THE rising cases of incest in Nigeria is no doubt a concern to child rights activists, sociologists, legal practitioners, and clerics, who have expressed worry over the surge of the menace in the country.
Notwithstanding the law against the act, reports indicate that the social menace is becoming rampant and going on between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, uncles, nephews, and nieces, not even minors are spared.
Defined as sexual intercourse between members of a family – between a father and daughter, a brother and a sister or a mother and son; it is considered a taboo.
As a universal taboo, incest exists in all human societies but the particular relationship prohibited varies with place and time. It is stigmatised as a deviation and leads to sanctions, in particular when minors are involved.
The most commonly prohibited incestuous relationships are a child and a parent or two siblings – father and daughter, brother and a sister, mother and son, uncle and niece, and grandfather and so on.
A trace of the historical antecedent of incest dates back to the Biblical days, when Lot’s two daughters got him drunk and committed incest with him in the cave where they lived following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19: 32-35).
As a social problem, incest is rooted in the subordinate status of women and children in relation to men in a patriarchal culture. Hence, stakeholders, including child rights activists, feminists, sociologists, lawyers, and clerics have continuously called for action against incest through consciousness-raising, coalition building, clampdown on pornography, as well as legal reform.
Recently, the Ogun state Police Command arrested 39 years old Mfon Jeremiah, a resident of FIRRO Estate off Adesan in Mowe for impregnating his 13 years old daughter (name withheld).
Jeremiah was arrested following a report lodged at Mowe Police divisional headquarters by the mother of the victim, who reported that she discovered that her daughter was pregnant, and when she inquired from her, she said it was her father who was responsible.
On interrogation, Jeremiah confessed being responsible for the pregnancy, but claimed to be under a spell when he did it. He told the police that he was dreaming having sex with his wife who had separated from him for some time now only to discover that it was his daughter that he was having sex with.
Also, a man identified as Amaechi Agnalasi, was banished from Nnobi, a community in Anambra State for committing incest with his daughter and producing two children from the immoral act.
The daughter identified as Queen Bassey, disclosed that her father deflowered her and made her take an oath to never leave him. They hail from Cross River State but were residing in the community where they were caught.
Agnalasi in his defence after the act became public said he carried out the act because he didn’t want his daughter to leave him. He stated that when all his wives and other children left him, he decided to have carnal knowledge of his daughter and made her his wife by making her take an oath to never leave him.
A Growing Menace
In Nasarawa State, an Inspector of Police allegedly raped and impregnated his 15-year-old niece, while in Ekiti State, another 15-year-old girl was raped and impregnated by her step-father in what is fast becoming an epidemic in the country.
These bizarre stories pour in daily, inundating law enforcement personnel who are not equipped to prosecute or who themselves are now complicit.
Most of these cases, even when reported, are settled out of court, which may account for the paucity of data on the social problem that is now becoming a social menace to the society.
Some of the experts who spoke with NaijaTimes, identified lack of traditional family values, moral decadence, broken homes, emotional imbalance, a shift in family roles due to poverty and ignorance among others major factors behind the rising cases of incest in the country.
The Team Lead for Peace Advancement, Action Against Violence and Rape Foundation (PAAAVARF), Mrs. Vivian Abara, noted that cases of incest are daily increasing in Plateau State, just as the immediate past President of Women Connected By Purpose (WCBP), an NGO based in Ibadan, Mrs. Foluso Adigun, said more incest cases were being recorded because of lack of family values and communal living.
Adigun noted that economic hardship and the shift in the role of women were also contributory factors because fewer women now stay at home and watch over their children. She adds that the infiltration of western influences and negative attitudes also promotes incest in society.
Dr Sharon Omotosho, the Coordinator of the Women Research and Documentation Centre (WRDC) at the University of Ibadan, said parents must be held responsible for the abuse of their wards.
According to her, all hands must be on deck to stop incest because no member of the society is exempted from the scourge. “Some people do it for spiritual purposes, money rituals and longevity or those looking for fame,” she said.
Incest is a crime domesticated in Nigeria by virtue of Section 3 (1) (b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act. Also, Section 33 of the Marriage Act forbids sexual relations and marriage among people who are related by blood. It is captured as “Prohibited degree of consanguinity.”
Incestuous relationships or marriages are further prohibited in the 1st Schedule (Section 3) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, Cap 220, Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 1990, where it lists the prohibited degree of consanguinity to include that between father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister, uncle and aunt, niece, and nephew.
