Nigeria to approve life in jail for rapists and underage sex

The new Nigerian Sexual Offences Bill, 2015, which prescribes life imprisonment for rapists and child sex abusers, is expected to be passed by Nigeria's House of Representatives tomorrow.

The new bill aims to provide comprehensive legislation against a number of sex offences in the country. As well as prescribing life imprisonment to those convicted of having sex with a child under 11, the bill also recommends this punishment for those convicted of gang rape and those who deliberately pass the HIV virus to unknowing victims.

For a wide range of other sexual offences, such as the prostitution of those with mental disabilities, child sex tourism and pornography, incest and sexual harassment or assault, the bill prescribes various lengthy prison sentences of up to 14 years and a fine of two million Nigerian Naira (approximately €9,000).

The bill also includes the introduction of the first, comprehensive sexual offenders database in Nigeria. Chris Anyanwu, who sponsored the bill told journalists: "Offenders would never be employed in any institution where they may pose a risk to unsuspecting persons."

However, the new bill has attracted criticism from children's rights groups and prominent Nigerian politicians. Femi Fami-Keyode, a former member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and former personal assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo, sarcastically tweeted:

Dr Emile Secker, prevention and protection manager at Safe Child Africa, a charity that works with Nigerian partners to protect and uphold child rights, told Newsweek that Nigeria's existing sexual offenses laws are hugely problematic as they are inconsistent and contradictory across the nation.

Previous attempts have been made to change the laws in Nigeria. The federal parliament passed the "Child's Rights Act" in 2003, attempting to make 18 the legal age of consent for both marriage and sexual intercourse across the country. However, not all Nigerian states adopted the act meaning that it was not established in all regions, leaving young children still open to legal marriages and sexual relations under penal laws in some regions.

Nigeria's national penal codes too can be contradictory or ambiguous. For example, according to Section 282(2), even if a woman does not consent to sex, "sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not rape, if she has attained to puberty."

As a result, Secker said, sexual abuse in women and children of all ages is extremely common and there is "a real lack of trust in statutory authorities."

A 2013 poll revealed that while almost three in 10 Nigerians know a rape victim, 79% of those polled said that the majority of sexual offenses go unreported.

Although the bill is expected to pass in Nigeria's House of Representatives tomorrow, it must gain the signature of new President Muhammadu Buhari's before it comes into effect.