In a bid to curb the prevalent sexual harassment in educational institutions, the Nigerian Senate passed the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2020, this issue-brief highlights some key provisions under the bill and provides a critique on why the bill may be inchoate.
Issue-Brief | Elizabeth Nwarueze
Advancing the rights of women in society is an integral part of the sustainable development goals and as we celebrate the effort of countries to promote the inclusion of women in the affairs of the society, we admit that there is still a wide breadth to run.
For developing countries; especially in Africa, the statistics are saddening. World Economic Forum in its 2020 Global Gender Gap Report reveals that Rwanda stands as the only country that has climbed the ladder of gender equality, while gender equality in Nigeria remains at a declining 30%. Unfortunately, Nigeria has enforced no enthusiastic measures to lean towards inclusion and crawled towards passing the Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEEO Bill)since 2016, despite the fact that gender discrimination increases geometrically.
More recently, an investigation was carried out on how women were made tools for sexual gratification in return for grades at famous universities in Nigeria and Ghana. This documentary revealed only a tip of the iceberg as to the myriads of appalling sexual harassment scandals that sit in various citadels of learning in Nigeria. That investigation led to the re-introduction of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill which has so far outlived the infantile mortality of the GEEO Bill, to the delight of the nation.
The Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal of Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Bill, 2019 is titled “A Bill for an Act to prevent, prohibit and redress Sexual Harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions, and for matters concerned therewith, 2019”. It also aims at criminalizing sexual abuse in such institutions with a term of 14 years imprisonment and the Bill addresses the constant exploitation of the concept of mutual consent, as a permissible defence by an offender. By targeting both offenders and violators of remediation measures, the Bill seeks to establish a new threshold for morality and sanity in tertiary institutions across Nigeria.
An upside to this Bill is that it provides a much-needed response to a deep-seated menace in the country. Sexual harassment in tertiary institutions in Nigeria is on the rise and this menace largely goes unchecked and is mostly underreported due to the administrative inefficiency and indifference of institutions and the absence of adequate laws.* The proposed law entrenches it into the legal sphere that this crime is recognized and punishable.
In addition to this, another novelty of the law is the recognition and legal backing it gives to the compulsory formation of an independent Sexual Harassment Prohibition Committee which is to comprise 7 members. The institution, in partnership with the Committee, is tasked with the responsibility of receiving allegations of sexual harassment or allegations under the Bill and has 45 working days to reach a final written decision. The Committee has powers to dismiss or reduce the rank of an educator and reasons for the dismissal or reduction must be stated in writing and given to all the parties, or such sanctions as may be appropriate; the decision is subject to judicial review by the educator. The Bill also makes it a crime to falsely accuse an educator and provides for the protection of students from victimization following a report.
Further advantages of this Bill include the departure from the narrow definition of rape victims under the Criminal Code Act; by providing that the term “student” refers to any person enrolled in any educational or training programs of a tertiary educational institution or post-secondary institution. This means that even male students may validly make complaints under this Law when passed. Furthermore, unlike the narrow definition of sexual intercourse that can legally ground a charge for rape in Nigeria, the Bill provides that “sexual intercourse” means penetration of a sexual nature of the vagina or anus or mouth of the student by the penis or mouth or finger of the educator or any instrument or toy by the educator and for this purpose, a male student can be sexually harassed by a female educator. Thus, anal or oral sex or the penetration of any student using any object asides the male sexual organ will be recognized as an offence under this Law.
The scope the Bill affords is again limited in its applicability. The Bill is specifically tailored to manage cases of sexual harassment in universities and all post-secondary institutions in Nigeria. However, the rate of harassment cases in pre-tertiary institutions is on the rise. According to the Mirabel Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Lagos between July 2013 and April 2020, 97% of victims are female and 81% are minors. 75% of assaults are a defilement of a child and 18% are rape. Due to the fact that this is the age during which such children may be in primary or secondary schools, they become more vulnerable without more structured laws criminalizing harassment in pre-tertiary institutions.
This Bill fails to respond to the full spectrum of sexual harassment cases and it's many variations; leaving the uncovered areas to be handled under the purview of the Child Rights Act (“CRA”) or Law. Unfortunately, the Child Rights regime in Nigeria is placed as a residual matter on the legislative list leaving it to depend on states’ domestication of the law for the protection of children. By December 2019, only about 24 out of 36 states have domesticated the Law, leaving about 12 states without a Child Rights Law – especially in the Northern parts of the country where acts proscribed by the CRA are on the increase. Furthermore, even in states where the Child Right’s Law has been domesticated, there is yet a gap in legal protection for children who are 18 years and above in pre-tertiary institutions. No specific law covers the vulnerability of these persons up until they officially get into a tertiary institution.
Widen the Scope!
The problems that would arise from this lacuna in the scope of application of the Bill admits for more problems and only scratches the surface in terms of efforts being made to tackle the menace. Admittedly, the Bill which has passed the third reading at the Senate is a welcome development in the war against sexual harassment and on the need to embrace gender balance while fighting to reduce the menace of sexual harassment. However, it is advisable to extend the application of this Bill to pre-tertiary institutions to ensure that no stone is left unturned. It is hoped that the scope of this Bill will be extended to cover all academic institutions and learning centres in the country because as it is said the Bill is empowered to stabilize society by criminalizing acts that yield no societal good.
* Onoyase A.; “Prevalence of Sexual Harassment of Female Students of Tertiary Education in Taraba State, North-East Nigeria: Implications for Counselling”; International Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 8, No. 1; 2019
This issue brief was provided by Elizabeth Nwarueze | Research Analyst, Gender & Inclusion | email@example.com
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