ANGELA NKWO-AKPOLU writes that women and girls have been identified as an endangered specie who in every conflict bear unlimited scars and pains especially in violence.
In recent times, female children have become victims of sexual violence as some unscrupulous men steal their innocence and inflict grievous bodily harm as a result of rape.
Older girls on their part are not spared, as many of them have been forced to birth babies which in turn are traded off to the highest bidder under the guise of providing succour for hapless girls with unprepared pregnancies.
A Non Governmental Organization, Alliance for Africa (AA), committed to the improvement of women’s rights has begun a campaign to strengthen institutional capacity for the passage of Imo State Protection Babies bill to stem against what is popularly referred to as Baby Factory.
For over five years running, dubious proprietors and proprietresses of Christian or Civil Society organizations who shelter displaced pregnant girls and women have turned the South East, especially Imo State into a safe haven for their nefarious activities.
Project Manager of AFA, now headquartered in Owerri, Imo State, Ms Blessing Duru during a courtesy call at the State Ministry of Gender Affairs lamented that Imo State sometimes is in the news for the wrong reason of baby factory.
According to her, due to the excuse of prolonged wait for legitimate adoption process, many desperate people resort to self help which is a form of gender abuse.
Duru told the Permanent Secretary of the Gender Ministry, Barrister Chris Duru that baby factory is a form of gender based violence against girls and women.
According to her, there were moves to enact a law titled “Imo State Protection of Babies Law”, to stop trading of Babies as though they were commodities.
Already, a bill was before the eighth State Assembly which wound up recently to pass the bill into law, it is however unclear if it was passed or not.
Blessing Duru explained that the Gender Ministry is saddled with the task of addressing issues affecting women, youths, and children, even as she appealed for effectiveness.
The gender activist lamented that research has shown that a victim of rape is susceptible to another rape because of fear and lack of confidence in some cases.
She told the Permanent Secretary that during advocacy outreach programmes in the hinterlands, it was discovered that baby factory thrives unabated but many do not speak out for lack of information.
Duru stated that the Ministry needs to support and formulate the right laws to promote gender equality and improvement, saying many in hinterlands do not understand what constitutes a crime.
She appealed that the processes for the legal adoption of a child(s) be modernized and also quickened to stem against trading of Babies.
“You may not know but these unscrupulous proprietors of Baby Factories look for obscure communities where pregnant girls are kept to make babies, sometimes through rape. The parents of these girls chase them away for bringing shame to the family. Homeless and penniless, these girls are ready victims of proprietors of Baby Factory who pretend that they run charity shelter centres. Upon delivery, the girls are paid to walk away without their children. Thereby denying the baby(s) emotional support from their mothers”.
According to AFA Project Manager, the girls are paid about five hundred thousand (N500,000) for girl child and eight hundred thousand (800,000) for male child, thereby reducing children to commodities and engaging in modern day slavery.
Some of the proprietors operate the birthing centres as churches, or sort of worship centres, or an NGO but underneath lies a child trafficking syndicate.
The NGO called for concerted efforts to create awareness in every community adding that the Gender Ministry should buy into the campaign to stop child trafficking, baby factory(s), and rape amongst others.
Barrister Chris Duru, the Permanent Secretary was full of appreciation to the team for their interest in the protection of women’s rights especially dignity of persons.
At the Imo State Ministry of Justice, AFA officials alleged that lawyers from the ministry make financial demands from victims of assault and abuse.
Acting Director of the ministry, Mrs Edith Amuta frowned at the development even as she appealed for names of perpetrators.
According to her, such allegations must not be glossed over, especially in rape cases.
Amuta said “What do the lawyers demand such monies for because almost all criminal prosecutions is handled by the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), domiciled in the Justice ministry. Please provide us with names and I assure you that the Attorney General cum Commissioner for Justice, Barrister Nnawuchi Ndukwe (SAN) will unearth and discipline erring staff”.
The senior lawyer admonished victims of rape to head straight for the hospital to secure medical report which is one of the strongest evidence and then police station for justice.
“Anybody who is a victim of rape should not bathe immediately because it may lead to loss of evidence. Rush to the hospital first for immediate medical evaluation, to obtain medical report which will be the strengthen the prosecution. Then after the evaluation, you now head to the police station to lodge the case for prosecution”.
Mrs Amuta admonished victims of assault to report any suspicion of shady prosecution to their office or the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) who can help to ensure justice is delivered.
The Director regretted that due to long years of prosecution, some evidence of rape cases like clothes gets rusty, dusty, and destroyed.
She promised that the Ministry will sensitize her lawyers to show empathy when handling cases of sexual violence even as she assured that the Ministry will ensure dispensation of justice in every criminal case.
Amuta promised the cooperation of the Ministry in the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAMP) in Imo State.
The AFA team also took their campaign to the Imo State office of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to campaign for the support for the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAMP) in Imo State to protect women and girls from violence especially rape.
AFA’s Blessing Duru disclosed that issues affecting women and girls evolve over time, noting that the organization is reaching out to government agencies to partner the cause.
Duru said to ensure passage of the VAMP bill, the lawmakers require statistics on assault on women to understand the urgency.
According to her, due to the urgency by couples to get children, many resort to unscrupulous persons masking as religious leaders and operators of orphanages to perpetrate heinous crimes against humanity like baby factory, rape, child theft and trafficking amongst others.
Some of the victims of child trafficking according to her are pushed by greed, poverty, lack of awareness, culture and tradition for preference for male children, rise in infertility, as well as weak and tedious adoption processes.
While some willingly allow themselves to be paid to birth babies to enable them buy tricycles, start businesses, amongst others
Duru lamented that many cases of sexual violence are not reported because of the fear of stigmatization.
She noted that during conflicts, women are the worst hit, adding that many women are not economically strong and depend on their spouse or society for upkeep.
NHRC Director for Imo State, Mrs Ukachi Uka pledged collaboration for the passage of the bill.
She admonished AFA officials to make copies of bill available to them for interpretation and review, so they can also advise the Imo legislators on the benefits of such bills.
Uka stated that the NHRC is charged to protect, promote, and enforce human rights and prosecute offenders, adding that they offer free legal services to people.
She disclosed that the verdicts of the NHRC is considered equivalent to the judgments of the federal high court, and called on people to report cases of human rights abuses as well as rape.
The Imo State NHRC boss lamented that sometimes there are no enabling laws to prosecute offenders even as she added that most times, people especially civil societies do not carry them along in certain crusades.
Speaking with The Authority South East Voice, Duru disclosed that Alliances For Africa will partner all relevant authorities to ensure the rights of women are protected and offenders brought to justice.
She appealed to the members of the Imo State House of Assembly to pass the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAMP) bill into law.
According to her, efforts are in top gear to make the legislators hold a public hearing on sexual violence against women, which she said will help in the speedy passage into law.
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