In addition, Section 214 (3) of the Criminal Code Act (a criminal law that is applicable in and covers all parts of Nigeria), Caption 77, Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) prescribes a minimum of 14 years imprisonment for those found guilty of incestuous liaison, which it referred to as “offence against morality.”
The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPP Act) 2015, explains that any form of sexual relations between people classed as being too closely related to marry each other (with or without) consent is incest and is liable to a minimum conviction of 10 years without an option of fine. Few, if any, convictions have been recorded in Nigeria.
There has been a clarion call from rights activists for government to pass the Sexual Offences Act (Amendment) Bill 2019 to protect minors and under-age against sexual exploitation and for states government to domesticate laws that criminalise incest.
According to Pastor Yemisi Ayorinde, poverty and lack of knowledge are major factors that promote incest. “Some mothers due to poverty and ignorance tell their daughters to keep quiet when they are being abused by their fathers.”
A legal practitioner based in Asaba, Delta State, Mrs Judith Enwelum, said incest is a criminal act; so the relevant laws must be enforced to deter potential offenders.
“The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 in Section 25, criminalises incest and prescribes a minimum term of 10 years imprisonment without an option of fine.”
Enwelum who quoted various laws against incest described it as a sexual act that can be said to be against the law of nature. The rights activist urged the government to pass the Sexual Offences Act (Amendment) Bill 2019 in order to protect minors and the under-aged against sexual exploitation. She further encouraged state governments to domesticate laws criminalising incest.
On his part, Dr Folusho Jayeoba Ilesanmi, a psychologist and senior lecturer, Department of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management (IRPM), Lagos State University (LASU), said the astronomical rise in cases of incest, if established, using scientific parameters, may be due to several reasons, which include underreporting of incidences in pre-social media era and during the more traditional era when families are likely to quash the reporting of incidences may make it seems like there is a surge, even if there isn’t.
He said, “So, a number of questions may be asked, such as: is there truly an astronomical, statistically significant rise indeed in incest? Was incest underreported in the past? Where is the occurrence prevalent; cities, towns or villages? Among which ethnic or religious groups?
“Although answers to some of the questions may be thorny and sensitive to have, they are crucial questions, just the same. The prevalence of incest has to be qualified, even as we try to quantify the occurrence.”
According to university don, “incest would mean sexual exchanges among family members, whether forced or consensual. By family members, one would mean those who are biologically related – father-daughter, mother-son, cousins, nieces or nephews.
“The case of step-father against step-daughter may not fit this definition, since they are not related biologically. The worse cases are when it’s practiced by adult members of family toward younger and vulnerable children.
“One will wonder if the occurrence of incest can be said to be unnatural because it’s found among other lower animals. Also, some families in Bible and modern times practised incest as a means of preserving their stock. I believe some royal families marry themselves as a norm. Certainly, though, it is culturally and legally forbidden among human beings in several societies,” he stated.
X-raying the prevalence of incest in society today, Ilesanmi said this may be attributable to many factors such as:
Waning traditional family values: In the past, incest is strictly forbidden and its occurrence may attract severe repercussions such as ostracism, heavy fines and exposure to shame in the close-knit cultural community. City life and liberalism of views and sexual permissiveness have increased general prevalence of sexual aberrations.
Moral decadence: The system of strict traditional and religious values has broken down in several communities of man.
Broken homes: Where a grown up daughter lives with the father, it does sometimes lead to incestuous relationship, whether forced or consensual.
Emotional imbalance: Cases of downtrodden emotions, depression, and trauma among others may lead family members to seek shoulder to lean on leading to emotional spark and unintended sexual activities.
Perversion or sexual deviation: Deviants have abnormal sexual desires and may become focalized on wrong targets like siblings, aunties and suchlike.
Shift in family roles due to poverty: Economic hardship had meant that survival had taken up the time available for staying to nurture the family. This shift in the role of women contributes because fewer women nowadays stay at home to watch over their children.
Ignorance among others: Lack of education on boundaries around sex may lead young siblings or members of same family to delve into sex before they realise it is forbidden.
Oedipus complex: The case is espoused of sexual attraction between children and the opposite sex parents. Male versus female and otherwise. The popular Ola Rotimi play: The Gods Are Not To Blame is built on such myths. That it often could play out in reality may explain cases of daughters falling in love with fathers and vice versa, or a son having sexual feelings towards his mother.
Communal living: Where large family live in single room apartments without partitioning between adolescent and vultures boys and girls, the outcome may be incestuous practices.
