By Chinyere Omeire
Rape – sexual intercourse with an adult without his or her consent – has been with the society for ages.
Also, defilement – sexual intercourse with an underage – is not new. However, the alarming rate of the crimes, the young ages of some of the victims and the involvement of close relations, including uncles and stepfathers, are worrisome.
Cases and of rape and defilement flooded the Lagos courts in 2019, with the crimes allegedly committed even against toddlers including two-year-old.
In rape, the issue of determination is lack of consent, but in defilement, it doesn’t matter whether the victim gave consent or not.
The determinant in defilement is age. Once the victim is below age 18 – age of consent – having sex with him or her is defilement.
Rape contravenes Section 259 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011, while defilement is contrary to Section 137 of the same law.
Both are punishable with up to life imprisonment on conviction.
Analysts are worried that in spite of the heavy punishment, defilement and rape seem to occur daily, with many of the cases unreported. They blame the increased rate on poor enforcement of the law.
Cases of rape and defilement filed before Lagos courts in 2019 include that of a 26-year-old housekeeper, Mercy Edeh, charged with defiling her employer’s four-year-old daughter.
The police alleged that Edeh defiled the toddler by putting his finger in her private part.
Also, a 35-year-old man, Olayiwola Oguntola, appeared in court for allegedly abducting and defiling his neighbour’s five-year-old daughter, just as the police charged a 29-year-old man, John Edet, with defiling a nine-year-old.
Equally in court is the case of a 30-year-old gardener, Abednego Jacob, accused of defiling his co-worker’s five-year-old daughter.
A 58-year-old man, Sunday Akpan, is also standing trial for defiling his 10-year-old step daughter.
A 40-year-old teacher, Faruk Adam, was also charged with having sexual intercourse with nine of his pupils.
He is alleged to have put his fingers in their private parts and fumbled the breasts of the girls who were between seven and 13 years old.
Two friends, Joshua Toryile and Benjamin Akaachimin, were also docked over alleged sexual assault on a 22-year-old lady. The list seems endless.
A journalist, Mrs Chinyere Ukwu, is dissatisfied that it takes a long time for rape and defilement cases to be disposed of in many courts.
According to her, this discourages some victims from speaking out.
She is also convinced that many victims shy away from reporting the cases in order to protect their families’ reputation.
She regrets that the society still casts stigmas on such victims, making ladies, especially, to keep to themselves, sexual molestation against them, to avoid scaring potential suitors.
“Some prefer out-of-court settlement,’’ she says.
However, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Ogedi Ogu, is of the opinion that out-of-court settlement by the family of a defiled or raped person with the suspect’s family should be criminalised.
“An offender should face the appropriate punishment provided by law.
“An attempt by families to settle out of court should be made an offence on its own.
“Defilement and rape are in the increase; therefore, all avenues to curb them should be exploited,’’ he says.
He advises victims to speak out and avoid intimidation.
Mrs Helen Ibeji, the Coordinator of the Girl-Child Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, called for eradication of cultural practices that encourage sexual molestation.
Ibeji urges parents to create enough time to monitor their children especially girls to guard against defilement and rape.
“Parents should ensure that their girls do not dress indecently because it exposes the girl-child to sexual molestation.
“Many people will say dressing doesn’t matter, but it does matter,” she argues.
She appeals to governments to establish centres where girls, especially those defiled by their relatives, can be rehabilitated.
The coordinator also suggests organisation of more workshops and seminars in both urban and rural centres to sensitise Nigerians to the need to report such crimes in time.
Mr Chris Ayiyi, also a lawyer, is worried that in spite of some awareness campaigns against defilement and rape, cases spring up in court almost daily.
He advises couples to shun divorce and attend to their children as a strategy to check rape and defilement.
He regrets that marriages are breaking up, creating opportunities for sexual molestation of the children.
Ayiyi also notes that many couples living together are busy pursuing careers and businesses to the detriment of their children’s supervision.
The lawyer calls on parents to avoid putting their female children in the care of male relatives, and vice versa, to reduce the crimes.
He also calls on courts to give severe punishment, as provided by the law, to convicted offenders to deter others.
Ayiyi hails Lagos State for establishing sexual offences courts to facilitate justice dispensation in rape and defilement cases.
He urges other states and the Federal Government to do same to attack the crimes.
The lawyer suggests that confiscation of assets of convicted offenders should be included in their punishment.
Mr Daniel Idibia, also a Lagos-based lawyer, says trying of offenders suffers setbacks from the prosecution, victims’ parents and court system.
“A good number of perpetrators are still sprawling the streets freely, committing the same heinous crimes due to poor policing and investigation, coupled with poor administration of criminal justice system.
“Also, the type of questions asked by the police when such cases are reported does not encourage parents to report cases of defilement in our society.
“The most uninteresting aspect is that some defilement cases are not reported by parents due to societal norms, thus, leaving victims with trauma,” Idibia argues.
The lawyer appeals to the mass media to be consistent in reporting such cases to deter offenders.
“Special child offences courts should be established throughout Nigeria to enable speedy trial of offenders; stiffer penalties such as confiscation of assets of offenders should be introduced in addition to life imprisonment,” Idibia suggests.
Another lawyer, Mr Chibuikem Opara, recommends bail denial to those charged with defilement or rape, also as a strategy to attack the crimes.
“The number of convicts must increase, and there should be adequate publicity to deter intending defilers.
He also urges parents to put more efforts in monitoring their underage children including boys.
Analyst urge concerted efforts by parents, police and the judiciary to tackle rape and defilement to save victims from physical and psychological torture. (NAN)