Services and shelters available to abused women, including location funding, and length of existence; government interest and involvement in the issue of abuse of women [NGA34541.E]

For information on domestic violence and state protection in Nigeria, including the laws protecting women against domestic violence, as well as women's organizations, legal assistance, shelter, and/or protection, please consult NGA32104.E of 30 July 1999.

The following provides some information on existing laws and policies in Nigeria with respect to violence against women, as well as the "reality" of those laws in practice. The information is from Women's Reproductive Rights in Nigeria: A Shadow Report, prepared for the Nineteenth Sessions of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, by The Center for Reproductive Law & Policy (CRLP) and the Women's Centre for Peace and Development (WOPED) (June 1998):

C. Sexual Violence Against Women (Articles 5, 6, and 16)
1. Rape and Sexual Crimes
Laws and Policies
Both the Penal Code, applicable in the northern states, and the Criminal Code, applicable in the southern states, define rape to be sexual intercourse with a woman or carnal knowledge of a woman when consent is obtained by use of fraud, force, intimidation, threats to life, or physical harm. "Carnal knowledge" and sexual intercourse are defined for the purposes of both codes as acts of penetration. This definition excludes other sexual offenses, such as sodomy or the insertion of foreign objects into a woman's vagina, from the definition of rape. Such acts may be prosecuted under the laws prohibiting "unnatural" sexual offenses, assault, "indecent assault," or acts of "gross indecency." Under the Criminal Code, a woman may be prosecuted under the law prohibiting "unnatural" intercourse for "permitting" a man to have such intercourse with her.
In general, both criminal codes in Nigeria do not recognize marital rape as a crime. However, women may receive limited protection from marital rape under the prohibitions against assault. In addition, the above provisions that preclude prosecution of marital rape do not apply to the rape of an estranged spouse. Under the Penal Code in northern Nigeria, children under the age of 14 are incapable of providing consent, including consent to sexual acts. In addition, a child under the age of 16 is incapable of consent to any act of "gross indecency" with an adult in a position of authority, such as a teacher or guardian.
In southern Nigeria, the Criminal Code prohibits statutory rape. Sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 13 is punishable by life imprisonment, with or without caning, and sexual assault of a girl under the age of 13 is punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. Assaults committed against girls between the ages of 13 and 16, including statutory rape, are punishable by imprisonment of up to two years.
In both southern and northern Nigeria, the criminal laws also contain specific prohibitions against the "procuration" or employment of a minor child in prostitution.
The number of prison admittances for sex offenses in 1993 was 430, a significant decrease from the 1,201 admittances in 1990. The government is doing nothing to address sexual violence and the punishments given out for such offences are far too mild to serve as deterrents. Indecent assault against women is treated as a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum of two years while indecent assault against men is treated as a felony punishable with a maximum of three years imprisonment. The fact that the number of prison admittances for sexual violence offenses has decreased does not necessarily prove a decrease in the incidence of rape. Rather, it is a sign of the conspiracy of silence surrounding such acts due to women's fear of stigmatization and of the humiliating and arduous task of proving rape in court. Complaints are not taken seriously by law enforcement officers. Moreover, there have been reported incidents of rape in police custody, further undermining women's confidence in the authorities.
2. Domestic Violence
Laws and Policies
Incidents of domestic violence may be prosecuted under general criminal code provisions penalizing assault. In northern Nigeria, it is permissible for husbands to "correct" their wives with physical punishment if it is lawful under the system of customary law to which the spouses adhere, and if the punishment is not "unreasonable in kind or in degree" or "does not amount to the infliction of grievous hurt." In all states in Nigeria, a woman may use domestic violence as a ground for divorce if her husband has been convicted of grievously injuring her or attempting to seriously injure or kill her.
Government has undertaken no specific measures to curb domestic violence, despite evidence of its high incidence. A 1992 study reported that 67.6% of women stated that they had been attacked by their husbands. Law enforcement officers do not take cases of domestic violence seriously, which explains why many such cases are never prosecuted. Rather, they are seen as family matters. Such cases are seldom investigated or prosecuted as criminal assaults until a case results in death. This occurred recently in Obibiezena Ngor Okpala in Imo State, when a man matcheted his wife to death for attending a church function without permission. In most cases, women suffer in silence because they have nowhere to turn, because of the unlikelihood of obtaining a remedy, and because of the cost of the legal process.
3. Female Circumcision/Female Genital Mutilation
Laws and Policies
Currently, there is no law in Nigeria that prohibits female genital mutilation (FGM) - also referred to as female circumcision. Although the Constitution recognizes the "sanctity of the human person" and prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, there has been no constitutional challenge to the customary practice of FGM.
FGM is prevalent among most major ethnic groups in Nigeria, and affects approximately half of Nigerian women. In 1993, a Children's Decree was drafted that apparently included a ban on FGM.156 The decree was revised in 1996, but to date that decree has not been passed and no information on its current status has been forthcoming.
The efforts of NGOs to address FGM have primarily focused on public education. These efforts have had a noticeable impact on FGM as it is no longer practiced openly in hospitals. However, recent research suggests that FGM is still being practiced to a significant degree.

