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Nigeria Groups Want To Criminalize Domestic Violence Against Women - 2001-08-08

After two years of civil rule in Nigeria, women's groups want the Laws reviewed to make domestic violence against women a crime.

It's estimated that one in every ten Nigerian women is a victim of violence. The figure comes from the NGO called Project Alert on Violence against Women. It includes wife battery, female child abuse, and intimate murders - that is, killings done by husbands or boyfriends.

The group says the brutal treatment of women is common because there are no clear laws protecting them against domestic violence. The Executive Director of Project Alert, Josephine Effah-Chukuma, says lawmakers should create such laws.

"Laws need to be enacted to give legal teething to this issue of violence against women basically domestic violence. Right now domestic violence is a civil matter. It is not a crime, you know. And then when you go to the police to report, the police keep complaining that they don't have laws that give them the power or the strength to go in and prosecute, except in case of grievous bodily harm or murder. Then it is too late, the life is lost and then it becomes a murder case."

Mrs. Effah-Chukuma also says there should be Laws to review some aspects of cultural practices that encourage violence against women. For example, she says widows are often suspected of having killed their husbands and are forced to undergo certain rituals to prove their innocence.

"They have to now use various means of making sure she is innocent. And this includes drinking the water used in bathing the corpse, making her jump over the corpse, making her stay with the corpse all night, crying out early in the morning and all those things which are very very inhuman. So we need to include them in our laws that these things are wrong. Widows should not be treated like this. They are human beings."

Mrs. Effah-Chukuma says women's groups have formed a coalition to lobby the Nigerian parliament to enact legislation to protect women against violence.

Project Alert is also taking steps to provide for the immediate needs of victims. It has launched a shelter project called Sophia's place to provide temporary housing.

Another N-G-O that supports the shelter project is the Women's Consortium of Nigeria. It's headed by Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi.

"Trying to set up a center is going to help in the sense that a lot of women suffer in silence and it aggravates the violence. May be starting from when we talk about domestic violence, family violence, it starts from battery but it can end up in acid bathing which can cause loss of life of victims. So if we have a place where they can be safe for some time, it may give time to cool down and be an opportunity again for counseling not only for the women but also for the men."

Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi says the very fact that such a shelter is needed shows that more efforts should be put into reforming the law to protect women against violence.

Constitutional rights lawyers say the on-going review of the constitution is an opportunity to enact laws that will make all forms of violence against women a crime.