There is no comprehensive law for combatting violence against women. As a result, victims and survivors had little or no recourse to justice. While some, mostly southern, states have enacted laws prohibiting some forms of gender violence or seeking to safeguard certain rights, a majority of states did not have such legislation.
On May 25, the government enacted the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act. It addresses sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, and socioeconomic violence. Under the VAPP, spousal battery, forceful ejection from home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), harmful traditional practices, substance attacks (such as acid attacks), political violence, and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) are offenses. Victims and survivors of violence are entitled to comprehensive medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases. The act makes the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) responsible for administering its provisions. Until adoption by the states, however, the provisions of the VAPP Act are only applicable to the FCT.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. The VAPP provides penalties ranging from 12 years’ to life imprisonment for offenders older than 14 and a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for all others. It also provides for a public register of convicted sexual offenders and appointment of protection officers at the local government level to coordinate with courts and ensure victims receive various forms of assistance (e.g., medical, psychosocial, legal, rehabilitative, reintegrative) provided by the VAPP. The act also includes a provision empowering courts to award appropriate compensation to victims of rape.
Previous federal rape laws only protected females and only in cases of vaginal penetration. The VAPP expands the scope of existing law to include oral and anal sex and to protect males as well as females. It also includes provisions to protect the identity of rape victims.
Rape remained widespread. According to a study published in February, almost 20 percent of college students surveyed reported at least one incident of rape. In 2013 Positive Action for Treatment Access, an NGO focused on HIV treatment, released a countrywide survey of 1,000 preadolescents and adolescents (ages 10 to 19), which noted three in 10 girls reported their first sexual encounter was rape.
Societal pressure and the stigma associated with rape reduced the percentage of rapes reported and the penalties imposed for conviction. Sentences for persons convicted of rape and sexual assault were inconsistent and often minor. In the Northeast Boko Haram continued to abduct women and girls, subjecting them to sexual violence and forcing them into domestic and sexual slavery, sometimes under the guise of forced marriage.
In September the Nigerian Feminist Forum submitted a statement to the chairman of the NHRC highlighting a significant increase in the number of cases of sexual assault and rape reported by female university students. In one instance a lecturer at the University of Lagos was indicted for raping an 18-year-old female applicant.
No laws of nationwide applicability criminalize gender-based violence. The VAPP provides for up to three years’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of 200,000 naira ($1,000), or both for spousal battery. It defines spousal/partner battery as the intentional use of force or violence upon a person to include touching, beating, or striking with the intention of causing bodily harm. The act provides up to one year’s imprisonment for anyone found guilty of intimidation by conveying a threat that induces fear, anxiety, or discomfort. It also authorizes courts to issue protection orders upon application by a victim and directs NAPTIP to appoint a coordinator for the prevention of domestic violence to submit an annual report to the federal government. Notwithstanding these federal provisions, only the states of Cross River, Ebonyi, Jigawa, and Lagos had enacted domestic violence laws.
Domestic violence remained widespread, and many considered it socially acceptable. CLEEN Foundation’s National Crime Victimization and Safety Survey for 2013 reported that 30 percent of male and female respondents countrywide claimed to have been victims of domestic violence.
Police often refused to intervene in domestic disputes or blamed the victim for provoking the abuse. In rural areas courts and police were reluctant to intervene to protect women who formally accused their husbands of abuse if the level of alleged abuse did not exceed local customary norms. In 2014 NGOs highlighted the death sentence handed down to Akolade Arowolo, a man who stabbed his wife to death in Lagos in 2011 after years of abusing her, noting that the fact a conviction was obtained and the severity of the sentence made the case unusual.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: According to a 2008 World Health Organization study, 29.6 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported in 2013 that 14 percent of girls from newborn to age 14 had undergone FGM/C. The age at which women and girls were subjected to the practice varied from the first week of life until after a woman delivered her first child. Most victims were subjected to FGM/C before their first birthday. The highest prevalence among adult women was in the South (77 percent), followed by the Southeast (68 percent) and Southwest (65 percent), and was practiced on a smaller scale in the North. Infibulation, the most severe form of FGM/C, was common in the South and infrequently occurred in northern states.
