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Why Sokoto Needs Child Protection Law – Comrade Gandi

Comrade Rabiu Gandi
Comrade Rabiu Gandi

July 18, (THEWILL) – Comrade Rabiu Gandi is a civil rights activist. In this interview with TUNDE OMOLEHIN, he speaks on child rights violation in Sokoto State, delay in the justice system and how the domestication of rights protection laws can salvage the situation. Excerpts:

There appears to be a resurgence of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Sokoto State. What do you think could be responsible for this?

Well, many factors are responsible for the rise in gender-based violence. One of them is the fact that most perpetrators are ignorant of what they are doing. They are just doing it without knowing the gravity of the offence they are committing. Another factor is cultural practices. Someone’s parents or grandparents are notorious in a particular act and then you emulate them.

There is the issue of poverty. Some of the underage girls who are victims of such violence are out-of-school. They left with the option of hawking petty stuff on behalf of their parents. In the process, they are victimised by boys or older men. These are some of the factors responsible for it. There is also the issue of a broken home where there is no parental care. If parents are weak in taking actionable decisions to guide their children, the latter are likely to be abused in society.

Do you recall witnessing cases of abuse or violence against vulnerable persons, especially underage children, in the course of your work in Sokoto State?

I have witnessed a lot of cases so far. Women and girls are being abused on a daily basis. Even grown-up men and boys are being abused by women. So, it is a societal issue. We have treated cases that affected both genders. We have a lot of cases in hand and we shall respond to them accordingly. If you go to the State Ministry of Women Affairs, there are lots of cases affecting genders, but girls and women are most prevalent among them. In Sokoto state, we also have issues of Almajiri children who are sexually molested by their teachers. Imagine, the Malam (Islamic teacher), who is supposed to take care of these children are the culprits of their molestation. For instance, you give your child to one of these Malams without making any provision for their upkeep. Even, the Malams are also looking for a ways to feed themselves, not to talk of feeding the children under them. Recently, I saw a four-year-old boy Almajiri pupil crying in the street because he was hungry and had nothing to eat.

The little boy had no shoes on his feet and he was wearing dirty clothes. When I asked him about his parents, he said they were in Shinkafi, Zamfara State. Sometime ago, an Islamic teacher in a school in the Arkila area of Sokoto State was in the news for sodomising Almajiri pupils in his custody. He was arrested by the police after it was confirmed that he was hiring out his pupils to people for sexual abuse in exchange for a fee. The parents of these children will never believe such things are happening to their children. In fact, the parents don’t even know how these children are faring under Islamic teachers.

Between government and parents or the society, who is to blame for not protecting children from abuse?

It is the society at large. Everyone is involved in giving protection to these children. Let’s start from the parents. I always say that no child has the predominant knowledge of who will give birth to him or her. Parents are the ones that aske God for a child. But most of them have failed to take care of these children. Child protection has to start from the parent. Then, the Government has to put in place mechanisms that will help to protect these children. Whenever a child is abused, such mechanisms should be enforced.

Also, the justice system and law enforcement agencies have to be proactive in protecting these children’s rights. But if the Government fails to put these in place, our children’s rights will be abused. The family should be responsible for the children, the Government has to complement their efforts and society should be the watchdog to ensure justice.

Most of the time, it is very difficult to bring Child Rights violators to justice. It is a  herculean task on the part of civil society organisations or government prosecutors. What do you think is denying victims of abuse access to justice?

There are many reasons. First, in a case of abuse, the victim has to report the matter to the police or other security agencies for investigation. But, sometimes and right from the investigation, things seem to go wrong. Some of these violators are well connected. They are influential in society. Some of them have vast knowledge in the justice system. They know where to go and ambush justice. They know the possible place the victims are going to lodge complaints. They will even go there before their arrival. Sometimes, our security agencies have to do proper investigation in this regard. Family of the abused person has to be ready to stand by the victim in challenging their violators.

There are instances where families of victims have swept the cases under the carpet by encouraging the victim to leave it to God or for fear of intimidation. Even if the victim has the courage to take the case up with enough evidence, her family might discourage such a move.

We also have delays in the justice system. It will interest you that from January 2020 to till date, we have only six convictions out of about 406 cases reported to security agencies in the state. We tried as much as possible to get cases in court for prosecution, but it has to be in process. It has been from this point of investigation to another- before getting to the Court. The fact is that, we can’t bypass these processes directly to court. We have police for investigation, the Ministry of Justice for legal advice and so on. It is very difficult to get a speedy conviction in abuse cases. The issue of families, who are not cooperating with us, is another challenge. So, the whole justice system needs to be reformed.

A bill on Child Rights Abuse (CRA) and Violence Against Persons Act (VAPA) are yet to be domesticated in Sokoto State. What are the misconceptions about the bills?

I can’t really say this is the misconception about the two bills because government and civil society organisations are both working assiduously to ensure its passage. What I can say is that, the Child Rights Act has been changed to Child Protection Law. Thank God, we have the support of all the stakeholders, such as government, security agencies, traditional and religious leaders, as well as civil society organisations in the state. We have perfected various documents of these Acts and hopefully, they will go to the State House of Assembly for passage. Also the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act has been worked out. Hopefully, the two acts will be assented to by the governor of the state before the year runs out.

There were laws (both Shari’ah and Conventional laws) already in existence to bring these perpetrators to justice. Are they not enough to protect victims of violence abuse in the state or perhaps, a duplication of the new bills?

Yes, I agree with you that there are laws in place. But issues in the justice system are pushing the laws backward. Also, some of the provisions of these laws are obsolete. What I mean is that, some of the charges for grievous offences are still in kobo and naira. For instance, in a case of a person that physically abuses his victim and permanently causes scar on his/her body, the court can just put a meager cost as fine against the perpetrator. Also, such a fine will be paid to the government, leaving the victim with nothing for restitution. The victim will only be left to carry the scar for a lifetime and you can imagine the trauma that will follow. So, in the Violence Against Persons Act, we requested that the payment should not be for the damage alone, but also to compensate the victim adequately. So, these are some of the charges that these Acts are coming to effect if signed into law.

A Coalition of CSOs is currently championing the domestication of the CRA in Sokoto State. How best is this body facilitating the general acceptability and enactment of the act?

The coalition members are doing a great job in facilitating the acceptability and possible enactment of the two Acts. We really appreciate the effort of the Malala Foundation through YouthHubAfrica, who has been supporting the coalition in achieving this objective. Their effort is going a long way to ensure that we push for the domestication of the laws in Sokoto State. Our appreciation also goes to the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs in Sokoto State for their efforts. I will encourage members of the coalition not to relent in their individual and collective effort to push for the enactment of the two laws in the state.

How soon can we expect Sokoto State to embrace the CRA, being among 11 states left behind in its domestication?

Hopefully, we don’t want to pass this year. All stakeholders have known the value of these laws and are working together for domestication in the state