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In a country of 200 million, where sexual assault is described as ‘endemic’, a small centre has been launched in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital to provide psychosocial support for children and teens sexually abused while they wait for justice.

Recent reports of rape incidents have left many Nigerians enraged over incessant savage attacks, especially on children and young women.

PREMIUM TIMES has reported several rape cases across Nigeria in the past few weeks, some leading to the death of the victims.

A 13-year-old girl stunned Nigerians when she narrated how her father raped her on a daily basis.

As more Nigerians call for stiffer punishment against rapists, the Nigerian governments declared a state of emergency on sexual violence while lawmakers are debating on whether to prescribe castration for persons found guilty of rape.

However, despite these measures, more victims still find it difficult to get justice.

PREMIUM TIMES has also reported how a 16-year-old girl, allegedly raped by an Islamic cleric in Osun State vowed to commit suicide after her family was persuaded to accept an offer to settle the matter out of court.

Nigeria has an extremely low conviction rate for rape and sexual abuse, despite an increase in violence against women. Last week, the police called on the federal government to set up a special court that will help ensure accelerated hearing of rape cases.

But the shortcomings in Nigeria’s legal system – where the burden to prove rape or abuse often lies in the evidence of it also being a violent attack – are not the only challenges facing survivors. Africa’s most populous nation has just a handful of facilities dedicated to the care and support of survivors.

Teen Support Centre

As the wheel of justice continues to grind ever slowly, the Sexual Offences Awareness and Response Initiative (SOAR) and teen support centre was launched on Thursday in Abuja to give rape victims and their families a platform to share their stories and the much-needed support to heal from the traumatic experiences.

Children sexually abused are often afraid to speak up. This is why Nigerian lawmakers is seeking to amend the criminal code to eliminate a time frame for prosecuting cases of sexual abuse by increasing the period from two months to as many years as the victim decides to seek action.

SOAR initiative is focused on addressing the “broad psychological support needs of sexually abused children while also helping them access justice for the crime committed against them”, Chinyere Eyoh, the founder of the platform said during the launch.

Ms Eyoh, a survivor of child sexual abuse and rape, said opening the centre was borne out her personal experience growing up.

“I understand the hurt, pain and trauma that every sexually abused child goes through and know that as important as it is to go after the perpetrators to get justice, it is more important to ensure the affected child is able to heal and move on trauma-free”, she explained. “Psychosocial support and counselling by trained hands is required but this is largely overlooked (by) families of victims.”

Unveiling of SOAR centre in Abuja. Unveiling of SOAR centre in Abuja.

In partnership with the Nigerian police and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), SOAR centre is offering to fill this gap by providing 8-week individual counselling support for adolescent survivors aged 10 to 17.

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“This novel program provides information, life and coping skills and peer group support to children affected who otherwise would have just been to get over it,” Ms Eyoh said.

She said the centre received 222 and supported 27 reports of sexual and gender-based violence during the coronavirus lockdowns from mid-April to June. “This official opening is to publicly announce that these much-needed services are now ready to function at full capacity.”

Representative the police force, CSP Funmi Kolawale, the head of the gender unit, FCT command launching the platform.Representative the police force, CSP Funmi Kolawale, the head of the gender unit, FCT command launching the platform. Representative the police force, CSP Funmi Kolawale, the head of the gender unit, FCT command launching the platform.

Gabriel Onyale, a representative of NAPTIP, said the agency has created a special unit for gender-based violence. He said the unit will assist the SOAR programme.

A representative of the police force, CSP Funmi Kolawale, the head of the gender unit, FCT command said a similar unit was created by the police. She said the culture of silence must be discouraged at all costs.

Sexual violence must surely be considered a norm in our society rather than an anomaly, said Kolawole Olatosimi, the national coordinator Child and Youth Protection Foundation (CYPF).

“By castrating those found guilty of rape does not mean we will no longer hear of rape cases. There is a need to provide emotional and psychological support for victims so they can heal from their sad experiences,” he noted.

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