How Nigeria's justice system frustrates cases of sexual violence against street children – Internatinal Centre For Investigative Reporting

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In Nigeria, children without proper parental guidance have been victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by adults who take advantage of their vulnerability. But the journey to justice is usually long, tedious, and in most cases, perpetrators walk free.
HIS legs could not touch the ground from the chair he sat on, so he swung them absentmindedly, and in a barely audible voice, narrated his experience at the hands of his abuser.
Seven-year-old Usman (real name withheld) spends a lot of time with his friends on the streets of Fadukwe, Niger state.
Though he lived with his parents, many of his peers spend all day hawking or training under a football coach, Jibrin Musa. Occasionally, Usman stay around the streets with them.
One day in October 2021, 30-year-old Musa lured him home under the guise of wanting to send him on an errand.
Oblivious of his intentions, Usman followed Musa home, who tied him up, stuffed his mouth with a rag and raped him.
“When I got to his place, he told me he would send me somewhere and gave me N10. He took me to his room, tied my hands and covered my mouth. He brought out his penis and put it in my anus. I started crying,” he said.
Musa was arrested for abusing the seven-year-old, and though he denied violating the child, medical results show abrasion and laceration in Usman’s anus, which suggest forceful penetration.
According to the state’s child rights agency, a court prosecutor, Abdullahi Miyaki, has been assigned to the case, which is currently being heard at a Magistrate Court located at the High Court Complex, Minna.
The case was adjourned in December, and the hearing will resume by January 2022.
Long wait for justice
Child Sexual Abuse is prevalent in Nigeria, but children pushed into the streets for survival are the worst hit.
While poverty and illiteracy have significantly contributed to the number of street children in Nigeria, religion has also played a significant role through the practice of the Almajiri system.
Originally established to enhance quranic knowledge in children, the idea behind Almajiri schools is now being abused as parents abandon the welfare of their children to the teacher, known as ‘Mallam.’
The mallam, who relies on charity for his own survival, is unable to meet the needs of his students.
In most cases, he sends them out to beg for food, exposing them to various forms of violence, including sexual abuse.
In 2017, seven-year-old Nasir was allegedly raped by a 53-year-old fish seller identified as Mai Kifi in Maraban-Jos, Kaduna state.
He was raped severally until he could no longer control his anal muscles, which had begun to breed live maggots.
According to the National Coordinator of Arridah Relief Foundation Rabi Salisu Ibrahim, who reported the case to the police, the abuse had gone on long before it was detected.
“The child could not tell anybody. He became sick, and they did not take him to the hospital until he could not walk, before they took him to a chemist. We had to intervene to get the man arrested,” she said.
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She told The ICIR that Mai Kifi was initially arraigned before a Magistrate Court in Kaduna and the case was to be transferred to a State High Court.
It, however, did not get to the High Court, and after some time, Mai Kifi was granted bail. He now goes about his fish business, a free man.
“He stayed in prison custody for about 9 months and they gave him bail. They said he was sick in prison. We have not gone to the high court up till today,” she said.
Almost five years later, the case is yet to be presented before a High Court due to delay in the advice from the Department of Public Prosecution of the State’s Ministry of Justice, and Nasir has now been relocated from Kaduna to Katsina, his home town.
She noted that such delays have led to many survivors abandoning court cases, as they often get worn out from the long wait for judgment.
“Ours is to keep motivating the parents to come to court and not drop the case because most of them get tired. At times we have to give them transport money just to make them come to court. But about sixty per cent of them drop the case along the line because of the time frame,” she said.
Abused and threatened 
While justice may be taking too long in Usman and Nasir’s case, many other survivors have it worse, as their abusers never even get arrested, much less appear before a court.
Some are threatened or bullied into silence by their abusers.
Two brothers, Abdul*, 10, and Yusuf*, 12, both residents of Tunga Abdulsalam, told their older sibling Mohammed Ibrahim that the same abuser had violated them.
Ibrahim had fully assumed responsibility for the boys and his five other brothers after the death of their parents.
Due to financial constraints, he could not enrol them all in school, so the two older boys helped him at his suya spot every day.
Business usually went on into the night, and the two brothers found themselves sleeping regularly at the Youth Centre located a short distance from the spot.
On one occasion, Ibrahim had stumbled on his 12-year-old brother engaging in sexual activities with another boy, Ahmed*,15.
Ibrahim learnt that two of his brothers had been introduced to the act by Ahmed’s brother Isa Badamasi, a man in his early thirties.
