RECENTLY, rape was reported to have assumed an astronomical dimension in Lagos State. In fact, it was alleged that there is a daily report of 25 rape cases which confirmed the Centre of Excellence as the den of rapists. It was on this note that ENCOMIUM Weekly’s NGOZI NWANKWO visited the office of Mrs. Omotola Rotimi, who is the Director of the Office of Public Defender, OPD, a government initiative that provides justice for the needy in Lagos State, on Thursday, February 3, 2011. She made available statistics of rape and defilement matters handled by the OPD between 2009 and December 2010, which is 74 and equally spoke on the increasing rate of rape in the state as well as how to reduce it.
There is a report of an increase in rape cases in Lagos State. What is responsible for that?
There are two things that are majorly responsible for that. They are poverty and idleness. One thing you should know is that the people that actually commit this offence are those that live in the densely populated areas like face-me-I-face-you apartments. The men among them are mostly jobless and so, have nothing doing. And so, when they see the children who are at times placed under their care playing around, they are left with no other option than to abuse them sexually. Just as a popular saying goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Poverty comes in here along with idleness in the sense that most of these men are poor. They cannot afford a prostitute to fulfil their sexual desires and so, they see these children (girls) who cannot match them in strength as preys and therefore take advantage of them.
There is also the issue of the poverty of the mind and that of the physical body on the part of the parents. Most parents do not put their children under proper care due to the fact that they cannot afford a nanny or an extra lesson teacher and so, they leave them with anyhow people. And these children go astray and fall into the hands of paedophiles due to the fact that they are not looked after. Or at times, it happens that it is the people that the children are left with that are actually abusing them. An example is a case that I handled on Wednesday, February 2, 2011, about an 8 year-old girl whose parents are estranged. And the children are under the custody of their father, who has no job. So, when he goes out to look for something to do in order to feed the children who don’t go to school for lack of money, he leaves them with one of his neighbours (a man). But the unfortunate thing is that it is the man that he leaves them with that was sexually abusing the 8 year-old daughter. In fact, he had slept with the girl four times before it was discovered.
There is equally the issue of ignorance on the part of parents who send their children (both male and female) into the street to hawk wares, not knowing that they are exposing them to danger. Nowadays, there are cases where the male children are sexually abused just as their female counterparts at the motor parks where they sell things. These children, who are vulnerable, are being raped by the paedophiles.
I am not saying that children should not help their parents to make ends meet, but rather they should keep them close to themselves where they can easily be monitored, instead of sending them into the streets. There are equally cases where these children are sexually abused by their parents. I see them (the parents) as sick people or people that are frustrated because they lost their jobs. But the unfortunate thing is that it is these innocent children that they push their frustrations to by sleeping with them. In the same vein, there is equally the case of rape cases that are perpetrated by jobless male relatives whom these children are left under their care. The children are severely warned not to mention it to anybody and they keep it to themselves until they fall sick or are infected. The rape cases have been escalating and I tell you, if something is not done fast, we will have more cases.
What is the age bracket of the victims?
I am talking about ages one to 18 years. But the defilement is more common among girls of four, five, six to 10 years. This is because these girls are vulnerable, they can neither speak nor fight back. And at times, they are lured with candies which they like so much.
What about the culprits?
They include teenagers from 18 to 20 years. For men, it ranges from 50 to 70 years.
So, what is your agency doing to ensure that the culprits are punished?
Our job is in two categories. In the first place, there are cases where the incidents are not reported to us on time. They are only reported to us two to six months after the evidence had been washed off. But then, we still come in, not wanting to abandon them to their fate. We start by making sure that the case is reported to the police, find out if the girl was taken to hospital for medical attention. But there are cases where the mother tells you that it was just yesterday that she found out that the man had been defiling her daughter for six months or one year. And by this time, there is little or no evidence to show for it. But we still assist them in reporting the case to the police and make sure that it is well investigated.
Although, we don’t prosecute the culprit because we don’t have power to do so, we continually mount pressure on the police so that the case is charged to court. We equally monitor the case by holding brief to see how the case is going. Of course, we are always on standby to assist the police with probably legal knowledge to ensure that justice is done. It is also our duty to ensure that the case is not truncated, but at times it ends in compromise. This is on the part of some parents who out of poverty accept to be settled by the culprits. And so, they end up telling you that they don’t want the case to continue.
Even when you threaten to take them (the parents) to Supreme Court, they relocate to an unknown destination. And this leads to the culprit walking away unprosecuted which is very bad. But the good job we are doing here is whether the victim is present or not, it is our duty to make sure that the culprit is convicted, provided there is forensic evidence to prove that he actually committed the crime.
How does your office help the victims of rape in the state?
First, we help those of them who have not reported the case to the police to do so. We equally take those who are recently raped and are yet to seek medical attention to get medically examined and treated as well. Again, it is our duty to make sure that the girl is rehabilitated by getting in contact with the Ministry of Women Affairs or Ministry of Youths and Sports. This is in the case where we feel that the girl or woman is still in danger as regards the environment where she lives. So, at this stage, we now see to it that justice is done to the case. We also make sure that the victim or her parents, as the case maybe, is not forcefully ejected from the house where they live as in the case of landlords who issue them with quit notice on getting to know about the case.
What measures do you think government can adopt to check the menace?
A lot. First, you have to be your brother’s keeper. It is the duty of every adult to keep an eye on the girl-child and report every suspected move that might endanger their lives to the police. The public should assist in making sure that justice is done rather than beg the victim or the parents to set the culprit free without being punished. We should also avoid exposing the children to danger by sending them to the street to hawk things or send them out late at night to buy things. An example is a case of a six year-old girl and her sister, who is 15. They were gang-raped by four boys when they were sent out by 10 p.m to buy a tin of milk. Parents, especially the mothers, should at all times, ensure that their children are safe. Another important measure to adopt is to teach the children never to talk to strangers. This is because being friendly to strangers makes them gullible. We should imbibe in them the culture of being safety-conscious, right from the tender age. Never to sit on a lap of a man, not to talk to a stranger and also not to enter a male’s house to watch or rent a film.
What is the maximum penalty for rape?
It is life imprisonment, both for defilement and rape. The law under the child right states that if you defile a child who is under 15 years, you will be sentenced to life imprisonment. The same punishment is applicable to any rapist. But for now, no strict penalty for a boy that is defiled, probably because the offence is new and never heard of. But the people concerned are trying to come out, with a stipulated penalty for such offence.
- This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, February 8, 2011