By Maryam Garba Hassan
Determined to ensure that victims of sexual violence in the country get justice, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina, has urged the Legislature to make penalties stipulated in the proposed Sexual Offences Bill more punitive.
The Minister said some of the recommended penalties in the Bill are too light and may not serve as a deterrent to would be perpetrators.
The Minister, who gave the charge on Monday in Abuja, during her presentation at the Public Hearing on Sexual Offences Bill, 2014 and the Administration of Criminal Justice Bill, also called for the harmonization of related Bills before both chambers of the National Assembly.
The Minister also called for clearer definitions of terms to achieve a uniformed aim which is the protection of women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.
On the case of defilement of children under Section 7 of the Bill, Maina stressed the need to merge sub-sections (1)-(3) and part of (4) into one section as they are all crimes committed against minors (ages 0-17 years) and upon conviction, liable to imprisonment for life, she noted.
She said for cases on indecent act with a child or adult, under sections 10(5) of the proposed Bill, the Ministry considers the option of N20,000 fine in place of imprisonment of not more than seven years to be very light and recommended a minimum penalty of N500,000.
Other penalties suggested by the Minister include; a minimum of 10 years for those who engage in Child Pornography, a Minimum of N500,000 for the offence of Indecent Exposure in place of the proposed N20,000 fine and a minimum of N500,000 fine for Sexual Harassment instead of the proposed N50,000 fine among others.
For cases related to promotion of Sexual Offences with a Child, Child Trafficking and Child Sex Tourism captured under Sections 11, 12 and 13 of the proposed bill, the Minister emphsasied that penalties attached to these offences be punitive and prohibitive for natural and juristic persons respectively.
She said “We consider the sum ranging from N500,000, N1,000,000, N3,000,000 penalties for juristic persons to be a slap on the wrist. These organizations and companies peddle in women, girls and drugs and have immense financial resources at their disposal; therefore, the payment of penalties stipulated in the Bill will not in any way affect their resources.
“The amount should be increased to deter would be perpetrators of this offence”, she said.
She said the introduction of stringent sentences such as life imprisonment for convicted offenders without any option of fine was critical, especially in the wake of escalating rape cases in the country and therefore, called for the full support of the law enforcement agencies and the courts to ensure justice and successful prosecution of offenders.
She equally called for the conduct of psychiatric test on perpetrators of rape and sexual harassment adding that some of the cases are simply inexplicable and calls for concern.
“Everyone must be ready to break the culture of keeping silent on rape cases and violence. Parents must not hesitate to report cases of sexual harassment, assault and abuse to the police to expose and prosecute the offenders to serve as a deterrent to others”, the Minister added.
Declaring the Public Hearing Open, the Senate Leader, Senator Victor Udo-Udoma, who represented the Senate President, said the Criminal Justice System of the country require overhaul.
He observed that a weak criminal justice system breeds impunity, stressing the need to bring it in line with best practices in the world.
In their separate submissions, Judges and Prosecutors, including the Nigerian Bar Association, disclosed that some of the culprits have been successfully prosecuted and thrown behind bars, while others are walking free after fighting the criminal charges.
Their acquittal, they all agreed, was not so much influenced by their innocence, but lack of sufficient evidence to nail them.
They said the absence of forensic investigation has seen many rape suspects getting off the hook due to lack of evidence, and passionately expressed the urgent need for security agencies, especially the Police, to tackle this challenge and help redress this deficiency in the country’s legal system.