Ibrahim went to the Niger State Child’s Rights Agency with Yusuf and Ahmed, where he filed a complaint against Badamasi, who had travelled out of Minna at this time.
Upon his return from the agency, he was arrested by officials of Tudun Wada Police station.
Ibrahim said some people in the neighbourhood accused him of kidnapping Ahmed and reported him to the police. He was arrested till almost midnight when he was eventually released.
“Some people reported me at the police station. They locked me up from the morning when I went there till eleven in the night. They got there before me and when someone reports you to the police before you get there, you know you are the one in trouble,” Ibrahim said.
He said all his efforts to inform the police of the abuse yielded no results, and he had gotten a lawyer after his release in an attempt to take the matter further, but that placed him at the receiving end of threats and bullying by Badamasi’s allies.
“I already got a lawyer, but when things changed dimension, some youths gathered at my place. They threatened to scatter my house. One man called me and said ‘Because of Allah, leave these people. Treat your brothers, one day, God will show him’ ” he said.
Realising he was fighting a losing battle, Ibrahim handed over the case to Allah, who he now hopes would bring them justice. Badamasi still works in the same vicinity as Ibrahim, and they see each other every day.
“I knew that I would not get justice. That is why I just left it. Presently, he is where I am working; I see him every day. They did not investigate. I have prayed and left everything to Allah.
“Isa has people backing him. They don’t even know him. I brought him to Minna thirteen years ago. People told me he has been doing this for long. I don’t know. Nobody arrested him,” Ibrahim said.
Findings by The ICIR show that Badamasi had contested under the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Councillorship in Gewaza Local Government Area, Kano, in 2014, though he lost.
In an interview with The ICIR, Badamasi denied abusing either of the boys. He said the allegations were levelled against him because he had stopped working for Ibrahim and set up his suya spot.
“It is a lie. It is because I was doing business for him, but I want to open my own business and he doesn’t like it. He said he doesn’t want to see me in this place, because this is a business place close to him,” he said.
The ICIR contacted the Niger State Police Command on the issue, and the Public Relations Officer, Wasiu Abiodun, promised to look into the matter.
“Give me time to dig into all these. If they had arrested him for alleged kidnapping, I would need to find out if he had informed them of the act they had been perpetrating and what their actions were. If we need to reawaken the case again, we just have to do that,” he said.
However, at the time of filing this report, the issue is still unresolved at the Tudun Wada police station.
Still in Niger state, an eleven-year-old almajiri boy, Yahaya*, was found lying helpless on the streets in Dutsen Kura Gwari one morning in August 2021.
Medical tests sponsored by the state’s Child’s Rights Agency revealed that he had been sexually abused, and he looked malnourished with scars covering most parts of his body.
Currently under the agency’s care, Yahaya has been too traumatised to recall his Almajiri school or his abuser, who is still at large.
Six children, one abuser
While many boys experience sexual abuse in the North, their female counterparts have not been spared.
In Kpakungu, Niger state, 14-year-old Amina* sells ‘wara,’ a local delicacy consumed by many residents of Northern Nigeria.
She developed a ‘friendship’ with Tunde Akinwale, a 45-year-old man with two wives and five children.
Akinwale had nurtured the relationship with Amina till he successfully lured her to his house at Soje, where he had carnal knowledge of her. Amina did not understand that she was being abused. Every time they met, he presented her with a ‘gift’ of N200.
In Nigeria, sexual intercourse between an adult and a person under 18 is prohibited by the Child’s Rights Act. It is immaterial that consent is given or the offender believed the child to be an adult.
Akinwale continued to prey on Amina and had her introduce five other girls to him, all between 12 and 14, who sold various things on the streets of Kpakungu.
As was his style, Akinwale ‘rewarded’ them with N200 or N300 naira each after every encounter.
Speaking with The ICIR, one of the girls, Habiba* who sells ‘fura,’ said Akinwale engaged them in threesomes occasionally.
“I did not know the man, it was Amina that showed me the man. He said I should come to his house. I went with Amina. He said we should lie down on the bed. We lay down. After, he gave us N200 each,” she said.
The ICIR made efforts to reach Akinwale, but his line remained switched off until press time.
Neighbours had reported the abuse to the Niger State Child Rights Agency, where he wrote a statement after which he was arrested.
In the statement, Akinwale admitted to abusing five of the children, but three months after his arrest, officials of the agency say he has not been arraigned before a court yet.
