In order to foster effective collaboration and synergy among partners of the Mirabel Centre, a one day partners meeting was held for the different agencies involved in child protection in Lagos State. The meeting gave partners the opportunity to exchange ideas, share experiences and identify areas for greater collaboration.
During the plenary session on the Lagos State law on rape which forms the
basis for the disaggregated data that was presented, the following issues were
*Defilement of minor diminishes the gravity of the offence. It should be called rape not defilement
*Legislation is outdated; it needs to meet modern trends-for instance criminalizing male rape;
Legislation can be changed and Lagos state is setting the trend; the Criminal Law of Lagos State under Section 254 provides life imprisonmentfor rape cases, section 258 defines what constitutes defilement of a girl while section 137 talk about a child. These sections are easier to use than other chapters when dealing with rape cases even though the sections do not use the word “rape”
*The conviction rate of rape cases will encourage others in taking legal action against perpetrators and that;
*Familiarity is the main cause of children sexual assault or defilement since
it is usually committed either by a family member of someone close to the family.
Building Synergy: Roles and Responsibilities
During this session, partners shared experiences and addressed challenges face in
their work which was not too different from those experienced at the centre. The Challenges are as follows:
*there has been an increased domestic violence reports affecting children in the media and Lagos state has a law addressing Children
*Ministry of Women’s Affairs in one case received cases of almost 20 children being abused by one person. Parents should be careful of what type of
messages they are sending out to their children and censor they type of movies their children are exposed to;
*Mirabel Centre eases the work of organizations working on sexual violence issues; however, there was no indication regarding the number of sex offenders on the data sheet presented apart from stating the relationship between the perpetrators with the victim. Occupations, names and addresses of alleged perpetrators should be indicated in their data to expose perpetrators;
Education and awareness creation is the key to reducing underage sexual assault. Children should be educated to call their body parts as it is. For instance, pet names such as “peewee ”should not be substituted for penis or for the vagina.
*School advocacy is crucial in tackling abuse of children because kids are more likely to confide in school counselors than parents,school counsellors should break their confidentiality and report to law enforcement agents if they are counseling perpetrators;
*Teachers should be trained to identify symptoms of abuse in their wards and ensure their wards receive necessary support at the centre;
*PJ should involve CSOs in their community engagement and school advocacy
Mirabel centre to partner with likeminded international agencies such as UNICEF in tackling issues of underage child abuse;
*Poverty is one of the root causes of child sexual abuse. Child hawkers are exposed to abuse and children left at home while parents are working are also at risk of being abused by neighbors;
*The state government has provided social workers in all the local government
areas in the state where cases of sexual abuse of minor can be reported for child protection and other necessary support;
*Awareness on the part of parents on how to effectively guide the child through life is also important;
*The culture of impunity which is very prevalent in our society is the root cause of all evils. Attitude of the society has to change and anyone breaking the law should pay for it because it is the lawful thing to do.
*Environmental scanning is very effective in identifying strategic partnership to ensure sustainability of the centre; this will complement the services of the centre;
*Partnership for Justice should ensure that the media understand the rule of engagement while working with media. For instance,ensure that the media does not publish the name and photographs of victims while reporting stories relating to sexual abuse;
Sex education should be intensified in schools to ensure awareness of symptoms
of child abuser or pedophiles;
*No accurate data of prosecution of rape cases; Some clients have given up on the legal process and system
*The laws should be amended to ensure profiling and exposure of sexual offenders to ensure identifying pedophiles in the society and give respite to victims;
*There is presently no statute of limitation on rape anymore in Lagos state; the two months limit does not apply anymore;
*In 15 years of service at the family court magistrate, only one rape case has led to conviction and that was because the perpetrator confessed to the crime. If he had recanted his confession there would have been no conviction.
*The law should be amended to make it unlawful for anyone who interferes in investigation by coming to plead on behalf of the perpetrator; such a person should be charged with interference and prosecuted;
*At the end of the meeting, the office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Public Defender took up the challenge of liaising with the government on behalf of the Centre to ensure that some of challenges faced by the Centre are solved. The urgency of engaging the government with the different requests was emphasized as the present administration will come to an end in 2015.