Bilkisu Bilyaminu (not real name), may not have decided what punishment was appropriate for her two married cousins who raped her, but what the culprits later got as punishment from the court was no justice to her. The 14-year-old’s case, similar to that of many others, was reported in one of the local government areas outside Kano metropolis, and was taken up by Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWEI), a non-governmental and non-profit organization focusing on vulnerable groups, like women and children.
Bilkisu’s case was first reported late 2019 to an IWEI-trained paralegal official in her community, one of those trained to give first aid legal services to their people. She was taken to the police station, and later a hospital, where tests confirmed that she was indeed raped.
According to Bilkisu, the perpetrators are her cousins, both of them married at the time of the crime.
“Before the case got to court, at the police station they had some issues and we had to come into the point of meeting with the Commissioner of Police, who had to detail another team to take over the case,” Hafsat Zeenat Buhari, Programme Officer for IWEI’s legal empowerment and rule of law, told Daily Trust Saturday. “Within a week, everything was solved, including the court sitting.”
“Before we entered the court, they were saying since they are family members, they should just settle out of court, but I told them it’s not allowed under the law, as it’s an offence against the state. They weren’t convicted for rape, but for gross indecency, which they pleaded guilty to. This was because the evidence to secure a conviction for rape has allegedly been lost. When the judge checked the hospital results, they found bruises on her but they couldn’t find the ingredients to convict them for rape. So, they were sentenced to six months each with the option of fine and payment of compensation of about N40,000 to the girl.”
“With that money, she went back to school. She was also admitted and treated in their LGEA hospital with that money. She was in JSS 3, before the coronavirus pandemic caused schools to be shut,” Ms. Buhari added.
The punishment meted on those that raped Bilkisu is similar to what many other rapists get – if they get any at all – a slap on the wrist.
Boys are also raped
While the majority of rape victims are females, according to data from Waraka, the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) situated at the Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital in Kano, a sizable number of cases reported at the centre also saw boys, mostly under 16, as victims. For instance, of the 57 reported cases in January, 13 of them are male; in February, 26 of the 67 victims are male, while of the 85 cases recorded in March, 31 of them are male.
In April, there were 17 male victims out of the 33 reported cases and the figure stood at five out of 13 in May and 12 out of 76 in June, while as at July 24, 17 of the 56 recorded cases are male victims.
It was also observed that more victims and their families prefer mostly to approach centres like SARC and non-governmental organisations like IWEI to report cases of sexual assaults than approaching law enforcement agencies like the police and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), who ordinarily would have been considered the most appropriate.
For instance, data received from SARC indicated that 331 cases were reported at the centre between January and June, a figure that dwarfs the police and NAPTIP’s figures, 45 and eight, for the same period.
The Administrative Secretary of the SARC, Abba Bello, told Daily Trust Saturday that the centre observed a decrease in the number of reported cases in the metropolis when the figure so far in 2020 is compared with what was obtainable in previous years, adding that this could be as a result of perceived inappropriate punishment for perpetrators, as well as societal stigma, and a culture of silence.
Coping with rape and sexual assault in this part of the country is “really hard”, according to Ms. Buhari, because of the low-level literacy amongst those that are most vulnerable. Most of them and those around them, she said, do not know that victims need counseling to be able to pull through the traumatic experience.
“The stigma they face is another challenge. You are the victim, but the society acts like you invited the rapist. Family members, too, stigmatize. It is heartbreaking, and people need to know that a victim should not be further exposed to further trauma via stigmatization,” she added.
Castration to the rescue?
Worried by the increasing numbers of reported rape cases in the state, the state’s House of Assembly, with the commencement of the process to amend its Penal Code Law of 2014, wants castration to be an outright punishment for rapists as against the minimum of 14 years stipulated by the law.
Nuraddeen Alhassan, a lawmaker representing Rano constituency, had told his fellow lawmakers while making a case for this motion that the review was necessary to reflect a harsher punishment for rapists in the state with the hope that the harsher punishment would serve as deterrents to potential rapists. He also submitted that if parents can desist from sending their children for hawking, it can also contribute to reducing the menace.
Most of the rapists, according to Alhassan, lure children who hawk, especially at construction sites, or abandoned buildings, a position data from the police acknowledged. He also asked the house to find out how rape cases were being handled by the courts in the state.
Reacting to this development, the chairperson of Kano chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Barrister Huwaila Muhammad Ibrahim, told Daily Trust Saturday that the association has always held the position that the 14-year prison term provided as punishment for rape by the extant law in the state was not enough, because for anyone to be convicted, it means the case has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt. “The victim remains a rape victim for the rest of her life, so even the minimum punishment should be more than 14 years imprisonment,” she said.
