UNDERSTANDING THE VIOLENCE AGAINST PERSONS (PROHIBITION) ACT, 2015

 

violence

During the Nigeria Bar Association Law week, my lecturer Professor Alphonsus Okoh  Aluba delivered a lecture on the new “Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015″ which gave me first insight into this new legislation that seeks to prohibit any violence against persons in Nigeria.

On May 25th 2015 the immediate past President of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan recorded a milestone when he signed into Law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015. This has brought to a successful conclusion the 14-year-long social and legislative advocacy championed by women’s groups and gender activists towards the passage of this law that will protect women and girls from all forms of violence. This Act, according to its long title, is aimed to eliminate violence in private and public life, prohibit all forms of violence, including physical, sexual, psychological, domestic, harmful traditional practices; discrimination against persons and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders.

This Act commendably covers most of the prevalent forms of violence that could be categorized into: Physical violence; Psychological violence; Sexual violence; Harmful traditional practices; and Socio-economic violence. Specifically, The VAPP Act comprehensively deal twith one of the most vexed forms of sexual violence, rape, from which existing penal laws protected only females and limited to vaginal penetration .
It has expanded the scope of rape to protect males and to include anal and oral sex as well as protect the identity of rape victims.
The following are offences punishable under the Act: Rape, Inflicting
Physical Injury on a Person, Female Circumcision or Genital Mutilation, Forceful Ejection from Home, Depriving a Person of His/Her Liberty, Forced Financial Dependence or Economic Abuse, Forced Isolation or Separation from Family and Friends, Emotional Verbal and Psychological Abuse, Harmful Widowhood Practices, Abandonment of Spouse, Children and Other Dependent without Sustenance, Spousal/Partner Battery, Indecent exposure, Harmful Traditional Practices, Political Violence, and Violence by State Actors.

The law begins in Section 1 by defining rape as the intentional penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person if such person does not consent to the said penetration or if the consent is obtained by force or means of threat or intimidation. It also recognises that women can commit rape as well. Section 2 states that a person if found guilty of rape will be liable to imprisonment for life except where the offender is less than 14 years in which such person will be liable to a maximum of 12 years in prison, however, in other cases such person can only be sentenced to a minimum of 12 years in prison. If the rape is however committed by a group of persons, the offenders are liable jointly to a maximum of 20 years imprisonment without option of fine and the court shall also award compensation to the victim. The law also states that a register of convicted sex offenders shall be maintained and accessible to the public.

The new law also provides that anyone who willfully causes or inflicts physical injury on another commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a jail term not exceeding 5 years in prison or a fine not exceeding N100, 000 or both.

Also anyone who incites, aids, abets or counsels another person to commit an act of violence is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding N200, 000 or both. The court may also award compensation to the victim.

Furthermore, according to the law, coercing another to engage in acts that are detrimental to the person’s physical or psychological well being is an offence and a person is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 3 years. Anyone who also willfully places a person in fear of physical injury commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year to a fine not exceeding of N100, 000.

Compelling another to commit an act either sexual or otherwise, to the detriment of the victim’s physical or psychological well being is an offence and a guilty party is liable on conviction to a jail term not exceeding 2years.

It is worthy to note that the law prohibits female circumcision and offenders will be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N200, 000 or both. An attempt to commit the act also attracts a jail term not exceeding 2 years and a fine not exceeding N100,000 or both.

The law also provides for forceful ejection from the home wherein a person who forcefully evicts a spouse or refuses them access commits an offence and liable to a jail term not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding N300,000 or both. The law also states that depriving another of his or her liberty without a court order is an offence and a person convicted is liable to a jail term not exceeding two years or a fine not exceeding N500, 000.

Causing mischief or destruction of property with intent to case distress is also an offence and a guilty party will be liable to jail term not exceeding two years in prison or a fine not exceeding N300, 000.  Another offence is also forcefully isolating a person from friends and family and a guilty person on conviction will be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding N100, 000 or both.

Importantly, the Act contained provisions on effective remedies,
including the rights of victims to assistance. According to section 38,
“Every victim is entitled to receive the necessary materials, comprehensive  medical, psychological, social and legal assistance through governmental agencies and/or non-governmental agencies providing such assistance.” Victims are entitled to be informed of the availability of legal, health and social services and other relevant assistance and be readily afforded access to them. Furthermore, it provides that: “Victims are entitled to rehabilitation and re-integration programme of the State to enable victims to acquire, where applicable and necessary, pre-requisite skills in any vocation of the victim’s choice and also in necessary formal education or access to micro credit facilities.”
This Act, long overdue in coming, will unarguably bring succor and effective remedies to millions of victims who have suffered in silence without recourse to justice or rehabilitative-psycho-social support for their recovery and reintegration. The Act affords access and better services  for victims/survivors of violence, such as hotlines, shelters, legal advice, access to justice, counselling, police protection, and comprehensive health services.
The only drawback in relation to this law is its limited application to the
Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. This is as a result of the nature of Nigeria’s federal structure and constitutional distribution of powers between the Federal Government and States of the Federation. It is expected that 36 states of Nigeria will take immediate and necessary action to adopt and enact similar law on Violence against persons.
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