Tackling SGBV with community-based surveillance: How team rescued traumatised survivor, nursing mother tied to a tree
It was one traumatic event, too many for a Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) survivor and nursing mother in Binji Local Government area of Sokoto, Northwest Nigeria.
She was only 10-year-old when she married but soon became a divorcee when the union hit a brick wall. It is a shameless thing for a girl of her age to become a divorcee in the community. So, under the pretence of helping to mend the marriage, the husband’s friend took advantage of the situation to have carnal knowledge of her.
“He met me, promising to help get back my husband and that I should meet him at the primary school in the locality. When I got there, he assaulted me,” she lamented. “He told me that if I report to anybody, he would kill me.”
The SGBV perpetrator met her another day and said he would tell people he had had sex with her if she didn’t allow him to do it again. The tween felt helpless and trapped, and he continued to perpetrate the criminal act.
She got pregnant and gave birth. The traumatic events affected her sense of self esteem, leading to some community members tying her to a tree. They only took the baby to her for breastfeeding, a situation that made her feel more isolated and depressed, worsening the effect of the original trauma. It was the SGBV surveillance team in Binji that rescued her in the nick of time.
“We got the information an SGBV perpetrator took a survivor’s father to court for claiming he impregnated his daughter,” revealed Aminu Dikko, chair of the GBV local surveillance team in Binji local government area.
“We went to their house where we saw they tied the survivor to a tree. We took her to the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Kware for treatment.”
Dikko spoke further on the case: “The father told us he didn’t have evidence to prove that the perpetrator impregnated his daughter and was about selling his farm to settle,” Dikko related.
“We said no, and we followed the case. But as the perpetrator heard that ‘human rights are there (the locals call us human rights), he left the village and has not returned to Binji.”
Her case is among the 725 reported GBV cases in Sokoto between March 2020 and June 2021.
Most prevalent human rights violations
Concerns have been rife over the wave of GBV, which the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) described as one of the most prevalent human rights violations globally, with one in three women subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner.
In Sokoto, the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2018 showed 32.8 per cent of ever-married women aged 15-49 have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence committed by their current or most recent husband/partner.
It also noted 8.6 per cent of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence since age 15, while 5.4 per cent of women (15-49) have undergone genital mutilation, and 0.7 per cent percentage of women experienced violence during pregnancy.
Against the backdrop of growing SGBV cases, some activists in Sokoto, such as Save-the-Child Initiative helmsman Abdul Ganiyu Abubakar, made a case to declare a state of emergency on it.
“With the prevailing rate of GBV in the state, “, he observed, “It will be difficult for children to be comfortable going to school.”
Though very pervasive, SGBVs cloaked in a culture of silence with isolated and fragmented responses, often resulting in re-traumatising survivors and perpetrators escaping prosecution.
Multi-sectoral co-ordination of care
However, in March 2020, Sokoto started implementing multi-sectoral co-ordination of care for the survivors under the Spotlight Initiative, a global partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
The Sokoto State Government and co-actors under the Spotlight Initiative, including UNFPA, UN Women and United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), established a sexual assault referral centre to provide immediate and long-term medical, psychosocial and legal remedies for survivors of gender-based violence.
They set up the Sokoto State Sexual Gender Base Violence and Child Protection Response Team (SGBV/CP – RT), a collective of government ministries and agencies, civil society organisations, local and international partners working on gender-based violence Sokoto.
Coordinator SGBV Response team Sokoto State Rabiu Bello Gandi, explained: “It is a collection of the service providers for survivors of SGBV. We coordinate all the activities from the awareness creation to adjudication of cases, provision of health/ legal services, psychosocial support economic empowerment.”
They also have a community-based surveillance team responsible for identifying SGBV cases in the communities at the local government level. The 25 -member community-based surveillance team ensures systematic detection and reporting of GBV at the grassroots.
Membership of the committee cuts across security, community leaders, religious leaders, health workers, youth champions, transport workers in the community. At the local government level, the CBS team gives the primary response. The police do their investigations, and the health facility provides their first aid before transferring the case file to the state level.
The surveillance team’s presence in the community ensures prompt response to GBV cases, providing the right help at the right time.
The tween’s case is one of about 50 cases the surveillance team in Bini local government areas documented in 12 months.
“Between June last year and June this year, we recorded 49 cases in Binji. We have information on some others but no full details, so we didn’t fill in the referral form, but those we filled in the referral form within this period were 49,” Dikko disclosed.
The case of a nine-year-old primary four pupil whose uncle violated is another. Her mother sent her on an errand when the uncle perpetrated the shameful act on a farm.
The surveillance team got the information and sprang into action. The team ensured the arrest and prosecution of the accused while the survivor got necessary care at the locality and the sexual assault referral centre in the State capital.
“We have been sensitising, mobilising, and calling people to report cases if there is any issue concerning SGBV in our various communities,” Dikko stated.
“They report the issues to us, and we intervene and refer survivors to help facility and report perpetrators to the security.”
