Rape and Domestic Violence: 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 enacted laws prohibiting some forms of gender violence or seeking to safeguard certain rights, a majority of states did not have such legislation.
The Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act addresses sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, and socioeconomic violence. Under the VAPP, spousal battery, forceful ejection from the home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), other 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. Until adoption by the states, however, the provisions of the VAPP Act are only applicable to the FCT.
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 provisions to protect the identity of rape victims and a provision empowering courts to award appropriate compensation to victims of rape.
Rape remained widespread. According to a study, almost 20 percent of college students surveyed reported at least one incident of rape committed against them. 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.
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 ($635), 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 the appointment of 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. The CLEEN Foundation’s National Crime Victimization and Safety Survey for 2013 reported 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.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): According to a UNICEF 2016 report, among women 15-49 years of age, 25 percent had undergone the practice. Mothers reported 17 percent of girls age 14 and younger had similarly undergone FGM/C. The age at which women and girls underwent the practice varied from the first week of life until after a woman delivered her first child. Most victims underwent FGM/C before their first birthday. In 2014 UNICEF reported the highest prevalence among women 15 to 49 years of age was in the Southwest (approximately 51 to 80 percent), followed by the Southeast and South (approximately 26 to 50 percent), and on a smaller scale in the North.
The VAPP penalizes a person who performs female circumcision or genital mutilation with a maximum of four years in prison, a fine of 200,000 naira ($635), or both. It punishes anyone who aids or abets such a person with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a fine of 100,000 naira ($317), 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 banned FGM/C, 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, a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($1,590), or both. Anyone subjecting a widow to harmful traditional practices is subject to two years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($1,590), 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 federal law, purdah, the cultural practice of secluding women and pubescent girls from unrelated men, continued in 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 husbands’ 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 ($1,590), 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 Court of Justice. As of November the case was pending.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children. Information on reproductive health and access to quality reproductive health services and emergency obstetric care was not widely available. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported the maternal mortality rate was 814 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015 due to factors including lack of access to antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and other medical services. During the year WHO reported the percentage of births attended by skill health personnel between 2006 and 2014 was 35 percent. The UN Population Division estimated 16 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. The UN Population Fund reported as of 2010 that 28 percent of women ages 20-24 had given birth before the age of 18.
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, nor does it mandate nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. No laws bar women from particular fields of employment, but women reportedly faced challenges in obtaining employment in heavy manufacturing and construction. Women often experienced discrimination under traditional and religious practices.
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. For example, 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 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. Women could arrange but not post bail at most police detention facilities.