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CSOs seek specialised courts for sexual offences

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A coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has described as unacceptable a move by some states to adopt a watered-down version of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, which will reduce punishments for violence against women and girls.

Speaking on behalf of the coalition yesterday in Abuja, the Convener of #StateofEmergencyGBV movement in Abuja, Chioma Agwuegbo, noted that while the national leaders could modify laws in line with the socio-political peculiarity of their states, the standard remained the 2015 version of the VAPP passed by the National Assembly.

Lamenting that violence against women was still on the rise one year after the State of Emergency on GBV was declared by governors, Agwuegbo called for urgent amendments to the below-par versions in states.

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According to her, it is not enough to have laws, but it is also pertinent that laws are implemented. She said: “SGBV cases should be promptly prosecuted within a reasonable time frame and in line with the provisions of extant laws, regardless of requests or interference by victims’ families or interested parties.”

Agwuegbo urged the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) to work with other relevant institutions to ensure that effective laws are passed in all the states in line with their pronouncement on June 12, 2020, when they declared a state of emergency on Gender Based Violence (GBV).
She called on states to establish independent specialised courts for sexual offences, which she said would be the best way forward in each state.

She added: “Establish new/fund existing Sexual Assault Referral Centers (SARCs) and shelters in every state.

“A Sexual Offenders Register should be opened in all the states. The police should implement well-resourced functional Family Support Units and Force Gender Units of the Nigeria Police Force to address GBV cases in collaboration with and at the state level.

“Also, there should be public disciplinary measures against officers of the Nigeria Police Force and state prosecutors who mishandle cases of GBV.

“That is what a state of emergency should entail, but tragically, we have seen more rhetoric than action while young girls and women are daily molested, raped and killed by a growing number of criminals.

“We call on all well-meaning Nigerians to demand action from our leaders. The persistence of GBV in our society is primarily due to the lack of political will from our leaders to swiftly punish offenders within the specification of the laws. You must add your voice to this call if you wish to see any action taken.

“The movement remains resolute in our demands and will continue to hold authorities accountable. Our homes, streets and public spaces must be safe for everyone, including women and girls.”

On his part, the Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE), Hamzat Lawal, who regretted that Nigeria was ranked seventh most dangerous country in the world for women to live in the World Population Review, warned that the recent ban would negatively affect the reporting of issues around sexual based violence.

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