The VAPP penalizes a person who performs female circumcision or genital mutilation with a maximum of four years in prison or a fine of 200,000 naira ($1,000), or both. It punishes anyone who aids or abets such a person with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 naira ($500), or both. For purposes of the act, female circumcision means cutting all or part of the external sex organs of a girl or woman other than on medical grounds. By law an offender is a person who performs FGM/C; engages another to perform it; or incites, aids, abets, or counsels another person to perform FGM/C.
Federal law criminalizes female circumcision or genital mutilation, but the federal government took no legal action to curb the practice. While 12 states have banned FGM/C, but once a state legislature criminalizes FGM/C, NGOs found they had to convince local authorities that state laws apply in their districts. The Ministry of Health, women’s groups, and many NGOs sponsored public awareness projects to educate communities about the health hazards of FGM/C. Underfunding and logistical obstacles limited their contact with health-care workers.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Under the VAPP, any person who subjects another to harmful traditional practices may be punished with up to four years in prison or a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($2,500), or both. Anyone subjecting a widow to harmful traditional practices is subject to two years’ imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($2,500), or both. For purposes of the VAPP, a harmful traditional practice means all traditional behavior, attitudes, or practices that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women or girls, to include denial of inheritance or succession rights, FGM/C or circumcision, forced marriage, and forced isolation from family and friends.
Despite the new federal law, purdah, the cultural practice of secluding women and pubescent girls from unrelated men, continued in various parts of the North. In some parts of the country, widows experienced unfavorable conditions as a result of discriminatory traditional customs. “Confinement,” which occurred predominantly in the Northeast, remained the most common rite of deprivation for widows. Confined widows stayed under social restrictions for as long as one year and usually shaved their heads and dressed in black as part of a culturally mandated mourning period. In other areas communities viewed a widow as a part of her husband’s property to be “inherited” by his family. In some traditional southern communities, widows fell under suspicion when their husbands died. To prove their innocence, they were forced to drink the water used to clean their deceased husband’s bodies.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a common problem. No statutes prohibit sexual harassment, but authorities may prosecute violent harassment under assault statutes. The VAPP criminalizes stalking, with terms of imprisonment of up to two years, a maximum fine of 500,000 naira ($2,500), or both. It does not explicitly criminalize sexual harassment, which it legally defines as physical, verbal, or nonverbal conduct of a sexual nature, based on sex or gender, which is persistent or serious and demeans, humiliates, or creates a hostile or intimidating environment. The act criminalizes emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse and acts of intimidation.
The practice of demanding sexual favors in exchange for employment or university grades remained common. Women suffered harassment for social and religious reasons in some regions. Women’s rights groups reported the Abuja Environmental Protection Board took women into custody under the pretext of removing commercial sex workers from the streets of the capital. According to activists, the board then forced women to buy their freedom or confess to prostitution and undergo rehabilitation. With the support of several civil society organizations, four women filed a joint lawsuit against the board with the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice. In December the court adjourned the case until January 2016.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, but information on reproductive health and access to quality reproductive health services and emergency obstetric care was not widely available. The 2013 NDHS reported the maternal mortality rate was 576 deaths per 100,000 live births, due to such factors as lack of access to antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and other medical services. According to 2013 estimates by the UN, World Health Organization, and World Bank, there were approximately 40,000 maternal deaths in 2013, and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 31. Skilled health-care personnel attended a reported 34 percent of births. According to the 2013 NDHS, 15 percent of married women used a contraceptive method (10 percent used modern methods, and 5 percent used traditional methods). Urban women were much more likely to use contraception than were rural women (27 percent and 9 percent, respectively).
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, women experienced considerable economic discrimination. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value, and the law does not mandate nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. No laws bar women from particular fields of employment, but women reportedly could not work in heavy manufacturing and construction in the same way as men. Women often experienced discrimination under traditional and religious practices (see section 7.d.).
Women generally remained marginalized. No laws prohibit women from owning land, but customary land tenure systems allowed only men to own land, with women gaining access to land only via marriage or family. Many customary practices also did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit her husband’s property, and many widows became destitute when their in-laws took virtually all the deceased husband’s property.
In the 12 states that adopted sharia, sharia and social norms affected women to varying degrees. In Zamfara State local governments enforced laws requiring the separation of Muslim men and women in transportation and health care. In 2013 the Kano State government issued a statement declaring that men and women must remain separate while using public transportation.
The testimony of women received less weight than that of men in many criminal courts. No laws bar women from arranging surety bonds for bail for persons detained by police, but women were not permitted to provide such bail arrangements at most police detention facilities.