Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, has thrown his weight behind Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka’s disapproval of some provisions of the Sexual Offences Bill, 2015, passed by the Senate of the 7th National Assembly.
The bill, which criminalises the defilement of children under 11 years, was among the 46 bills hurriedly passed by the Senate of the 7th National Assembly during its valedictory session.
The law lowers the age of consent of women to sex from 18 as contained in the Child Rights Act to 11.
Soyinka had on Saturday urged Muhammadu Buhari not to place his assent on the bill which he described as “a nefarious distraction” while adding that, “Its implications doom the victim to afflictions that churn the stomach even to think of the human toll.”
In a statement co-signed by Falana and his wife, Funmi, the duo explained that perhaps because the last Senate hurriedly passed the bill, the legislators could not pay attention to the “odious” provisions in the law.
They further threatened that if it was eventually passed into law, they would file a suit before the Federal High Court to strike down the obnoxious provisions.
The statement read in part: “We thank you for drawing the nation’s attention to the odious provision of the Sexual Offences Bill, 2015, passed by the Senate which has criminalised the defilement of children under 11 years.
“Since it was among the 46 Bills hurriedly passed by the Senate of the 7th National Assembly during its valedictory session, the members did not pay any attention to its provisions. We have confirmed that the Bill has not been forwarded to the president for his assent as it has not been passed by the House of Representatives.
“However, it would be recalled that Senator Chris Anyanwu who sponsored the Sexual Offences Bill had justified the urgent need to pass it to save our girls and women from sexual exploitation and molestation. When the Bill was unanimously passed for a second reading by the Senate on November 21, 2013, it sought to prescribe a penalty of life imprisonment for the offence of defilement of children less than 18 years of age.”
Continuing, the statement issued by the lawyer couple further read that the bill “also provided for compulsory documentation, supervision of sexual offenders and medical treatment for rape victims while it strengthened the weak protection offered victims and witnesses in trials for sexual offences.”
Falana said the illegal removal of 18 years from the original bill and its replacement with 11 years was inconsistent with the provisions of section 29(4)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution.
The minimum age of 18 years in the original Bill was in line with the provisions of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003 and the Child’s Rights Convention of the United Nations which has been ratified by Nigeria.
The Bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters for further legislative work. It was that Committee that removed the age of 18 years and replaced it with 11 years.
The inserted clause is inconsistent with section 29(4)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution which provides that ‘full age’ means the age of 18 years and above.
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