In partial corroboration of the above, a 17 August 1999 AFP report states that "for women in Nigeria, it is extremely difficult to file a criminal complaint against their husbands for abuse because the penal code allows a man to 'reasonably chastise his wife when he deems she has erred'."

An 11 August 1999 Tempo article on domestic violence reports that it is difficult to

obtain accurate data on domestic violence. Many conceal from public view the abuses that go on in the home. What happens in the family is shielded from the view of society because of the view that such are private affairs of the people involved.
But the magnitude of violence taking place at the level of the family is unbelievable ...
A contentious provision in the laws of northern Nigeria, 1963 tacitly encourages the use of reasonable force to correct a wife. Section 55 (1) cap 89, states in part that "nothing is an offence which does not amount to the infliction of grievous hurt upon any person and which is done...(d) by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife."
The situation is more difficult for women who are married under customary law. Grace Evienbe of the Women Justice Programme (WJP), says that the customary law is very harsh on the woman and unnecessarily patronising of the man. Women have little protection against abuse. Even where cases of abuse are reported to law enforcement agents, the police for instance are said to treat such cases with levity.
Many women blame the attitude of the police for a steady rise in cases of women abuse, some of the women who now seek refuge in the Justice Programme's Centre For Battered Women, first took their case to the police only to be told that they don't deal with such "trivial domestic affairs." The centre helps abused women by inviting their husbands for counselling. Where counselling fails and the abuse persists, they may institute a criminal action against the husband. The magnitude of abuse against women is amplified by Effah Chukwuma of Project Alert who estimated that acid attacks on women rose from one in 1990 to 30 in 1999.

The article also refers to an individual woman in Lagos who had experienced domestic violence and who was attending "counselling classes organised by a gender rights campaign group (ibid.). The Project Alert on Violence Against Women (PAVAW) and the Gender and Development Action (G.A.D.A.) are two organizations mentioned in the article (ibid.).

A 27 November 1998 Post Express article on efforts by a network of non-governmental organizations "to improve girl-child education" mentions a "Kaduna-based family craft and Islamic centre" that provides vocational training to "60 girls, 20 boys and 15 women," many of whom "had had terrible experiences of neglect, abuse, hatred and abandonment." The centre was established in 1995 with 80 women and 200 girls having graduated since that time (ibid.).

The Women Centre for Peace and Development (WOPED) set up the Peace and Anti-Violence Education (PAVE) club, which is:

an educational outreach channel for both junior and senior secondary school students in Nigeria was inaugurated with the objectives of offering students the opportunity for new perspective and attitudes needed to pave the way for a new culture of respect for human rights of women and children, especially the rights of the girl-child to peace, freedom and gender-based violence and discrimination (ibid. 12 Apr. 2000).
A speaker at the club's inauguration was reported to have recalled how women were being subjected to the act of sexual assault, molestation at home, offices and in the educational institutions, rape, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, degrading portrayal of women as sex objective by media, their treatment as perpetual minors by the judicial system and institutions of society (ibid.).

