FACT CHECK: Nigeria’s Sexual Offences Bill stipulates 18 years, not 11 years, as age of consent

Femi Falana

Contrary to the belief that the recently passed Sexual Offences Bill encourages the defilement of minors, the legislation actually prescribes a life imprisonment term for anyone who has sex with someone under 18 years, PREMIUM TIMES can report.

The bill, which was among‎ the 46 legislations hurriedly passed by the last National Assembly, stipulates life imprisonment for any individual convicted of raping or having sexual intercourse with a minor, among others.

It sparked outrage after earlier reports that it had set 11 years as the age of consent for sexual intercourse.

Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, criticised the bill saying it empowerered the “clique of paedophiles.”

‎”All you need do is ‘marry’ even a six year old under any local laws, and do whatever you want with her. Through marriage, she is already an ‘adult.’ Her ‘defiler’ is now fully protected by this law. She is not,” he said at the time.

Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer, also described the bill as “obnoxious” and threatened to go to court if the bill is signed into law.

According to Mr. Falana, when the bill was unanimously passed for a second reading by the Senate on November 21, ‎2013, it sought a penalty of life imprisonment for the offence of defilement of children less than 18 years.

“It was that Committee (Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters) that illegally removed the age of 18 years and replaced it with 11 years,” said Mr. Falana.

In her response to the public outrage,‎ Chris Anyanwu, who sponsored the bill, accused its critics of hate-mongering and taking advantage of the negative public feelings built up against the legislature.

“I suspect that some of those fighting against the bill are fixating on the short title,” said Mrs. Anyanwu, a former member of the Senate.

“Its long title shows what it is: a sexual offences prevention bill; a tough deterrence to crime.”

‎What the bill says

The bill is known as “An Act to Make Provision About Sexual Offences, Their Definition, Prevention And the Protection Of All Persons From Harm, Unlawful Sexual Acts, And For Purposes Connected Therewith”.

Section 7 of the bill, the controversial part which dealt with defilement of children, states that:

‎7. (1) A person who commits an act which causes penetration with a child is guilty of an offence called defilement.

(2) A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child aged eleven years or less shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life.

(3) A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child between the age of twelve and fifteen years is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.

‎(4) A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child between the age of sixteen and eighteen years is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.

Chioma Nwigwe, Director of The Eight Foundation, said the different sub-sections in Section 7 ought to have been merged into one sub-section.

“‎This bill actually recommends imprisonment for life as punishment for defilement of‎ any child below the age of 18,” said Ms. Nwigwe, whose organization is dedicated to highlighting the issue of sexual violence against women and providing victims with the necessary support. 

“However, what is confusing is why they chose to put those penalties in different sections. The bill could have simply said: ‘A person who commits an offence of defilement on any child is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.’ The child has already been defined by the Constitution and by the Children and Young Persons Act.

‎”A lot of people have read just one subsection, which is that subsection‎ that says ‘A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child aged eleven years or less shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life’ and interpreted it to mean that 11 years is now the new age of consent, but that is not true. The same penalty is imposed on defilement of any child below the age of 18.‎”

Ms. Nwigwe called for an amendment of some sections of the bill, including Section (7)(5) which states that:

(5) It is a defence to a charge under the section (if)-

(a) It is proved that such child deceived the accused person into believing that he or she was over the age of eighteen years at the time of the alleged commission of the offence; and

(b) the accused person reasonably believed that the child was over the age of eighteen years.

‎”This is a child, you can’t expect‎ them to be responsible, that is why they are children,” she said. 

“That is why the law is expected to go out of its way to protect them. So when you impose responsibility on this child, you’ve taken away the protection the law offers them. The responsibility should be on the adult to make sure the child is over the age of 18, in which case they will no longer be children. 

“So what this law does is it takes away the coverage this law had given to the child and impose responsibility on the child. And that is what we should be fighting. These defences need to be taken out.”

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