It is good news that after languishing for 13 years in the National Assembly, the Violence Against Persons’ Prohibition (VAPP) Bill has finally been passed by the Senate. Before the recent passage, the House of Representatives had earlier given its consent in 2014. This now gives legal teeth to a law that is billed to eliminate, or reduce to minimum, cases of sexual, domestic and all other forms of gender-based violence in the country.
We cannot but join other Nigerians in commending the National Assembly for the passage of the bill, especially given its place in a modernising society like Nigeria. Statistics show that domestic violence is on the increase in the country, with wife-battering being the commonest. Moreover, children are increasingly being battered by their parents and guardians at the filmiest of excuses, while some lovers resort to other unimaginable forms of violence to settle disagreements.
In addition, is the increase in rape cases, and more frightening is that involving minors which is very worrisome.
According to reports, at least 4,000 rape cases have been reported in the Nigerian media in the past three years. Surprisingly, perpetrators of rape cut across class, status and religion.
When enacted, the law seeks to abolish obsolete ordinances relating to the subject matter such as rape, assault etc and bringing them in line with present realities.
The bill re-defines rape to include penetration of any orifice of a woman such as the private part, anus, and mouth, which is an improvement on the penal/ criminal codes definition. In addition, it makes provisions for compensation to victims and the protection of their rights, even as it stresses penalties for indecent assault and sexual violence against any person and prohibition of female genital mutilation.
As expected, the bill includes offences such as willfully placing a person in fear of physical injury; forceful ejection from the home; forced financial dependence or economic abuse; forced isolation or separation from family and friends; abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance. Notably, the passage of VAPP Bill is coming 20 years after the Beijing Declaration that denounces all forms of violence against women.
The 189 member states present recognised that violence is one of the main mechanisms denying women equality, and that it imposes high social, health and economic costs.
Every right thinking Nigerian believes that violence against women is a human rights violation and a serious impediment to their progress in any area of life. Moreover, it undercuts their health, prospects for education and productive work, including ability to participate as full members of their societies, among other consequences.
The consequences of violence against women in terms of mental, physical and social health are severe and often chronic. Women and girls in violent relationships are at heightened risk of experiencing psychological and behavioural problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, substance use and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Such violence is not an act against an individual woman; it is an attack against us all – to our country, to our community and to our loved ones. It is time to stop it. We urge President Goodluck Jonathan to sign it without delay.