He added: “Before now, the locals sweep SGBV cases under the carpet. The people did not bear their minds on such issues at the local level, but now they are voicing out.”
Locals confirmed the CBS is helping tackle SGBV in the locality by ensuring a comprehensive response from service providers that meets the needs of the survivors. They also said it was helping raise awareness of SGBV and making a difference in the communities.
Malama Aisha Muhammadu, an aunt to a survivor, described the initiative as laudable.
“The team supports the vulnerable and provides crucial services for survivors of sexual gender-based violence,” she stated.
“The surveillance initiative is helping survivors break the silence, and the vicious circle of violence perpetrators subject them.”
She also noted the efforts of traditional and religious leaders in tackling the menace, especially with the Sultanate Council’s stands on SGBV.
The council had expressed commitment towards ensuring justice for survivors of all forms of gender-based violence. It warned traditional leaders against obstructing the investigations or hiding GBV perpetrators of GBV, adding anyone found wanting risks losing his title and face the law.
It is a development that the Chair Advisory Committee on Religious Affairs, Sultanate Council Professor Sambo Wali Junaid, remarked has proven to be a very effective strategy to reduce the menace of violence against women and girls in the state.
There have been efforts towards strengthening community-based approaches to SGBV prevention and response.
UNFPA, in collaboration with Plan Parenthood Federation of Nigeria PPFN, a non-governmental organisation, trained traditional rulers, religious leaders, women and youth mobilisers to address SGBV cases in Sokoto communities.
Others, such as the Community Awareness and Development Initiative (CADI), with the support of the European Union (EU) UN Spotlight Initiative, also built the capacity of youths for active community engagement and capacity building of religious and traditional leaders at the grassroots.
Similarly, the Nana Khadija Sexual Assault Referral Centre conducted a sensitisation programme for community and religious leaders on prevention and response to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and Violence against Women (VAW).
The Centre for Social Justice built strategic law enforcement agents’ capacities to appreciate better the purpose and principles of mainstreaming prevention and responses to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), Harmful Practices (HP) and women /girls’ access to Sexual Reproductive Health Response (SRHR) in law enforcement.
The participants, including Nigeria police, Nigeria security and civil defence corps, the National Agency for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, were to ensure best practices in prevention and response to VAWG/SGBV/HP in law enforcement.
SGBV perpetrators and prosecution
However, while some are now motivated to break the silence, others said certain circumstances do not encourage them to speak about such issues. According to them, many perpetrators and survivors live in the same area, and the justice system is slow. They underscored the need to strengthen the prosecution of GBV cases in the state.
“What we tell them is when you report cases, there is going to be justice, thorough investigation, and prosecution of the perpetrators,” said Sokoto State Response Team Coordinator Rabiu Bello Gandi.
“But the investigation, sometimes, is not thorough because some security operatives find a way of not doing their work as ought to. Sometimes we see them siding with perpetrators, and some collect money from the families of the survivors. “
Gandi added that as civil society organisations, the only thing they do is to ensure they do their investigations as required. For Dikko, who has been handling SGBV concerns at the grassroots, more locals might have reported cases if they see more perpetrators punished.
He expressed the surveillance’s team commitment to tackling SGBV in the area despite challenges they face, such as confrontation from some community members.
“Some confront us, questioning why we should ‘meddle’ in the family matters of others, but it won’t deter us.”
Hajiya Hauwa Nasiru, a community mobiliser, stressed the need for active support of the local communities to boost surveillance.
“The local communities should appreciate the import of GBV surveillance and prepare to play their role,” she added.
Sokoto-based lawyer, Rasheeda Muhammad, noted that many SGBV perpetrators continue in their dastardly act because some relations of GBV survivors collect inducement to withdraw cases of sexual violence and other forms of abuse.
She noted the survivors’ relations had withdrawn many SGBV cases at the instance of prominent people or after collecting money from perpetrators. Such actions, the legal practitioner said, subject the survivor to stigmatisation and trauma in the community.
Tightening law to curb menace
Sokoto State House of Assembly recently passed the Bill for a law to supplement the Penal Code Law, 2019, and provide for the punishment of offences relating to Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
The Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, expressed the commitment of his administration to tackling SGBV. He said they tightened the law to curb the menace, noting that it prescribes life imprisonment for an offence that had lenient sentences.
Hajiya Aishatu Ahmad Kaoje is the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP). She assured that the Sokoto State Ministry of Justice would strengthen collaboration with the SGBV response team established in communities across the local government to ensure prompt prosecution of cases.
However, to secure convictions, she advised evidence is crucial to prove sexual and gender-based violence.
UNICEF Chief of Sokoto Field Office, Muhammadeen Fall, said ending SGBV required the collective efforts of all stakeholders. He expressed the United Nations’ resolve to address the root causes of gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls. It would ensure access to inclusive, timely and quality services for survivors, he added.
Analysts noted the new law changed the offence of rape, alluding to its definition of rape, the penalty for rape, the right of survivors to financial compensation, and sex offenders’ register.
Many are optimistic that when the new law comes into effect, it will go a long way in protecting women and children against sexual gender-based violence.