SOURCE: Premium Times Nigeria

A report has revealed that gender-based violence has reached unsettling heights in Kano State, prompting a critical examination of the underlying causes.

Kano State, officially Nigeria's most populous state, is grappling with a menace that extends far beyond statistics. A damning report has revealed that gender-based violence has reached unsettling heights in the state, prompting a critical examination of the underlying causes. The report also reveals that although the menace extends across the seven north-western states of Nigeria, Kano has the highest number of recorded incidents.

This is despite the promulgation of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act by the National Assembly in 2015, which criminalises various forms of violence against persons, including rape, sexual abuse, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, domestic violence, among others in Nigeria.

Mariya Suleiman investigated some of the reasons behind this trend in Kano.

A four-year-old (Hureira, not real name) was raped by a provision shop owner on her family's street in the northern Nigerian city of Kano. Luring her with sweets and biscuits, the suspect took her to a secluded area where he raped her. The victim's mother only realised her daughter had been raped when she noticed a white discharge from her vagina.

"Initially, I noticed how she was scratching her vagina non-stop and any time I asked her, she would start crying so I decided to check the place to see for myself," said the mother. "I saw some white liquid coming out from there and the small vulva was red and wide open. Shocked and alarmed, I began to question her about what happened. It was then that she told me, after which I called my sister, and we rushed her to the hospital."

Kano's GBV plague

Between November 2022 and February 2023, the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) recorded 171 cases of gender-based violence which included rape and other sexual abuses in Kano.

According to a report by the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Kano Chapter, Kano State Waraka Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) documented over 4000 cases of sexual violence in the last five years.

This figure, according to the Head of Unit in SARC, Halima Faruk, is the highest anywhere in Nigeria. Before Mrs Faruk's announcement, the Director of Planning, Research and Statistics of the Ministry of Women, Children and Disabled, Yakubu Muhammad, said they receive cases of GBV from SARC and they currently have 300 active cases.

Mr Mohammed also explained that owing to the increasing number of incidents, the government established additional sexual referral centres across three emirate councils and the Rano Local Government Area, which are yet to be equipped.

If the high rate of incidents is alarming, the ages of the victims are even more horrifying, officials said. Some, like Hureira, are as young as four years of age.

At the hospital where Hureira was taken for treatment, her mother narrated her ordeal to this reporter. Hureira and her family were initially referred to the Sexual Referral Centre, where the police were called before they were attended to. The mother said that the results of tests conducted on the victim came back positive for a severe infection and Hureira had to be put on medication.

She asked for justice for her little girl but said this would be possible if the government strengthened the laws to guarantee appropriate punishments for offenders.

An advocate against SGBV and Chair of the Board of the Baobab for Women's Human Rights, Zubaida Nagee, highlighted that gender-based violence is a terrible experience as it affects the victims physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

She said Baobab does a lot of advocacy campaigns and sensitisation programmes, offers psycho-social support to victims and encourages parents and victims to always voice out. But even after empowering them to speak up, finding justice for victims of SGBV is always a challenge.

Why does Kano have the highest rate of SGBV cases?

The Protocol Officer of the Baobab centre, Aminu Usman, lamented the increasing incidents of SGBV in the state.

He said their centre now gets up to a hundred cases a month.

"The issue of rape is becoming out of hand and is getting worse. In a month we receive 95-100 cases of rape. From the beginning of this month (January 2024), we have received over 50 cases so far. Just last week, 17 cases of rape were brought to us in a single day from a community that I can't disclose for the purpose of confidentiality," he said.

According to Mr Usman, the increasing incidents are due to the lack of appropriate laws in Kano State to directly address the menace.

Kano is one of only two Nigerian states yet to domesticate the VAPP Act. The law focuses, among others, on SGBV with clear punishment for perpetrators; redefines rape to include oral and anal sex as well as penetration with objects other than the penis; provides compensation for victims by offenders, and offers more protection for victims than any other existing Nigerian law.

