Measure to Punish Rapists with Castration Raises Concern in Nigeria

Nigerian lawmakers in the northwestern state of Kaduna have approved a measure to castrate men convicted of raping children under the age of 14. The controversial law comes in the wake of public outrage over the rising number of rape cases in recent months. But while supporters praise the new law as a move to defend women and children, some human rights activists say it is too harsh and may even fail to deter perpetrators.It’s a typical lonely day for thirteen-year-old Amina,  (not her real name), in a safe house located in Rigasa area of Kaduna state. She was brought here one month ago after being raped by three men from her neighborhood.     
 
She feeds her pet cat as she recounts her ordeal.    “I was hanging around the shops, I didn’t want to go inside the house because my stepmom was beating me. They called me and gave me a drink and then raped me,” she said.  Amina is not the only girl being held here. Her roommate, also a teenage girl, said she had been molested by her own father. Amina says she’s even more upset because her father, a police officer, dismissed the case after being bribed by her attackers. “I feel bad that my dad did that,” she said.  But Amina’s case has been re-opened with help from Samira Modibbo — a Kaduna-based activist who is one of the coordinators of the state-led campaign against rape.  The three men have been re-arrested and are awaiting judgement.  They could be among the first to be surgically castrated under a new law punishing rapists of children under the age of 14, says Modibbo.  “Anyone that could rape a child does not deserve to live. And I actually stand by that because it takes a monster to be able to do that. There are a lot of things that comes with the sexual assault of kids. It’s not just about the emotional damages. There are physical damages and sometimes for the rest of their lives,”  she said. 
Nigeria’s federal law provides between 14 years and life imprisonment as punishment for rape, but states can set different sanctions. Human rights lawyer Okoro Kelechi argues the new law is too harsh and may fail to address the issue.      “I don’t think surgical castration addresses the root problem of rape because rape occurs more in the mind than in the act. I like to look at it as something that is more psychological. It goes beyond the sex. So, it’s not about the utensil or the tool used to achieve sexual pleasure,”  he said.
 
Local aid agencies in Kaduna say over 400 cases of rape were reported in the state during the coronavirus lockdown. No one knows whether many more states in Nigeria will adopt this new law. But activists like Madibbo say they will remain vigilant to ensure children are protected and offenders are held accountable.     

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