By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu
Gender-based violence takes many forms. It includes domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment, rape, incest, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, trafficking in girls, child marriage and harmful practices. These forms of violence can result in physical, sexual, mental, reproductive health and other health problems.
Amidst the current security challenges that we confront as a country, the patterns of gender-based violence have also ramified into realms that were until recently unthinkable.
In the territories of Nigeria under the insurgency, young women are routinely abducted into sexual slavery or forced marriage; precluded from going to school; and now increasingly recruited as mules or carriers of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or into suicide operations.
This launch of the Guidelines, for instance, takes place 302 days after the abduction of the Chibok Girls.
In this election season, many politicians will procure young people, ply them with psychotropic substances, arm them with the most dangerous weapons possible and parlay them into election violence. All persons who find election violence abhorrent must rise in unison against gender-based violence. The former is a form of the latter.
In the next few days, the National Human Rights Commission, whose Governing Council I currently chair, will be issuing a report and advisory on election-related violence in Nigeria ahead of the 2015 general elections.
These forms of violence can result in physical, sexual, mental, reproductive health and other health problems that can kill, damage young persons for life or condemn them to lives of destitution and chronic debility. The violations or consequences of gender-based violence often leave their victims struggling with profound indignity.
For these reasons, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) against young persons is a human rights violation, a public health crisis, and an obstacle to equality, development, security and peace. This should be self-evident. To many people who should know better, however, it isn’t.
The question may be asked: why do we need a manual or set of Guidelines on Gender-Based Violence and Young Persons in Nigeria? The answer is fairly straight-forward: we’re abysmal in addressing gender-based violence, especially when it affects young people. Evidence of this abounds everywhere. Reporting of gender-based violence is poor.
When children or young persons report it, we prefer to live in denial or not to believe them. The standard African wisdom that it takes a village to raise a child seems to break down at its point of contact with the reality of gender-based violence.
Grooming and sexual exploitation of young persons by persons in whose care they have been committed is not uncommon. Other forms of physical coercion and violence are often regarded or excused as character forming by people who should know better.
Violence against young persons, including girls, is both intrusive and pervasive. It is also a crime for which there is almost always no prosecution or accountability. Those who do it know they will get away with it because society is indifferent to or tolerates it.
Our law enforcement and other public institutions are not equipped with the skills, material and emotional resources to respond to reports or complaints of gender-based violence against young persons. The family and schools, which together should nurture and protect children and young persons, are both major site of such violence.
The Police claims it is poorly funded. The standard response that it offers to reports of gender-based violence in the family is to outsource if back to the family from where it came. Quite often, this happens despite clear evidence that the family itself is or has been both predatory and indifferent.
Social welfare departments hardly exist. Where they do, they are poorly staffed and resourced and struggle for attention to anything but the subsistence of their staff.
At the National Human Rights Commission, GBV affecting young women in particular constitutes possibly the largest class of human rights violations that we deal with on a daily basis. The young girls and women affected suffer double jeopardy: they are violated because of they are female; and they are denied access to remedies because they have been violated.
Our standard response to the various forms of violence that young persons may experience in our society is denial, indifference or incapacity. These Guidelines are designed to deny would be Pontius Pilates of any alibis or excuses.
That is why it is important that we all invest in the effective dissemination of these Guidelines. It would be no use if, like many other publications of this nature, these Guidelinesend up being advertised on our shelves as monuments to projects that have been completed for the benefit of foreign funders.
The lives destroyed by gender-based violence are the lives of our children; the future being destroyed is the future of our race. If we follow up this launch with self-congratulations and do nothing with these Guidelines, we’ll be failing the victims and survivors for whom, ultimately, these Guidelines should bring succour.
Dr. Odinkalu read this keynote remarks to the launch of Guidelines on Gender-Based Violence & Young Persons in Nigeria, Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, 10 February 2015.
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