Mr Usman said perpetrators of SGBV in Kano currently receive little or no punishment at all. He said about 60 per cent of offenders escape punishment after being reported to the authorities. They return to the community to simply continue from where they stopped, he said.

"The absence of the VAPP Act is one of the major factors. We have seen situations where most of the offenders escape because the existing laws do not properly handle the GBV cases in a manner that will ensure that they are punished and held accountable. The VAPP Act contains a lot of provisions to tackle all forms of GBV and punishment of the perpetrators, but Kano State has not yet domesticated the law in the state," said Mr Usman.

There is also a lack of awareness and insufficient education surrounding the matter. He said although a lot of work has been done by non-governmental and governmental organisations to create awareness, there is a lot more to be done.

"There is a lack of comprehensive sex education for children by their parents, especially the mothers. Most mothers in the North do not educate their daughters about sex because they find it awkward and they also believe that once they do so, the child will have an idea of what sex is and start to experiment with it," he said.

While the lack of or inadequate sex education renders young females vulnerable to rape, it is harder to get justice for them without laws like the VAPP Act and because of some societal norms and values that put victims in a precarious position, experts said.

"Culture and stigmatisation also come to play a role in the situation," Mr Usman said. "Most of the time, the victim of rape faces stigma in her community, and nobody would like to marry her as the culture expects a woman to stay a virgin until her wedding day,"

"If a husband finds out she is not, he will despise and maltreat her. That is why many parents of the victims cover up and keep quiet about the matter, not wanting to cooperate with the human rights commission to push for justice because they fear exposing their daughters to stigma in the community and cultural nuances."

Another aspect of gender-based violence which has a growing number like that of assault and rape is domestic violence.

"Many women experience domestic violence in their homes, but they keep quiet because culture and society expect women to maintain their marriages at all costs, even when it becomes harmful. This has killed a lot of women, and others who try to speak up are often discouraged by their families, friends, and communities," Mr Usman said

He said the large, diverse population and poor economic situations are adding to the issue.

"You see Kano is a very big state with the highest population (in Nigeria). So, the issue would be a little higher here when compared to states such as Jigawa, Bauchi, Kaduna, Katsina and the rest.

"Most times, when we ask the victims how it happened, often while recounting the incident, some of the victims confess that the perpetrator started by giving the girl small money and from there took her somewhere and raped her.

"If parents are well-to-do and can provide for their children the way they should, children will not be tempted in that way with money. Parents need to take up their responsibilities and caution their wards about the dangers of collecting money or gifts from strangers and even close ones who have bad intentions. That's the only way that things can get better."

However, Mr Usman insisted that the absence of a VAPP law is the main reason behind the problem and therefore urged the state government to domesticate and implement the VAPP Act in Kano State.

More arguments for VAPP law

Abdullahi Shehu, the head of the Kano State office of the National Human Rights Commission said the commission is working tirelessly to reduce incidents, but cases are rising because the VAPP Act has not been domesticated in the state.

"We put a lot of effort into such cases, but they continue to persist because the law that will help mitigate the issue is yet to be domesticated. You know, when there is a legal framework, it will definitely assist in the promotion of justice," said Mr Shehu.

"Although there are other factors that contribute to the increasing incidence of GBV such as culture and lack of awareness, the chief factor that allows this menace to fester is the absence or lack of VAPP law in Kano. It is the challenge that needs to be addressed for the number of cases to fall," he said.

"The VAPP Act contains a lot of positive provisions to protect the victims and having it as a legal framework in the state will help in the fight against SGBV, which will benefit the public.

"That is why we at the Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Justice and other relevant stakeholders are putting more efforts to see that the VAPP Act is domesticated in Kano."

Mr Shehu therefore called on the Kano State Government to domesticate the VAPP Act in Kano to ensure justice for victims by ensuring the punishment of the perpetrators.

