That castration prescription for rape convicts
The decision by the Kaduna State Government to carry out surgical castration and death on convicts of sexual violators should be seen for what it is: a desperate measure to address an unwholesome problem. But it is doubtful whether the prescribed measure is the solution that the society requires. The prescription is bound to create many unforeseen and unintended issues, besides raising serious constitutional posers.
For one thing, castration for men, or bilateral salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes) for women, is fraught with medical and moral intricacies better avoided than confronted. For another, the prescribed measures instantly raise a conflict with section 34(1) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his (her) person.
In particular, Subsection (a) of that provision stipulates: “No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.” To perform surgical operations meant to curtail the excessive sexual appetite of men and women, rather than for health reasons, will amount to a violation of their persons and right to respect for the dignity of their persons.
Like other criminal activities, violation of women and the girl child has become rampart not only in Kaduna State, but all over the country. The incidences appeared to have increased over the past months of Coronavirus pandemic. While the concerned populace has raised adequate alarm decrying the situation, this has not been backed with commensurate official response.
Rather, some state actors have made draconian, often barbaric suggestions such as the death penalty and castration of the offenders, a suggestion that Kaduna State Government has capitulated to. The Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, some days back, signed into law a bill passed at the governor’s instance by the Kaduna State House of Assembly. This followed an amendment of the Penal Code Law No. 5 of 2017.
Before the amendment, the relevant law prescribed life imprisonment for rapists, which, by the amendment, has been changed to surgical castration for men, and bilateral salpingectomy, or removal of the fallopian tubes, for women. Where the victim is below 14 years, the offenders, when convicted, will be sentenced to death in addition to the surgery.
Governor El-Rufai was quoted as saying, in defence of the new law, that “drastic penalties are required to help protect children from a serious crime.” Certainly the concern of the governor is not misplaced. However, the prescribed remedy puts the country in the league of very few countries with such provisions. Even then, most of the few countries prescribe chemical castration rather than surgical castration, only for extreme cases where convicted offenders repeat the offence against minors.
In 21st century, when even the death penalty is being regarded as a misnomer, a fledgling democracy such as Nigeria should not route for a draconian and barbaric measure like castration. Those clamouring for such punishment do so out of frustration arising from government’s seeming ineptitude to incidences of rape.
Most incidences of sexual violation against women occur in Kaduna and other parts of the North as the aftermath of activities of Boko Haram insurgents, bandits, cattle rustlers, ravaging herdsmen and professional kidnappers. These criminals operate at will for years with government, including that of Governor El-Rufai’s, content to verbally and monotonously condemn their activities.
The main reason for the festering of these crimes therefore is that government’s machinery for arrest, investigation and prosecution of offenders is ineffectual and unable to deliver. If only three out of six sexual offenders are brought to book after going through due process, it will send a signal of caution and deterrence to others, and thereby prevent the ugly situation at issue.
In the main, the life imprisonment recommended by the Penal Code and the 14 years approved in the Criminal Code in the country are sufficient to scare prospective violators once it is established that their chances of committing the felony and getting away are small. But alas, most offenders escape justice.
In a few countries where castration is approved, studies have been on for years and still inconclusive regarding the efficacy of the measure. For instance, some of the male offenders have been known to repeat the offence even after castration, suggesting that their motive is not the sexual desire that castration seeks to eliminate; or that castration eliminates their lust to defile.
In the case of women, the medical and moral issues arising are even more delicate. They include future child-bearing and physical violation. No government in Nigeria, with the preponderance of political, economic and social problems confronting it, ought to get caught in the castration web.
Inflicting permanent decimation and death to rapists, however repugnant they are to the society, is antithetical of the correctional aspirations of the country’s prisons. Castration and removal of fallopian tubes of rapists are therefore undesirable and should be reversed. El-Rufai and other governors concerned about the worsening cases of sexual violation will do well to strengthen the state system of investigation and prosecution of offenders to deter prospective violators, using the old law.
Besides, those tagged with the dastardly offence can be recorded in a sex offender register and barred from enjoying certain privileges of life. This is part of the modern, humane and effective ways of fighting sexual violence in any form. Leaders should avoid the temptation of adopting easy, untested way out of thorny problems, when, as in this instance, it will most likely complicate the problem rather than provide a lasting solution.