Who is responsible for the Nigerian child?
The Ministry of Women Affairs, which oversees the development of Women in Nigeria, is saddled with the responsibility of child care.
Another agency authorised to handle child welfare cases in Nigeria is the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
The ICIR contacted both organisations to find out if there were communication channels available to street children in the event of sexual violence and the process of getting justice for them.
The Ministry of Women Affairs did not respond to requests for an interview from The ICIR on justice for sexually abused children in Nigeria.
But Assistant Director, Counselling and Rehabilitation Department of the NAPTIP Ogochukwu Adinde said the agency relied on their Investigation Department to rescue children who looked susceptible to violence.
“We have an investigation department that has a surveillance unit. They go out to the streets, especially endemic places. They look out for indicators that show children who are vulnerable to crime and pick them up. If they can’t identify their parents, they bring them to the office,” she said.
They also rely on ‘good samaritans’ to bring in vulnerable children or survivors of sexual violence, who are placed in a shelter run by the agency.
She noted that the NAPTIP had made efforts to create awareness through their Public Enlightenment Department, especially among children in schools.
Adinde also said the agency often contacted churches, mosques, markets and community heads to create more awareness.
While these are commendable efforts, they do not fill the gap between the organisation and street children. Most children have no access to formal education, and where to go after being abused remains a problem.
The position of the law
Nigeria has signed several legal instruments to protect children against sexual abuse, including the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act and the Child’s Rights Act.
While the VAPP Act protects persons against sexual violence, the Child’s Rights Act of 2003 focuses on children.
Section 31(1) of the Child’s Rights Act prohibits sexual intercourse with a child, and an offender is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.
“Where a person is charged with an offence under this section, it is immaterial that, the offender believed the person to be of or above the age of eighteen years; or the sexual intercourse was with the consent of the child.” it states.
Beyond these laws, the Criminal and Penal Codes have existed in Nigeria for decades, prohibiting rape in Nigeria.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees certain fundamental rights to children. However, there is little distinction between children’s rights and those of adults, except in section 17(3), which protects children against exploitation.
But the VAPP and Child’s Rights Acts were established to focus on sexual offences and the rights of a child.
Legal Practitioner at Black Palms Group Redzie Jugo told The ICIR that the Acts provide more clarity on actions that constitute rape, absent in the pre-existing laws.
“The problem with some of the older laws is that there were certain acts that were not considered rape. As evil started to get ingenuous, some of these legislations needed to address these other things,” he said.
Despite the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Nigeria, many states are yet to domesticate these laws.
As of November 2021, only 28 and 18 states out of 36 have domesticated the Child’s Rights Act and the VAPP Act in Nigeria.
This lack of implementation makes a mockery of some of the enacted laws and treaties in the country.
Failure of the justice system
The United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said 25 per cent of girls and one in ten boys in Nigeria are victims of sexual violence.
Only less than five per cent of children who report such violence ever receive any form of support. Despite the high rate of sexual violence in the country, convictions for rape cases in Nigeria is low.
There is no central database for the number of such convictions in Nigeria. However, The ICIR traced 65 rape convictions between 1973 and 2019 through news and law reports, though this list is not exhaustive.
Data from the NAPTIP website also shows low conviction rates in cases of sexual violence.
Out of about 200 cases of sexual abuse and recruitment of persons under eighteen for prostitution reported between 2016 and 2020, only 44 have been fully investigated, and convictions have only been gotten in 26 cases of children recruited for prostitution.
CASES OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE REPORTED AT NAPTIP BETWEEN 2016 AND 2020 scaled
Speaking on the failure of the Nigerian justice system, Co-founder, Young Ambassadors Against Drug Abuse Initiative (YAADAI) Zainab Khaleel said lack of implementation of established laws sets the country behind in the fight against child sexual abuse.
“One of the major challenges I have noticed in the course of this job is the fact that we create laws, but implementation has always been a problem in Nigeria. And if you do not implement policies and laws, then we’ll always continue to be backward,” Zainab said.
Agreeing with the implementation problem, Rabi Salisu Ibrahim also cited the lengthy duration of court proceedings as a factor hindering justice.
“I’m tired of telling stories of rape. I have never called the media to say we have gotten justice anywhere. In Kaduna State, we have good laws but no implementation.
“That process of waiting for case diary from the police and advice from the Ministry of Justice might take five, seven years and most of our cases die silently without seeing the high court. We don’t easily get judgment,” she said.
