By Joshua Nwachukwu
Reliving the tradition that was started in 2010, the organisers of the International Conference on Women and Children held its 5th conference from the 12th to the 14th of November 2015 at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos.
The conference which is a gathering of world-class intellectuals brought together policy makers, members of the Bench and the Bar, Academic Dons, youths, religious leaders and secondary school students. The theme of this year’s discussion was “Global Approaches to violence against women and children: identifying the triggers, remedies and policy frameworks”.
In her opening remarks, the Wife of the President, Her Excellency Hajia Aisha Muhammadu Buhari highlighted the appropriateness of the conference theme in the struggle to eliminate global violence against women and children. Hajia Buhari stressed the importance of the family which serves as a healthy safe-net in protecting both women and children. She also called for the-invigoration of the institution of the family. She stated that abortion remains the greatest violence against women and the unborn children thus it should be avoided. Concluding, she reminded the audience that the Child’s Right Act remains the benchmark for assessing the rights of children and that the various legislations which propose to end violence against women and children like the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 should be accompanied with multiple enforcement strategies.
The Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Mudashiru Obasa , who arrived punctually to make his opening remarks and to declare the conference open, praised the organisers of the conference and promised to continue to support the conference as his immediate predecessor in office did. While declaring the conference open, he admonished that violence against women should be tackled with caution since some of the reported cases have turned out to be false. He also encouraged girls to dress decently since indecent dressing could trigger violence.
In her opening remarks, the wife of the Governor of Lagos State, Mrs Bolanle Ambode challenged the international community to be more pragmatic in protecting female persons and children.
The topics discussed during the three-day conference ranged from rape, challenges of bringing rape suspect to justice, Girl- Child Marriage, Sex and child Trafficking, Role of the law and lawyers in ending violence against women and children, pornography, violence and child nurturing, imprisonment of pregnant women and nursing mothers, empowerment of women: a strategy for reducing poverty and violence to women, United Nations Peace Keepers: Protectors or Predator, the presentations and discussions of these topics left the audience enchanted and deeply informed on the current state of things.
Being a conference on women and children, the organisers of this conference have always wanted to give a voice to children. So during the three-day conference, the pupils from Whitesands School Lekki, Dominican College Mafoluku, Somerset College Surulere and Lagoon Secondary School Lekki participated in the Children Discussion Panels. The themes for the Panel Discussion were: “when does domestic violence occur: when should we say No and How should we say no” and “ are working children different from non-working children of the same age” The audience were really impressed and shocked at what came out from the mouths of these students mouth. Students from Dominican College added colour to the event with a splendid Art Play which they presented dramatizing domestic violence. The Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, though in a hurry waited to watch the children perform and he was greatly impressed by their performance. On the second day of the conference, Dominican College presented a cultural dance which left members of the audience thrilled.
In my paper on the connection between pornography and violence, I stated that a comparative study of rape rates in the U.S,A., Scandinavia, Britain, Australia and New Zealand found a connection between the availability of pornography and the level of rape. In Australia, the uniform crime data actually support the case for an increase in rape rates after the liberalisation of pornography.
One Discussion Panel which elicited many comments from the conference participants was the Discussion Panel of the Office of the Public Defender(OPD), Lagos State Ministry of Justice. The Panel gave us an insight into the workings of the OPD in Lagos state. It reiterated that the Office of the Public Defender offers Pro bono services to indigent persons,they also have a toll free number. The Panel of the OPD was so good that some participants from other states asked OPD if they could come and help the OPD in their respective states function optimally. Officials from the National Emergency Management Agency of Nigeria (NEMA) also did well in educating us on the Internally-Displaced Persons(IDPs) Camps in Nigeria and how they are trying to eliminate violence against women and children in those camps .At the end of this conference, it was resolved that it is not enough to make laws against violence: efforts must be made to enforce the laws. Also highlighted was the role the Police Force plays in curbing violence. Many called for proper education of the police in the handling of rape victims and victims of crimes in Nigeria. Unfortunately the police were not there to defend themselves. Also highlighted was the need for religious organisations to be careful in handling cases of violence and they should not be more interested in protecting the church’s image or name.
All in all, the conference was fun, educating, eye opening, and it also created a room for networking. What a powerful message that was passed at the conference. We discussed ways to counter assaults on the family including pornography, cohabitation, divorce and marriage-substitutes; and promoting pro-family policies that build a renewed culture of strong marriages and healthy loving families. We discussed proper , parenting, and family living as the hope for the future. It would be impossible to capture in this article what I learned at the conference. I will be forever remember the message of hope passed at the conference. I will forever remember the concrete ideas for strengthening homes, and the strategies suggested for promoting public policy that secure and protect families.