From Sola Ojo, Kaduna
Before her appointment as the Commissioner, ministry of Women Affairs and Rural Development, Hajia Afsat Mohammad Baba was the coordinator of a non-governmental organization, known as Global Initiative for Women and Children (GIWAC).
In this interview, she bares her mind on the issues of violence against children in Kaduna State and what is partly delaying having commensurate administration of justice for the oppressed in the state, especially on the issues of rape and emerging baby factory.
Before your appointment, you were leading a campaign on violence against women and children in the state and beyond. Now that you are in government, what is the state of violence against women and children in Kaduna?
Unfortunately it is on the increase. But then, we are here to see how we can solve that problem of violence against women and children in the state with collaboration of all the stakeholders. We all need to accept change because it is the most constant thing in our lives. Women are becoming more aware of their rights unlike in the past, though not as easy as one may think due to societal issues. Every child should also grow up knowing that he or she is safe and have the best; life can offer to help them fulfill their potentials as long as they live. Any violence you can think of, these groups of the society are the ones always at the receiving end. But the time has come to address that and we will put in our best while we are here.
My ministry is committed to making positive impact at the grassroots. You see, over the years people at the urban areas are the ones that have been benefitting from government policies and programmes with little or no impact on those at the grassroots level.
Can you share any of your worst experience with us as regarding violence against children?
Hmmmm (she hesitates, ) Sometimes I wept bitterly when I see grave violence against innocent children. Well, there was this case of an 8-year-old girl who was seriously violated, bleeding profusely, admitted at Barrau Dikko Teaching Hospital where she went through a surgery twice because she was really damaged. That was really a serious case and then the perpetrator of the act is a 70-year-old man but unfortunately, he was let go and we could not get hold of him.
There was also a case of another 8-year-old girl who was serially violated by her uncle. At the end of the day when the mother decided to seek for help, that ended her marriage. Now I’m telling you she is divorced. In Islam, when you divorced a woman three times, she cannot come back to your house. That means she has to pay that supreme price just because she has decided to seek justice against the uncle who violated her girl child. There are also other issues hanging around rape cases but we will still continue because this government is trying to ensure that the oppressed get justice.
When you were running and NGO, there was this bill, Child Right Bill, you were championing its passage by the State Assembly, what is causing the delay in its passage into law by the Assembly?
Honestly I don’t know what is causing the delay but I’m sure it is something that can be overcome if truly all of us want the best for our children as we claim. This is because if that kind of document has passed through the first and second reading and public hearing, one wonders what could be causing the delay of making it a law. But we still need to do more on advocacy to the State Assembly to see what we can do to ensure that document is passed into law. We believed they will do something about it but how soon we cannot say for now. The work is not easy though but with support of people like you, we will continue to do it. Please help us to find out why the Child Right Bill is still hanging. Some states have passed it. This is also drawing us back because when an arrest is made, you follow up the case but you will be disappointed that the punishment has not been reviewed. You see a situation where somebody will commit rape offence but the punishment is just too soft which actually demoralizes us.
The bill has been in the Assembly since 2003 to be specific. But upon the coming of this administration, the governor was not happy with what is happening and so he was interested and dusted it up. I could remember when I was in my organization, and we were on advocacy visit to him, he handed me the document that we should go through it and see where there can be any adjustment to make it acceptable to all of us. And I knew there was a time when all the stakeholders assembled including the traditional and religious leaders to work on this single document. It was because the governor was interested in it, that was why it has gone through first and second reading and even public hearing. So we need it passed into law so we can be able to implement it to reduce violence against our children.