Founder, Wanda Adu Foundation, Wanda Ebe, told The ICIR that the lack of domestication of the laws against child sexual abuse in some states had been a significant barrier in the fight for justice.
“They’ll tell you that XYZ state has not domesticated the VAPP Act. Most times, justice looks impossible. Are they trying to say that before the VAPP Act sexual violence was allowed? Why do we have to wait before the Act is domesticated before we can do anything?” she asked.
Describing the search for justice as a tough fight, Ebe also identified the lack of synergy between some security agencies as a contributing factor.
“It’s as if there is a power tussle between the police and NAPTIP. It shouldn’t be like that. It has been very tough and challenging even for people who have money to pursue these cases, let alone street children.
“If you take any case to the police, NAPTIP automatically will not attend to that case. It is not supposed to be so. There is supposed to be partnership between these people,” she said.
But Adinde disagreed, saying there was a strong relationship between their team and other security agencies.
“We have very strong synergy with the police. There is no such rivalry, we have a great relationship with them,” she said.
She, however, noted that there were indeed specific challenges that limit the chances of justice, including lack of funds to expand zonal offices across all states in Nigeria and incessant court strikes.
“Conviction rates are also low because sometimes the courts go on strike and all cases go on standstill. There is nothing we can do,” she said.
Nigeria had declared a state of emergency on rape in 2020, but Director Amnesty International Osai Ojigho described it as an ‘empty declaration, saying the failure of security agencies to investigate rape cases has resulted in further injustice and a culture of silence.
Ojigho noted that though rape now operates at a crisis level in Nigeria, it is still being treated with levity.
“Women and girls continue to be failed by a system that makes it increasingly difficult for survivors to get justice while allowing perpetrators to get away with gross human rights violation,” she said.
FG’s unfulfilled promise
The Nigerian government had identified long trials as one reason victims of sexual violence never get justice.
On several occasions, the government promised to establish specialised courts to ensure speedy trials of rape cases, but very little has been done beyond promises.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami spoke on the specialised courts during a press briefing in June 2020.
He also announced the government’s intention to conclude rape cases in record time through specialised courts at an international event organised by the United Nations in March 2021.
During his independence speech in October 2021, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari also reiterated this promise, but as the year comes to an end, there has not been enough action to match all the promises made in the past eighteen months.
Way forward
Speaking on possible solutions to the issue, Zainab Khaleel told The ICIR that there was a need to create safe spaces for street children.
She called for the education of street children on the Childs Rights Act and the establishment of emergency numbers in the event of abuse.
“They need to be educated first and foremost about their rights. There should be an emergency phone line that children can also reach. Even if a child is on the streets and uneducated, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to use a phone.
“We need to create safe places. These are places where these children can be taken and rehabilitated, given psycho-social support, so that at least when they come out they are empowered. They need to be taken off the streets,” she said.
She also identified the need to have data on children who have faced sexual abuse in Nigeria to enable relevant authorities, address the issue adequately.
For President Twin and I foundation Aisha Umoru, relevant security agencies had to be trained and enlightened on how best to handle cases of sexual violence, especially against children.
“I keep saying the police needs to be enlightened. I can’t take a child to you and say she’s abused and then you ask her ‘did you not enjoy it?’ ” she said.
Umoru also noted that shelters for homeless children were scarce within the country and decried the state of existing shelters. She called for the construction of child-friendly shelters and likened those available to prison cells.
“Some of them sleep on the floor. Women Affairs has one, I think they say it’s a women shelter. NAPTIP has one also. But there is no particular shelter for an abused child,” she said.
She noted that the absence of shelters for abused children made matters worse because many survivors remain on the streets, vulnerable to recurrent abuse.
“If we had places to put these children, they don’t have to go back. But we don’t,” she said
Director-General, Niger State’s Child Rights Agency Mariam Kolo suggested that parents be educated on reproduction, especially where there is a lack of resources to raise many children.
She also said parents whose children are in almajiri schools should provide basic needs to remove the element of begging from the almajirinci.
“By intense sensitisation, you need to be aware of the number of children you produce; you cannot throw them out to any Islamic school without adequate protection and adequate food.
“When the parents are aware they cannot do that, the issue of marrying too many wives and too many children will be drastically reduced. Because the community now will play its role by not accepting them into any almajiri school without those measures in place,” she said.
*Real names were withheld to protect the identity of survivors
Support for this story was provided by the Media and Gender Project of Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism #CREATESAFESPACES.





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