Speaking at the launch, which coincided with the global celebration of the International Day for Eradication of Violence against Women, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiyya Farouq, said, “The register will serve as a strategy to stop those engaged in violence against women.”
On her part, the keynote speaker and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leymah Roberta of Liberia, highlighted the importance of having a national sex register.
In her words, “perpetrators-old, young, unemployed men- still roam freely in our communities as if nothing ever happened. It has become a normalised thing in almost all countries; women and girls continue to be hunting ground for bored, unemployed, retired and old men who cause harm to these people by violating them sexually.
“Today marks a historic day in the feminist calendar of the Federal Republic of Nigeria- the launch of the Sexual Offender Register. This day, I hope and pray, marks the end of the impunity in the fight against rape and gender-based sexual abuse. No longer will girls and women be violated in the name of financial assistance.”
Why a National Sex Register is a big deal
In June 2019, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported a growing increase in sexual violence against women from 2015–2017 based on data provided by the Nigerian Police Force and the Ministry of Justice.
According to a 2017 report by the United Nations children agency (UNICEF), one in four Nigerian women is sexually abused by before they turn 18 while a national survey done in 2014 found that only 38% of people who suffered sexual violence as children told anyone about it.
Finally having a database of all those prosecuted for sexual violence since 2015 means Nigerians are finally holding perpetrators accountable and taking an important step towards tackling abuse against women. This move encourages more people to speak up against sexual offenders.
Names in the sex offenders register will be restricted from getting jobs or travelling abroad. They will also be available online to ordinary citizens to better help the public, state bodies and police conduct background checks and identify repeat offenders.
The register comes with a service provider register that allows people to report new offenders through an electronic-based system and a section for suspects cleared of sexual allegations that is only available to law enforcement agencies.
The register, funded mainly by the European Union, will be managed by Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking Persons and an initial group of 15 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
Still more work to be done
In a country where women are blamed and questioned, while their perpetrators are exonerated, Nigeria needs to do more to fight the normalised rape culture and the poor record of persecution.
According to Oluwaseun Osowobi, the director of Stand To End Rape, a Nigerian non-government organisation that supports survivors of sexual violence, “We have cases where victims are being questioned in front of the perpetrators or in open spaces and criticised by officers for not remembering details like the road where the rape occurred."
“Cases of sexual abuse are not prosecuted for flimsy reasons. How police collect data is unprofessional and archaic. Police regularly misplace case-files or evidence. Eventually, victims become exhausted by the system and give up.”
Naming perpetrators a National Sex Offenders Register is great but it is still just the first step to putting an end to sexual violence.