The Nigeria government has introduced a strategic move to combat the alarming surge in cases of rape and other types of gender-based violence within schools nationwide. This proactive approach, launched in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Federal Ministry of Education, involves the implementation of a comprehensive set of guidelines known as the ‘Standard Operating Procedure for the Prosecution of Perpetrators of School-Related Gender-Based Violence Cases’. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provided funding for the realization of this project.
School-Related Gender-Based Violence (SRGBV) encompasses acts of Gender Based Violence that take place within the context of schools, in their vicinity, or as a consequence of interpersonal school associations. It materializes due to prevailing gender norms or stereotypes and is driven by imbalanced power dynamics, as stated by UNESCO. Physical violence, sexual violence, and psychological violence are all encompassed within SRGBV. It can be cases of verbal abuse, abuse enacted by teachers which can involve excessive use of physical punishment, sexual harassment or coercion, bullying by peers, rape, physical assault, sexual assault, and discrimination, among various other forms of mistreatment.
Victims of SRGBV suffer severe repercussions.
Speaking during the introduction of the Standard Operating Procedure in Abuja, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Prince Lateef Fagbemi stated that there is a widespread prevalence of SRGBV in primary and secondary schools across all regions of the country. According to him, victims of School-Related Gender-Based Violence suffer severe repercussions, leading to a decline in their self-confidence, emotional distress like depression, premature and unintended pregnancy, transmission of sexually transmitted infections, as well as interruptions or halting their educational pursuits. It also amplifies the likelihood of victims falling prey to or engaging in violence in the future.
Nevertheless, he voiced his discontent over the dire situation where individuals who suffer from School-Related Gender-Based Violence are frequently denied any means to seek retribution against those who harm them, due to the prevailing culture of silence and victim-blaming that obscures this form of violence. Nowadays, perpetrators merely face administrative repercussions, with the most severe outcome being suspension or termination, while being rarely held accountable through legal prosecution for their abominable acts. He further stated that it is our collective responsibility to directly address this widespread problem and guarantee that those responsible for it are promptly and firmly held accountable.
This initiative aims to incorporate SRGBV into national policies.
He argues that the introduction of the Standard Operating Procedure signifies a significant achievement in the endeavour to tackle School-Related Gender-Based Violence with utmost effectiveness. Our objective is to expedite the legal proceedings, improve collaboration between pertinent parties involved, and ultimately ensure retribution for victims by offering comprehensive instructions and protocols for the prosecution of offenders. The AGF stated that the implementation of the Standard Operating Procedure will guarantee an effective approach towards addressing the issue of SRGBV. This will involve successfully prosecuting those responsible while also developing a comprehensive multi-sectoral response to aid schools in dealing with such cases.
One of the main objectives of the initiative is to enhance the process of child-sensitive investigations, prosecutions, and court proceedings related to School-Related Gender-Based Violence. It aims to incorporate national policies and education sector plans. This includes implementing a monitoring and evaluation system to assess progress in addressing SRGBV cases. It strives to raise awareness amongst all important stakeholders about SRGBV and the pathways for referring cases. The initiative also aims to define professional practice and ensure adherence to it in terms of confidentiality, uphold information sharing protocols, maintain accurate records of sensitive information, and prevent conflicts of interest.
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Fagbemi pointed out the Federal Government’s steadfast dedication towards safeguarding children and fostering secure educational settings. Each child deserves an education that is devoid of any form of fright, coercion, or aggression. Hence, we must exhaust all possible endeavours to protect this fundamental entitlement and ensure that those who attempt to infringe upon it are duly answerable for their actions, he added. For effective implementation of the Standard Operating Procedure, he called on all stakeholders, such as law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judicial officers, educators, civil society organizations, and others, to acquaint themselves with its provisions.