Denial of occurrence: In some instance, uncles’ sexual trespassing against younger nieces are covered up as family secrets; so is father to daughter. Often, this result in continuation of the act and some are reported to results into pregnancies and children born from such exchanges.
Exposure to pornography on TV and social media can inadvertently lead siblings to try out. Also older members of family bent on sexual mischief may deliberately expose younger members with a view to sexually exploit their innocence.
Little or no punishment for perpetrators: Where there’s little or no deterrent against acts, or perpetrators only get a slap in the hands, very likely the occurrence will soar. This may be the case we are witnessing in the surge of incest.
Financial inducements: Some big uncles or even a father may use gifts and money to gain the affection of opposite sex who is a family member. Poverty can be a factor in incest.
Social media: The prevalence of social media definitely has increased reportage and this may give the impression of surge. Many cases in the past go unnoticed.
On the psychological implications, Ilesanmi said this will depend on the factors leading to incest and whether the act is consensual or forced.
“Also, it will depend on if the practice is discovered, escalated or covered. If it is forced, it will be more like a case of rape on the part of the forced victim. A predator scenario is envisaged with consequences like fright, loss of confidence in male folks on the part of the female, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating psycho-social issues that if not attended to through counseling/psychotherapy may leave lifelong damage. Unwanted pregnancy, sexual diseases may also result.
“On the other hand, if the culprit is apprehended -– usually the older adult (male or female) -– there are consequences like legal action, shaming, being sent away (stracized) and other unpalatable treatment, especially where the act is strictly frowned at.
“Parents under whose watch this occurs also bear part of the shame and blame. If pregnancy occurs and the girl is too young, the parents may resort to abortion or bear the burden/shame of an unwanted child,” the don explained.
On the probable solutions, the psychologist said, “The solution is to prevent areas of unintended intimate interactions among siblings, cousins and live-in uncles and aunts. Separate rooms and bathroom can help when affordable.
“Legal action against the culprit: The enabling law must make it easy to report and adjudicate on incest. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 in Section 25, criminalises incest and prescribes a minimum term of 10 years imprisonment without an option of fine.
“Government, law enforcement agencies and judiciary should strengthen the above law through arrests, trials and sentencing of culprits in order to protect minors and under-aged against sexual exploitation, abuse which incest is.”
He stated that the prosecution of culprits of incest is not common, saying, “I have seen several incest cases quashed in the family. The family name has to be protected, anyhow.
“Sexual education should include issues around incestuous relationships and consequences. Counseling services should also exist for victims and culprits.
“Fewer cases of divorce and single parenting could reduce cases of incest from parents to children. Economic empowerment will embolden a woman to report rape if husband is discovered in the act,” Ilesanmi added.
Victims as activists
Speaking as a guest on an Africa Independent Television (AIT) programme, Amazons, Founder/Executive Director, Sexual Offences Awareness and Victims Rehabilitation (SOAR) Initiatives, Chinyere Eyoh, said she was raped for eight years by her uncle.
Her words, “He started to sleep with me when I was five, but at age 13, I just told him that I wasn’t doing it again. He tried one or two times more, but I insisted that I was no longer allowing him.
“It is sad to say and I regret that until my dad died, I never told him. My mum didn’t know as well until I came out to tell my story when I started this work. When she heard, she was devastated. She wondered how such could have happened right under her nose without her even suspecting.
“This is why I have the passion to do what I am doing; letting parents know that unless they train themselves to recognise the signs and become the parents they are meant to be, it can go on right under their nose without them knowing.”
“Sex education starts at two, three and above. Let the child become comfortable with their body parts; call them by their names. Let the child know that you can be their first point of call when they have anything to share.
“In everyday conversation, talk about it; take advantage of every opportunity you get. Let children know that not every uncle or aunty is a friend, because in our culture, every one older than a child is an uncle or aunty. We should teach our children that adults should be respected, but let them know that uncles can do things to them that is not right,” Eyoh added.
On how she was able to rise above the abuse and become what she is today, Eyoh said not every survivor will need to come and share their stories the way she is doing today, but she encourages them to get someone to talk to, preferably their pastors.
“A lot of times, victims and survivors are blamed by their families. They also shut them up; they don’t want the society to know what has happened. They keep it between themselves. Most survivors do not get the support they need from families, and that is why we are very heavy on awareness creation and teaching prevention strategies to parents and other child-care givers; so they know what to do to protect the children. We have programmes running in schools for girls,” she stated.