by Solumtochukwu P. Ozobulu Esq
Sexual and reproductive health right (SRHR) is a growing movement around the world and in Nigeria. The movement is borne out of the need to encourage individuals to explore their sexuality without fear of stigmatization, physical abuse or any other kind of violation as a matter of Right.
The growing nature of SRHR movement is aimed at protecting the vulnerable and Key Affected Persons including the LGBTI community. LGBTI is an acronym for Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Trans- gender and Inter- sex. This community with a different and peculiar kind of sexuality has been viewed with negative and discriminatory tendencies especially in Nigeria and other African Countries. This unfortunate trend has sent the LGBTI Community into hiding due to the legal, social and religious environment in our country with attendant consequences.
It is no news in Nigeria that many LGBTI Persons are still being denied key sexual and reproductive health rights and services i.e. their right to enjoy control over and make decisions on their sexual and reproductive health without discrimination.
The homophobic nature of the citizenry draws its link from socio-cultural and religious beliefs and practices. The culture of the people of Nigeria largely frowns at homo sexual practice as it is said to be foreign to the indigenous practices and beliefs. The religious beliefs and teachings also view same sex practice as sinful, unnatural and therefore unacceptable.
The aggregate Socio Cultural opposition to same sex practice and relationships in Nigeria led to the enactment of the same sex marriage (prohibition) Act 2014. The same sex marriage (prohibition) Act together with the criminal and penal code totally criminalizes homosexual activities in Nigeria. According to the words of the criminal/ Penal code, homosexual act is regarded as “an act against the order of nature”. The maximum punishment in the northern states that have adopted the sharia law is death by stoning among other punishments. That law applies to all Muslims and to those who have voluntarily consented to application of the sharia courts. In the southern Nigeria the maximum punishment for same sex sexuality activity is 14years imprisonment. The various laws forbidding gay practice providing different punishment varying from the state of commission did not take into cognizance the sexual and reproductive health rights of the LGBTI community.
The provision/ enacting of the laws led to an unprecedented violations of the Rights of the LGBTI community in Nigeria even on grounds of suspicion and hearsay.For example in Lagos Nigeria, over 40 Young People were arrested on the suspicion of holding a gay party. The different violations range from physical abuse, verbal abuse, denial of freedom of association, denial of privacy, emotional abuse, rape, denial of quality healthcare among others. These various violations of the LGBTI community prevailed in Nigeria as both the law enforcement agencies and individuals took justification from the various laws prohibiting homosexuality to violate the rights of the sexual minorities at random.
Since most members of the LGBTI community are seemingly oblivious of their sexual and reproductive health rights, they find it difficult to open up by reporting these violations due to fear of stigmatization. This has led to strong need for massive sensitization and awareness creation in the area of sexual and reproductive health right and reporting of violations for effective interventions by Civil society organizations and Nongovernmental organizations both local and international in Nigeria.
Part of this sensitization is currently being carried out by Lawyers Alert in its legal literacy project for vulnerable groups in Nigeria. The positive effect of the sensitization is that more awareness of the Rights of KAPs is being recorded across Nigeria, leading to a decrease in some violations. This can be clearly seen in the Lawyers Alert published findings on Sexual and Reproductive Health Right violations in Nigeria between 2017 and 2019. These findings can be accessed at http://www.lawyersalertng.org/res.php.
According to the recent released report of Lawyers Alert on its website in April 2019, Benue state seems to have the highest rate of LGBTI violations among other states in Nigeria. It can be deduced from the published finding that the age bracket more susceptible to be violated in the LGBTI community are those between 20-24years which can be categorized as youth with 58% of violations in 2019 and 63% in 2017. Although the statistics shows a level of decrease yet it is alarming. A critical analysis of the reports brings to limelight the occurance of these right violations, while some are on the increase others are on the decrease. Violations like physical abuse breach of privacy, denial of freedom to associate, sexual expression and rape seems to be on the increase with 2%, 3%, 4%,1% and 4% respectively while blackmailing, verbal abuse and emotional abuse are on the decrease with 5%, 1% and 2% respectively. Regardless of the increase and decrease of each of the violations emotional abuse still top the chart as it represents 20% of the violations followed by verbal abuse and denial of sexual expression with 18% each. Although some of the right violations like rape and breach of privacy e.t.c represent a little fraction of the violation but it is important to know that every little piece matters when it is in relations to a person’s sexual and reproductive health right.
It is trite to know that the published finding is not all inclusive as just reports from 12 states out of the 36 states in Nigeria were used. Nevertheless, it shows the growth of SRHR movement and the need to deepen and expand the scope in other to curb the menace.
As we all aspire to be part of a society where individuals have knowledge, skills and resources to enjoy their sexual and reproductive health right without violations and subsequently bequeath same to future generations; there is a need to deepen sensitization on sexual and reproductive health right.