By Marie-Therese Nanlong, Jos
Abandonment of wife/family has been an agelong issue almost seen as ‘normal’; the society sees the often-traumatized victim/survivor as either unfortunate, cursed, or a wicked person getting retribution.
Survivors, at the community level without support as well as access and knowledge of the legal frameworks drown in the confusion of their situation, resort to self-blame, suffer anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, insomnia and other factors which affect their mental health.
In Plateau State, ignorance, dragged cases at the overloaded lone family court manned by one High Court Judge and other things, have hampered timely justice for victims of harmful traditional practices.
Women/girls have been cowered to endure different forms of harmful practices like rape (spousal inclusive), harmful widowhood practices, denial of inheritance or succession rights, female genital mutilation or female circumcision, forced marriage and forced isolation from family and friends among others.
Chioma Agwuegbo quoting Statista/INEC/UNWomen as sources during a live session for the first cohort in a training on reporting violence against women and girls organized by the Africa Women in Media, AWiM noted that “… Nigeria does not have a gender bill… One in four girls experienced sexual violence before age 18; 17% of girls and women aged 15-49 experienced physical and/or sexual violence from intimate partners at least once; 68% of girls in the northwest were married before 18; 49% of girls and women aged 15-49 experienced genital mutilation/cutting in the southwest…”
An organization, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, WRAPA in a concept note added, “…the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination against women and girls remain quite high.
“In Nigeria, 30% of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have, respectively, been the victim of violence and any different sorts of discrimination. This has compromised their health and reduced the opportunities that would help them reach their potential.
“State and non-state actors’ efforts to prevent gender-based violence have been hampered by lack of coordination among key players, inadequate implementation of legal frameworks, and entrenched gender discriminatory norms… Several harmful practices continue to thrive in some societies due to misunderstanding about religion and conventional beliefs…”
Practices in the patriarchal society have escalated some traditional behaviour, which negatively affects the fundamental rights of women and girls, hence more needs to be done to protect them against violence of any kind.
A survivor who did not want to be named said, “Being in an abusive marriage and later abandoned is not a work in the park. The varying emotions running through the mind and all, everyone needs help, help should be made available for women going through tough times in the society, we don’t need the shame and the blame game, they could be killing.”
In 2021, the Plateau State office of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC said that abandonment of wife/family, disinheritance, sexual violence, and domestic violence topped the list of cases reported in the State.
The State Coordinator of the Commission, Mrs. Grace Pam stated “The Commission recorded 1,007 complaints of alleged human rights violations. The majority of them are categorized under women or gender rights and children’s rights.
“Prevalent issues reported were the abandonment of wife/family, disinheritance, sexual violence, domestic violence which includes physical (spousal battery), psychological and economical (violence by spouse and intimate partners, forceful marriage.”
From January 2022 to August 2022, she disclosed, a total of 203 cases of abandonment of spouse/children have been reported to her office; giving the breakdown as “24 cases on January, 11 on February, 28 on March, 17 on April, 14 on May, 24 in June, 45 in July, 40 in August.”
Though cases of abuse are endemic; victims who attempt to seek help are shamed and forced to go “settle” at home and Pam of the NHRC noted that “there is an urgent need to stem the tide of ignorance through collaborative efforts by all stakeholders. Traditional leaders should discourage/discontinue practices that are harmful to women, the judiciary should ensure speedy trials and stiff penalties for convicted violators.
“Law enforcement agencies should ensure victims of these acts are not further stigmatized and traumatized during the investigation and open society organizations are to be strongly encouraged to carry out their duties. It is not Okay to normalize violence against women, it is not Okay to be a bystander if you see a woman being harassed.
“It is not Okay to force young girls into marriage, it is not Okay to abandon women with children, it is not Okay to rape women, it is not Okay to physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally or economically abuse women.”
Available legal frameworks like the CEDAW and the Maputo protocols seem remote for unempowered victims to explore and get justice; commendably, the Plateau State government has signed into law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition, VAPP and the Gender and Equal Opportunities, GEO Law since 2015 but sadly, the laws are yet to be gazetted.
The GEO law seeks to secure equal opportunities in employment, equal rights to inheritance for both males and females, and ensure legal claims to demand freedom from violence, discrimination or abuse based on gender.
The VAPP law stresses that “Any person who abandons a wife/husband, children or other dependents without any means of sustenance commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not less than three years or to fine of not less than N500,000 or to both.”
To remedy the situation, there is an urgent need for these hope-giving laws to be implemented, the State government can establish a Gender Commission, for the effective implementation of the laws.
Adequate awareness is also needed to make society know the contents of the laws so that defaulters would be aware of the consequences and victims aware of the options to get justice.
Again, judicial officers should develop passion and expertise to assist victims to get justice while law enforcement officers should be professional in handling cases of gender-based violence so they don’t further traumatize survivors.
This report which seeks to give orientation on how the VAPP and GEO laws can be used to get redress in issues of VAWG is a part of a demonstration of knowledge gained during training by AWiM.