Campaigners have hailed the launch of Nigeria’s first sex offender register as a vital step towards tackling reported cases of sexual abuse, which are rising across the country.
The publicly accessible online register of people prosecuted for sexual violence since 2015 will allow public bodies and police authorities to conduct background checks and identify repeat offenders.
Oluwaseun Osowobi, the director of Stand To End Rape, a Nigerian non-government organisation that supports survivors of sexual violence, said: “If a case is reported anywhere in the country, the case is now on the register. It means that offenders have nowhere to hide.”
Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, along with 15 non-governmental organisations, supported by the British Council, will monitor reported cases of sexual abuse, providing monthly updates to the online register.
“This is the first of its kind in Nigeria”, said Beatrice Jedy-Agba, the executive secretary of the agency. “It enables bodies such as schools [and] hospitals to conduct background checks and it will deter sex offenders because they will know their names will be published, affecting their employment and role in society.”
Data on the number of reported cases is scarce in Nigeria, where patriarchal traditions stigmatise people who come forward. According to Unicef, one in four girls in the country have experienced sexual violence by the age of 18 and hardly any receive any form of support.
In Lagos, one of only two of Nigeria’s 36 states to document sexual offenders before now, the most frequently assaulted group are children, many of whom are abused by relatives or family friends known to them, according to police authorities.
Police and support groups say the number of reported cases in Africa’s most populous country has risen rapidly in recent years.
As the number of cases has risen, failings in the criminal justice system have let down victims, many of whom report stigmatisation by authorities, exposure to their alleged abusers, and a low likelihood of prosecution.
Under the new system, sexual referral centres run by NGOs will be able to feed in data they collect on recorded incidents into the register, strengthening cases during prosecution.
Osowobi said: “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.”
According to Stand To End Rape, which supports people who report sexual abuse and provides counselling services, the majority of sexual abuse cases are not prosecuted in Nigeria.
“Cases of sexual abuse are not prosecuted for flimsy reasons,” Osowobi said. “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.”