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Sisters hope they will soon see justice

by Saater Ikpaahindi

Plateau State, Nigeria, 10 May 2018 - Martha and Mary are still waiting for justice two years after they were sexually assaulted by a man in their community.

The sisters, who were then eight and six, were lured to their abuser’s home when he offered the girls sweets and biscuits. They told their grandmother, with whom they lived, and she took them to hospital to be treated and checked. Six months later, she reported the case to the Child Protection Network (CPN) in Plateau State who carried out its own investigation to confirm the sisters’ stories. The alleged abuser was arrested shortly after CPN reported the matter to police.

With funding from partners such as the European Union and UN Women, UNICEF is supporting the Plateau State Government’s ministries to strengthen the child protection system. The CPN was set up by UNICEF as an inter-agency coordination and response network to strengthen social welfare services and boost the capacity of the justice system to ensure child victims are treated with sensitivity and perpetrators of child abuse are held accountable.

The girls’ family have been given free legal representation after the CPN reported the case to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development which made referrals to National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and a government medical facility.

Mary and Martha’s medical bills and expenses to get to court appearances have been met by the CPN.

Sadly, the sisters’ experience is all too common in Nigeria. The National Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) conducted in 2014 estimated that one in four girls suffer sexual violence before reaching 18. In reality, the number of girls affected is likely to be far higher as most children and families do not report such cases because of stigma, fear, and lack of trust in the authorities. Social tolerance and lack of awareness also contributes to under-reporting. From those that actually report, only 3.5% received any kind of support.

Mary and Martha are receiving ongoing counselling, funded by the CPN, to help them cope from their experience. Evidence shows that sexual violence can have serious short- and long-term physical, psychological and social consequences not only for victims but for their families and wider communities. This includes increased risks for illness, unwanted pregnancy, psychological distress, stigma, discrimination and difficulties at school.

At the end of 2017, UNICEF supported the MoJ in gazetting the Child Rights Law which was domesticated in the state, in 2005. Gazetting the Law puts it in the public domain and means that it can officially be used and quoted in the courts. The law provides a framework for the setting up of family courts where children’s cases can be tried more effectively.

The sisters’ grandmother is unhappy that the case is still dragging on, but is now hopeful that the gazetting of the Child Rights Law will mean that it will finally be heard in the family court and justice will be done. 

 

 
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