Challenge posed by legal framework

Hajara Hamza, a senior magistrate in Kano who is also the vice chairperson of FIDA, said there are laws like the Penal Code Act, but none directly address gender-based violence. She said the Act thus does not render significant help to rape victims because of a gap in the legal framework.

Mrs Hamza agreed that the VAPP Act contains the necessary provisions for the punishment of offenders, saying domesticating the Act is the only way to eliminate or mitigate incidences of rape and other sexual assault.

She also said to enhance the safety of young girls in society, they should be entitled to legal representation which will ensure that the perpetrators of the crime are brought to book.

However, despite the calls by victims, their families and anti-GBV advocates, the Kano State Government suggested it was not disposed to domesticate the VAPP Act.

The Public Relations Officer of the Kano State Ministry of Justice, Misbahu Aminu, told PREMIUM TIMES that the VAPP Act is not yet accepted by many Kano residents as some of its content allegedly conflicts with the religion and culture of the people.

According to Mr Aminu, the law has to be accepted first before efforts can be put in place to domesticate it in the state.

Another official of the justice ministry, Aminu Abdullahi, argued that existing laws like the Penal Code are enough to tackle rape and other forms of GBV in the state.

Mr Abdullahi said the justice ministry is doing its best to handle such cases.

Community voices and perspectives

A community leader in Kano, Bala Shehu, said community leaders are handicapped when it comes to punishment for SGBV because there are no sufficient laws.

"We are not silent about it, and we don't encourage the victims and their parents to close the case. Any time this case is brought to us, we used to report it to the police, unless we did not know about it. But the scary part is the offenders get away with it most of the time and they go back to the community to repeat the same thing," he said.

"I believe if the law ensures the punishment of perpetrators, most of them will stop doing it," he said.

How the Kano State government can help - Victims

Nine-year-old Aisha (not her real name) was also raped, and she revealed that the person responsible is known to the family. He frequently visits their house, she said.

"I know him, he comes to collect food from my mother. He always offered me sweets and money before one day he took me to an uncompleted building where he removed my clothes and inserted something in my vagina," she told this reporter in the presence of her mother.

Aisha's mother said they found the girl lying down helpless after the incident and took her to a hospital where she was admitted. She also contracted a severe sexually transmitted disease from the rape, the mother narrated.

The mother said she took the case to a human rights organisation and the suspect was eventually charged in court, but the court ruled that it wasn't rape.

Aisha's mother said she could not understand the judgement as all the evidence was there. She called on the government to follow up on cases like hers.

Seven-year-old Abu (not real name) was also sexually assaulted by a 17-year-old boy in his neighbourhood. The victim's mother said Abu developed severe stomach acne after the incident which made them take the case to court. The court found the offender guilty and sentenced him to six months in prison with a fine for the victim's medication. But the boy was later released without him helping Abu's mother with the victim's medication.

Seventeen-year-old Saratu is not alive to narrate her ordeal. She was killed without getting justice after being raped and impregnated.

Relatives told PREMIUM TIMES that the deceased was drugged before she was raped in her uncle's house. She only found out that she was pregnant about five months later.

According to her sister, Hadiza, they tried all they could to know who was responsible for Saratu's pregnancy, but she wouldn't say. The family suspected someone in the family who lived with their uncle, so they took the case to the National Human Rights Commission and then to court where a DNA test was ordered but could not be performed until the pregnancy reached its full term. The case was then adjourned until after delivery.

However, Saratu started receiving messages from an unknown number, threatening her to drop the case but she ignored them.

Hadiza said Saratu gave birth, and a DNA test was conducted on the baby and the suspect. But before the results came out, Saratu went missing. Her corpse was later found somewhere in their street.

The baby is now with Saratu's sister. The family pleaded with the government to come to bring Saratu's killers to justice, saying their own lives too are no longer safe. But they are yet to receive any intervention as the suspect remains free.

Mariya Suleiman is a Multimedia Journalist interested in amplifying the voices of women and children seeking Justice and Accountability.

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