The much-awaited Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 (VAPPA) has finally been signed into law! How does this law apply to us, one might ask. Well, it provides the legal framework for acts of violence or acts that negatively affect the fundamental rights of vulnerable persons especially women and children.

One of the most popular provisions of the law is the prohibition of female circumcision or genital mutilation. Despite efforts by government to discourage female circumcision, its performance is still widespread in our country. The law criminalizes any attempt to perform, the actual performance and the procurement of another person to perform the act of female circumcision. These are punishable with jail terms ranging from 2-4 years and fines ranging from N100,000-N200,000 and these also apply to people who incite or counsel others to perform the act.

Another popular thing the law expressly prohibits is the subjection of widows to harmful traditional practices such as isolation and confinement to a particular place, drinking of the bath water of a corpse, sleeping in the same room with a corpse etc by in-laws and the community. Any person who commits, attempts to, assists, incites or counsels another to commit any act of violence against a widow under the guise that such is part of the customs and traditions of such place is liable to a period of imprisonment or a fine.

The VAPPA also protects persons against physical abuse by their Husband/Wife or by any other person. The abandonment of one’s family (spouse, children and other dependants) without means of livelihood or support, forceful ejection of a spouse from home or refusal of access into the home are all offences under the new Act punishable with varying jail terms and fines.

Inflicting physical injury on a person, placing a person in the fear of physical injury or forcing a person to carry out an act that would be harmful that would be harmful to their physical or mental well-being or any other kind of emotional, verbal and psychological abuse is expressly prohibited under the Act and carry punishments of jail terms or fines.

Attacking a person with harmful and destructive liquids or substances such as acid is a crime punishable with life imprisonment while an attempt to attack a person(s) with harmful substances is punishable with 25 years imprisonment and no option of fine.

The offence of rape and other sexual related offences such as incest, indecent exposure of genital organs in such a way that would cause fear, distress or compel a person to engage in sexual activity, giving of substances such as drugs or alcohol with the intent to stupefy or overpower a person so as to enable sexual activity are also provided for under VAPPA. Punishment is stipulated for offenders and compensation for victims of rape where the court deems necessary. The law also provides for the maintenance of a sexual offence register which should be accessible to the public.

Keeping a person in forced isolation away from the person’s family and friends (kidnapping is an example of such an act), deprivation of liberty and forced financial and economic dependence (i.e. being in total control of a person’s means of livelihood and forcing such person to rely on the controller for sustenance) are also acts of violence prohibited and punishable under the Act.

The VAPPA criminalises acts of stalking, intimidation, participation in political violence even by State actors (Agents of government such as the Police or Armed Forces).

Victims of any of the above acts of violence or persons that suspect that violence may likely be committed against their person can approach the courts for the grant of a Protection Order against their attacker/offender. Persons who try to frustrate investigations or make false claims that would affect the outcome of cases covering any of the above violent acts are also liable to jail time or the payment of a fine.

For now, the law is only applicable in the Federal Capital Territory (F.C.T), Abuja. It is hoped that in good time the law would be enacted by the Legislative bodies at the State level and as such afford vulnerable people in other States of the Federation the same benefits as those in the F.C.T.