On Monday last week, Nigeria launched its first national Sexual Offenders Register [SOR] that sets up a database of persons convicted for sexual violence. SOR will contain names of all those prosecuted and convicted for sexual violence since 2015 and will also be available online to better help the public, state institutions and security agencies to conduct background checks and identify repeat offenders. Suspects who are cleared will also be recorded in a part of the register only available to law enforcement agencies. The SOR came amid concerns by campaigners that majority of sexual offenders escape prosecution due to failings in the justice system.
A project under the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons [NAPTIP], SOR is funded by the European Union Rule Of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) and implemented by the British Council in Nigeria, in collaboration with security agencies and Civil Society Organisations across the country. An initial group of 15 NGOs will monitor police and media reports across Nigeria and update the register on a monthly basis with information on convicted persons that would be captured including bio-data, biometric features, addresses, Bank Verification Number (BVN) and DNA.
Really, disturbing statistics by UNICEF say that one in four Nigerian women are sexually abused before they turn 18 and adds, regrettably, that majority of cases of sexual abuse in the country are not prosecuted. Currently, only two of Nigeria’s 36 states, Lagos and Ekiti, have launched the SOR. States that have domesticated the Nigeria: Violence Against Persons [VAPP] (Prohibition) Act (2015) include Ekiti, Kaduna, Oyo, Benue, Ebonyi, Anambra and Lagos.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), violence against women had been on the increase from 2015-2017. The report said rape cases topped the list of violence against women and had been on a rise in Nigeria since 2015 with 63.04 per cent. It increased to 72.13 per cent in 2016 but decreased to 69.33 per cent in 2017.
Generally, women and girls all over the world experience rape, sexual violence and abuse but only a small percentage of these incidents get reported due to the impunity perpetrators enjoy as a result of the stigmatisation and silence of the victims. Sexual abuse cases are more in areas of low intensity conflicts as we experience in parts of Nigeria. So, this calls for speedy implementation of the register as a way of urgently curtailing the scourge.
Even though it is important for offenders to be identified and punished, it is more important for the government and other stakeholders to proactively identify risk factors and intervene decisively to deal with them before abuse happens. This is why a comprehensible multisectoral service is fundamental and accessible to all survivors of rape and sexual violence. Response must be survivor-centred, timely and efficient to end the prevailing culture of impunity and foster a culture of justice and support. It is time to challenge demeaning references to women, opposing a culture of blaming victims, teaching boys a sense of masculinity that respects women and accepts no type of gender-based violence.
Fundamentally, sex offenders are likely to reoffend, so introducing SORs would effectively reduce recidivism better than general registration systems. SORs would also assist police in solving sex crimes and increase public safety as it would assist security agencies and the community to track convicted sexual offenders.
So, essentially, the Sex Offenders List is a welcome idea. But it has to be implemented outside normal civil service system to ensure the register is up to date and operates round the clock. Also, forms for employment in Nigeria must have provision where applicants must state whether they have been convicted of any sex offence. And the existence of the register should be given wide publicity and the Nigeria Police must go beyond the norm and ensure that the victims are not ridiculed.