In support, Shehu Umar, the Zonal Commander of NAPTIP in Kano, added that the society may need to do more than castration, and that courts should not be perceived as being too lenient with rapists. “[Judges] have the discretion. Sentencing is dependent on many things. Sometimes, the convict may admit to the crime, a first offender, and show remorse. The judge may then determine to give the minimum sentence,” he added.
Attitudes of victims’ parents also frustrate the process of securing justice, according to him. Many parents, he said, will report a case but when it gets to a certain stage, they would come back and say they don’t want to continue with it. And when the law enforcement agencies insist on the case, the victim, who is the primary witness withdraws, thereby killing the case of the prosecution.
For SARC, the move by the state house of assembly, according to Bello, was a “morale booster” for victims and all those working to ensure sexual assault and rape are reduced to the lowest. He added that with the efforts being exerted by SARC, with its focus on medical assistance and counseling for victims, and those of other support groups, the public’s confidence could be said to be on the increase.
New ways: Parents weigh in
Dr. Ruqayyah Yusuf Aliyu, a mother of three, said she does not think any punishment can be considered to be too harsh for a rapist. “My problem is with our justice system and the whole implementation process of our laws. It might end up as an additional burden for the prisons (custodial centres) which are already overstretched. Even if castration as punishment for rape is finally realised, I am afraid it might, like many other laws end on paper and rapists sentenced will either languish in prisons or even be free after some time because the Executives might not sign the execution of their punishments,” she added.
Alhaji Habibu Dukawuya just wants the problem to be done away with, whichever the law or punishment that will do the magic. “I don’t think castration or any other law enacted is that bad so long as it will end the problem. As a father with many daughters, I don’t think I have a problem with the new law. But if we could have a better one, that will be better,” he said.
On her part, Hajiya Rabi Shehu, said she has been waiting for such legislation for a long time, adding that the new intervention will be a welcome development to all mothers, particularly those having girl-children.
But Salihu Hassan Gama is not satisfied with the new proposal by the State Assembly as one of the measures to end rape and other forms of sexual abuse in the state. “I would prefer if Ulamas prescribe what the almighty God decreed as punishment to perpetrators of this act and for such to be domesticated in our state. We have been looking for various human interventions to end the problem, but all to no avail. So, I think alternatively, we should go for divine prescription, it will be better,” he added.
When contacted, Sheik Ibrahim Khalil, the chairman of Kano State Council of Ulamas, told Daily Trust Saturday that the council will be engaging the leadership of the state house of assembly on the matter and the position of the council would thereafter be made known.
Alternative ways to secure deterrence
However, questions have been raised on the feasibility and applicability of adopting castration as punishment for rapists. Ms. Fatima Adamu, the Programme Manager of IWEI, queried what the lawmakers will envision as castration under the law. She said castration does not mean the person will not be able to have sex again nor is it the same as penile amputation (the cutting off of the manhood).
Alternatively for her, there should be effective implementation of the existing law. “The punishment (at the moment) is a minimum of 14 years and maximum of life imprisonment and it also recommended a fine of N200,000 to be paid and the court to require compensation to be paid to the victim. A lot of the time, we dwell so much on the number of years and forgetting the compensation aspect of the law. Kano has, I think, one of the most advanced punishments for this offence, but why do we think this is not working and why do we think castration will work?” she asked.
Ms. Adamu also called for the domestication of the Child’s Rights Act and the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act in Kano which she believes will then provide the legal framework to advocate for the establishment of family courts and to advocate for the opening of a sexual assault offenders’ register.
“At the systemic level, we need to put the child and women protection system in place. For instance, Kano has close to 15million residents, yet the state has only one Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). With 44 local government areas, how accessible is that? Also, there is no budget line for that centre yet. But with advocacy around that, we hope it will happen soon,” Ms. Adamu added. She further stressed the need for training and retraining of law enforcement officers on international best practices of handling sexual assault and rape cases, noting that it is only in sexual assault crimes that victims are further subjected to degrading questions like ‘What were you wearing?’ and so on.
The Commissioner of Police in Kano, Habu A. Sani, told Daily Trust Saturday that from the analysis of the data on cases of rape reported to the police from January to June, it was discovered that 16 out of the 45 cases (33.3%), were committed at uncompleted buildings while 10 (20.8%) of such cases were committed on farmlands.
With these findings among others, Sani said the command had intensified patrols at these areas, as well as reach out to the residents to ensure that such areas and their wards are monitored and for them to report any suspicious activities. He added that through the command’s community policing strategy, traditional leaders, religious leaders and local vigilantes are being incorporated in the fight.