"The Organisation for the Protection of Women Against Abuse (OPWA) started out as a crusade to reverse the psychology of abuse and exploitation especially sexual abuse and economic exploitation of women" (ibid. 5 July 1999).

The following reports contain further references to women's organizations in Nigeria, although it is sometimes unclear as to what services they provide.

A 1996 publication by Human Rights Internet (HRI) and the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) lists human rights organizations active in sub-Saharan Africa. The African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect, Nigeria Chapter (ANPPCAN) is based in Lagos and is a national organization (1996, 129).

The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) was established in 1987 and is based in Lagos with 37 fulltime staff, 16 branches in the country, and 6 zonal offices, with each responsible for 5 states. Its programs include women's rights and it provides "legal aid in cases involving gross abuse or violation of human rights" (ibid., 130).

The Family Law Centre, Anambra State is based in Enugu with a local level of activity on issues of women, children and family rights (ibid., 133).

The Federation of Ogoni Women's Association (FOWA) is affiliated with the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and is based in Port Harcourt with a local orientation (ibid., 134). It "was founded in 1992 as an umbrella organization for women in Ogoni. It exists to fight against all cases of deprivation of human rights in Ogoniland" and participates in campaigns related to the environment and non-payment of compensation by oil companies (ibid.). It "has organized workshops to enlighten and educate Ogoni women and to sensitize them about their human rights" (ibid.).

The Help Women in Distress International Network Women Organization (HWD) was created in the early 1980s as a cooperative society ... by groups of activist women operating at the grassroots village and town level. ...
[Its] mission is to: inform and educate poor and disadvantaged women about their rights; defend the rights of women as set out in the Nairobi Declaration on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women; stop the rape of women; conduct research into such problems as prostitution, sexual harassment, child abuse and neglect, and women's health and education; provide free shelter for women who are destitute or beggars; encourage women to be self-employed (in crafts or agriculture) and economically independent; initiate and encourage community projects aimed at generating income for women; pressuring the government to provide free basic amenities for destitute women and women in distress; help secure free legal aid for women; and work with national and international welfare organizations aimed at helping women in Third World countries.(ibid.).

It is a national organization based in Ijagbo, Kwara State with 5 full time and 3 part time staff and 100 volunteers (ibid.).

The Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL) was created in 1988 and is a research and documentation centre based in Port Harcourt with a local focus on promoting human rights (ibid., 135). Its projects include violence against women and its services include legal aid, fact finding, and trial observation (ibid.). It has five full time and seven part time staff with two volunteers and a membership of 5,000 (ibid.).

The International Federation of Women Lawyers - Nigeria (FIDA - Nigeria)

was founded in May 1982 to promote the welfare of women and children and to litigate on behalf of women and children whose rights are being violated.
FIDA provides free legal services to women and children; offers counselling services to women; and organized a program of legal education. The different zones of FIDA Nigeria have set up Family Law Centres and Legal Aid Service Centres in their respective states (ibid., 136).

It has three full time and one part time staff, with one volunteer and 55 individual members (ibid.). Its issue focus includes female genital mutilation (ibid.).

The Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women Development is based in Abuja and "was established in 1993 for research, training and to mobilize women towards self-emancipation" (ibid., 138).

The Nigerian Foundation for Legal Aid and Human Rights (NIFLAHR) is a national organization based in Lagos that was created in 1992 and which "provides legal aid to indigents, investigates prison conditions, and conducts human rights education" (ibid., 140).

The Nigerian National Committee of the IAC is a national organization based in Lagos that is affiliated with the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC) that is based in Ethiopia (ibid., 141). Its issue focus is described as "women, children, health, female genital mutilation" (ibid.).

