The concern expressed by the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and stakeholders on child and women rights over the poor commitment of government, particularly the state government in Northern Nigeria, to protecting the rights of children despite what they described as an increase in cases of abuse against children deserves thorough scrutiny. The relevant authorities have a responsibility to protect the rights of the child, especially the vulnerable,
Speaking at a one-day consultative meeting on Women and Countering Violent Extremism in the North-east in Abuja last week organised by WANEP with the support of Norwegian Agency for Development and Cooperation (NORAD), a consultant on the matter, Prof. Patricia Donli, lamented that some children in the Northeast have known nothing but violence. She explained that the lack of implementation of relevant laws that protect the rights of children has given rise to varying degrees of abuses.
“Rape cases are on the increase in the North-east. We had four cases in Maiduguri IDPs alone last week. Just recently two sisters were raped by a teacher while a little boy was nailed on his head. General hospitals smell so bad because of girls suffering from VVF due to child marriage,” Donli said. She regrets that 11 northern states are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act (CRA) enacted in 2003 and the VAPP Act and even in states which have, implementation has been very slow due to lack of coordination among actors and political will from government.
Donli urged state governments not to see these policies as acts that promote child rights alone but also see it as policies that will be used to protect their children and place priority on them. She also called for increased awareness on the law among the populace. Speaking further on the state of violence and conflicts across the country, Donli bemoaned the poor participation of women in Countering Violent Extremism, despite the unique role they play in restoring peace.
She recalled that Nigeria launched its second National Action Plan for the Implementation of UNSC1235 and related resolutions on May 9, 2017, for the period between 2017 and 2020. NAP, being one of the most powerful tools of governments, multilateral organisations, and civil society to increase the inclusion of women in politics, peacebuilding and the protection of women and girls in times of war, was domesticated at state level – State Action Plan (SAP), she said.
She however said only four states in the Northeast have the SAP. They include Borno, Gombe, Yobe and Adamawa states. This, according to her, is due to a lack of political will on the part of government. Donli noted that the awareness level of SAP is very low hence the need for sensitisation. “Even if these places have SAP, the implementation is very poor; you find out that people are not even aware of its existence.” She also highlighted a lack of planned budget as a constraint in the domestication and implementation of the law.
Amnesty International (AI) had in its 2018 report said thousands of women and girls who survived Boko Haram violence in the North-east are being abused by the Nigerian security forces. The organisation said investigations showed how women, young girls and children were “raped and starved to death” by soldiers in various internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps. The report said women were separated from their husbands and confined in “satellite camps” where they have been sexually exploited, sometimes in exchange for food.
Speaking at the launch of the report in Abuja last year, AI country director in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said the organisation also collected evidence of how “thousands of people have starved to death” in the IDPs camps in Borno state since 2015. “It is absolutely shocking that people who had already suffered so much under Boko Haram have been condemned to further horrendous abuse by the Nigerian military. Instead of receiving protection from the authorities, women and girls have been forced to succumb to rape in order to avoid starvation or hunger.”
Conflict in the Northeast, raging since 2009, has killed an estimated 27,000 people and has forced a further 1.8 million from their homes. Today, the region is home to one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Women and girls in Nigeria have become increasingly vulnerable to abduction, rape, exploitation, sexual slavery, and forced and early marriage. Nearly two-thirds of women in the North-east have experienced one or more forms of gender-based violence. Rape in the camps for displaced persons has become an epidemic.
“The trauma does not fade, it just repeats,” says Edward Kallon, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. “Some of the women who survived abuses by Boko Haram are now facing discrimination and sexual attacks by the very people who are supposed to protect them.”
Blueprint is miffed that only four years in the North have bothered to domesticate the State Action Plan against child violence despite the dire need for the action, considering the vulnerability of children particularly in raging Boko Haram insurgency in the region. We, therefore urge all the defaulting state governments to do the needful. Laws are usually dormant when their enforcement is sloppy or haphazard.