of fine was critical, especially in the wake of escalating rape cases in the country, also called for full support to the law enforcement agencies and the courts to ensure justice and successful prosecution of offenders.

She equally demanded for the conduct of psychiatric tests on perpetrators of rape and sexual harassment; adding that some of the cases are simply inexplicable and call for concern.
"Everyone must be ready to break the culture of keeping silent on rape cases and violence. Parents must not hesitate to report cases of sexual harassment, assault and abuse to the police, in order to expose and prosecute the offenders to serve as deterrent to others," the Minister noted.

While declaring the public hearing open, the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma Egba, who represented the Senate President said that the Criminal Justice System of the country requires an overhaul. He further observed that a weak criminal justice system breeds impunity, stressing the need to bring it to the standard of best practices in the world.

In their separate submissions, Judges and Prosecutors, including the Nigerian Bar Association disclosed that some of the culprits have been successfully prosecuted and thrown behind bars, while others are walking free after fighting the criminal charges. Their acquittal, they all agreed was not so much influenced by their innocence, but lack of sufficient evidence to nail them.
They hinted that the absence of forensic investigation has seen many rape suspects getting off the hook due to lack of evidence, and passionately expressed the urgent need for security agencies, especially the Police to tackle the challenge as well as help to redress the deficiency in the country's legal system.


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