Chibok Girls – Gender Violence and Human Rights

OPINION

ON Monday, April 14, 2014 over 200 young female students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State were abducted by Boko Haram members, sending shock waves across the globe. It is believed that the gunmen took the girls to the Sambisa forest near the Cameroonian border.

Ever since, it has been a litany of tales regarding the fate of the kidnapped girls. It suffices to state that the tales indicate grave violations of international and domestic laws as well as an affront on the rights of the abducted girls.

One of the mothers of the missing Chibok school girls wipes her tears as she cries during a rally by civil society groups pressing for the release of the girls in Abuja on May 6, 2014, ahead of World Economic Forum. Members of civil society groups marched through the streets of Abuja and to the Nigerian defence headquarters. AFP

The Child Rights Act sets out the rights of the child as right to survival and development; right to name, freedom of association and peaceful assembly; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; right to private and family life; right to freedom of movement; right to freedom from discrimination; right to dignity of the child; right to leisure, recreation and cultural activities; right to health and health services; right to parental care, protection and maintenance, and right of a child to free, compulsory and universal primary education, among others.

Forced marriages

Most of these rights are undoubtly guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

In line with the above rights as guaranteed by the CRA and consistent with the tales relating to the abducted girls, it is safe to say that not only are several of these rights being denied the girls, several crimes are also being committed against them. These include rape, forced marriages, forced labour, false imprisonment, child trafficking, kidnapping, and perhaps murders, to name a few.

For starters, 16-year-old Comfort Bulus who was reported to have escaped from the Sambisa camp said that some of the girls were raped and forced to convert to Islam. Those who refused had their throats cut. This is a clear violation of their right to life as well as the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Specifically, the Child Rights Act makes copious provisions on abduction of children. Section 27 of the Act states that “(1) No person shall remove or take a child out of the custody or protection of his father or mother, guardian or such other person having lawful care or charge of the child against the will of the father, mother, guardian or other person.”

It adds that “(2) A person who contravenes the provisions of subsection (1) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction (a) where the child is unlawfully removed or taken out of Federal Republic of Nigeria (i) with intention to return the child to Nigeria, to imprisonment for a term of fifteen years; or (ii) with no intention to return the child to Nigeria, to imprisonment for a term of twenty years; b) where the child is unlawfully removed or taken out of the State in which the father, mother, guardian or such other person who has lawful care of the child is ordinarily resident, to imprisonment for a term of ten years; or (c) in any case, to imprisonment for a term of seven years.”

Protest against the abduction of the Chibok female students spread to Ogun and Ondo states from Lagos and Abuja, yesterday. Above: Protesters marching to the office of the Lagos State Governor in Lagos. Below left: Protesters in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Below right: Protests in Ondo. Photos: Bunmi Azeez.

The Act also prohibits child marriage (section 21), child labour (section 28), and unlawful sexual intercourse with a child (section 31). Apart from the core issue of terrorism which traverses the entire gamut of the debacle, it is imperative to situate the crisis in its proper legal context. In line with accounts reportedly narrated by some of the girls who escaped the kidnapping, they are being subjected to rape by the insurgents. Indeed, some stated that it was these grievous acts that made them to risk their lives by daring to escape.

It is also reported that the girls were being subjected to doing domestic chores such as cooking and washing plates for the insurgents. There are also accounts to the effect that some of the girls are either being married off to the insurgents, or are being given out in marriages for a fee to other nationals.

Human trafficking

Indeed, Boko Haram has threatened to sell the girls. Aside from the fact that this connotes forced marriage, some human rights groups have rightly observed that this borders on sex slavery and human trafficking. There are strong indications that these forced marriages had been going on for sometime now.

Hajiya Fatima Zanna, founder of the Purple Heart Foundation, a non-governmental organisation based in Borno State, said recently that in Gwange Ward, Bama town and other parts of the state, terrorists usually storm family compounds to abduct the girls they wanted. They would then throw either N2000 or N3000 into the affected compound as the ‘bride price’ for each girl that was taken captive.

While Section 35 (1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty” and sets out the parameters under which such right can be derogated from, the kidnapping of the Chibok girls apparently does not come under any of the stated exceptions. Their constitutional rights have therefore been breached.

Further, Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution provides that “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.” This right is presently under threat as it relates to the kidnapped girls. It also bears no repeating that their right to freedom of movement has been abrogated by the insurgents while their being subjected to menial chores deprives them of the right to dignity of human persons. It also amounts to forced labour.

However, the right to education has come under the severest of attacks with the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, leading to a fractured education system. It has been reported that “either out of school or in school, minors under the state of emergency have become terrified of the pervading insecurity. There are plans to fortify the schools when they eventually reopen, the abduction of Chibok girls has ensured that the children are scared of the classroom.” Indeed, that is the goal of the insurgents.

This state of siege is bound to adversely impact the growth and development of these school girls, especially the girls who are routinely married off at a very tender age. It also exposes them to all manner of developmental hardships when compared with their peers. Only recently, Lagos State Deputy Governor stated that more women in the state “have access to education, work and political participation.

More girls are now going to school, with primary enrolment rates approaching 90 percent.

Maternal mortality

This has positive implication for other aspects of their lives, and is in fact good for all of us, including male gender.” She further observed that maternal mortality has declined by 50 percent, adding that “educated women and girls now make informed decisions about their health and lives. They claim their rights and contribute more fully to their families and communities.” Juxtaposed against the plight of the Chibok girls, the grim picture is thrown into bold relief.

Amnesty International records that in October last year, about 70 teachers and more than 100 school children lost their lives in Borno State due to insurgency attacks. Over 800 classrooms were burnt down.

In Yobe State, 209 schools have been destroyed. There were reports that after killing over 40 male students at a school, the insurgents warned the female survivors to go and get married and ditch their quest for western education. UNICEF said recently that it was “deeply concerned about the persistent trend of attacks on schools in Nigeria.

Most recently, unidentified gunmen killed 53 children between 13 and 17 years old at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, in February.”

The growing incidence of gender-based violence no doubt constitutes a serious threat to gender development and equality globally. Women’s rights are constantly under assault thereby undermining gender rights, equality and development.

It is estimated that one in three women is subject to violence over the course of her lifetime, even as gender mutilation and child marriages persist. This is coupled with the vicissitudes of Nigerian customary law which generally tends to subjugate the girl-child. It behoves on government to provide adequate security especially in the North East zone of the country to enable children return to schools, even as efforts must be made to rescue the Chibok girls and reunite them with their families. To do otherwise is to hand the initiative to the insurgents.

Concerted efforts should also be made by government towards targeting the MDGs to enhance the quality of life particularly in the North East.

-Mrs. Adekoya (SAN) is a respected lawyer and former NBA 1st Vice President/National Treasurer

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