Monday, 9 November 2009

The Price Of Hospitality

Cases of rape and prevalent rate of HIV/AIDS infection are on the increase in Cross River State. This is blamed on the influx of visitors to the state because of its tourism potentials and the behavioural attitude of the people

By Increase Abasi-Ubong

The tourism potentials, which gave rise to the annual Christmas festival in Calabar, Cross River State is turning out to be a source of worry to people of the state. Research has shown that sexual violence and prevalence of the dreaded human immuno-deficiency virus, HIV, have been on the increase in the state. The research conducted by Network to Curb Sexual Abuse, NECUSA, a coalition of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, with membership drawn from the state ministry of justice, Medical Women Association, Nigeria Bar Association, the media and the police revealed that cases of sexual violence is on the increase in Cross River State. The research indicates that girls and women in the state are no longer safe as they are potential rape victims. “Results have shown that there is a very high incidence of sexual violence where this research was carried out. In five of the six communities, it happens almost on a daily basis and the major perpetrators of sexual abuse are neighbours, strangers and even fathers to daughters.”
Because of the serene atmosphere in Cross River State, blue chip companies, business concerns and government establishments at all levels view the state as a safe haven to hold conferences, workshops and annual general meetings. The annual Christmas carnival has also attracted many visitors and fun seekers to the state. This exposes young girls and women in Cross River State to sexual abuse and harassment. A source at the State Action Committee on AIDS, SACA, told this magazine that the prevalent rate of HIV/AIDS in Cross River State is rising astronomically. Few years ago, the prevalence rate was about 6.1 percent. It has now gone up to about eight percent. This magazine gathered that more people are at risk of being infected with the virus because of the behavioural approach of the people especially in rural areas.
NECUSA also noted that, “there is a high incidence of sexual abuse by religious leaders in these communities,” adding that the victims are largely from poor background and of very young ages of between 11 and 15 years. Men, according to the research, are not spared. It said men are also being abused by women sexually. “It is striking to note that the case of men being abused has been identified although it is minimal.”
The rapists capitalise on the ignorance of their victims to go scot free. Majority of the victims are ignorant of the existence of the laws protecting girls and women from all forms of abuse while the enlightened victims most times lack the resources to seek legal redress.
Stigmatisation is also one of the reasons rape victims often do not want to seek legal redress. “Most victims of sexual abuse do not report it because they do not know how or where they can do so. Some of them are not only scared of the perpetrators, but are also afraid of being asked questions by law enforcement agents. Most of the time, the families of the victims are not even ready to pursue the case to a logical end,” the research added.
The coordinator of Girl Power Initiative, GPI, Professor Bene Madunagu blamed the escalating cases of violent abuse of girls and women on the Nigerian legal system. She told this magazine that the punishment prescribed by the law for rapists is not weighty enough to deter offenders. “Paying fine is the most common form of punishment for sexual abusers and the fines range from N2, 000 to N5, 000; and very few (rapists) are jailed. If the case happens to get to the police, they (culprits) are bailed and set free.”
An official of the department of public prosecution of the state ministry of justice decried the spate of violence against girls and women in Cross River State. The official who pleaded anonymity however, debunked claims that the state ministry of justice has not prosecuted cases of rape successfully. He said the department of public prosecution has prosecuted and got rapists convicted for the crime, adding that the department is however handicapped as most of the cases are not brought to the attention of the ministry of justice. “We have the Citizen Right's Department which handles such cases and we advice victims of sexual violence to report to the police and also notify the department of such cases. Once the matter is reported to us, we will ensure that the police investigate the matter and hand the case over to us for prosecution.” He was optimistic that with the passage of the Child Rights Act into law, there is no hiding place for violators of the rights of girls in the state.

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