Women in Nigeria (WIN) is a national organization, launched in 1993, and based in Lagos with 8,500 members and offices in 22 states (ibid.). It works "to improve the situation and status of Nigerian women" and its services include legal aid to indigent women (ibid.).

The Women Justice Program (WJP) is a national organization based in Lagos that was created in 1994 (ibid.)

Its objectives are to: promote and protect the rights of women and children in Nigeria in line with universal standards; institute impact and other legal proceedings against laws, policies and practices discriminating against women and children and, where necessary; provide legal advice when those rights are violated and represent a larger societal problem of abuse; work for the social, economic and political equality of women with other members of society; and to tackle discriminatory cultural practices against women.
The concerns of WJP include the protection of women against violence and discrimination; the inhuman treatment of widows; female genital mutilations; and child abuse. Conciliatory processes and the law courts are both used to seek redress for wrongs committed against women and children (ibid.).

It engages in legal aid, case work, and fact finding (ibid.).

An undated US AID report lists its Nigerian non-governmental partners which include: the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa in Kano; the Muslim Sisters Organization in Kano; the Federation of Muslim Women's Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN) in Kebbi; the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Abuja, Kwara, Port Harcourt, Abia, and Akwa Ibom; the National Council of Women's Societies (NCWS) in Abuja, Osun, and Anambra; the United Women Association in Kano; the Catholic Women Association (CWU) in Nassarawa and Benue; the Nigerian Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) in Bauchi, Abuja, Nassarawa, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Rivers, and Enugu; the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN) in Kano, Lagos/Ibadan, and Enugu; the Women Law and Development Center of Nigeria (WLDCN) in Lagos; the Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH) in Ibadan; the Safe Motherhood Ladies Association (SMLS) in Abakaliki; the Women Action Research Organization (WARO) in Enugu; the Federation of Women Association (FEWA) in Ebonyi; the National Cross River's Women's Association (NCRSWA) in Calabar; the Anambra Women Awareness Committee (AWAC) in Anambra; and, the Medical Women's Association of Nigeria (MWAN) in Cross River (n.d.).Please refer to the Encyclopedia of Women's Association Worldwide, available in Regional Documentation Centres, for a listing of Nigerian women's associations (1993, 18-21).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France Presse (AFP). 17 August 1999. "Domestic Violence: Not Considered a Crime in Many Countries." [Accessed 15 June 2000]

Human Rights Internet (HRI) and the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM). 1996. African Directory: Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ottawa: Human Rights Internet.

Post Express [Lagos]. 12 April 2000. Ngozi Nwachukwu. "Women Urged to Combat Early Marriage." [Accessed 13 June 2000]

_____. 5 July 1999. Victoria Humbe. "Yearly Unsafe Abortions' Occurrence Put at 20m." [Accessed 13 June 2000]

_____. 27 November 1998. "Groups Move to Promote Education of Girl-Child." [Accessed 13 June 2000]

Tempo [Lagos]. 11 August 1999. Olumide Iyanda. "Nigeria; Domestic Violence is on a Steep, Ascent." (NEXIS)

US AID in Africa. n.d. "Non-Governmental Organizations Supported by US AID Partners in Nigeria." [Accessed 14 June 2000]

Women's Reproductive Rights in Nigeria: A Shadow Report. June 1998. The Center for Reproductive Law & Policy (CRLP) and the Women's Centre for Peace and Development (WOPED). [Accessed 15 June 2000]

Additional Sources Consulted

African Directory: Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa [London]. 1996.

Encyclopedia of Women's Associations Worldwide [London]. 1993.

IRB databases



World News Connection (WNC)

Internet sites including:

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Fullmoon's Web

Index on Africa

Keesing's Record of World Events [Cambridge].

Mail and Guardian [Johannesburg].

Newswatch [Lagos].

Post Express [Lagos].

UNWire, United Nations Foundation

United Nations, Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN).

Women's International Net (WIN)

Women Watch (United Nations/CEDAW)

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