Government will do well to enforce laws against incest
Incest in Nigeria, from reports, is becoming an uncontrollable rash, occurring between father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister, uncles, nephews, and nieces, while even minors are not spared. Incest is human sexual activity between family members or blood relatives; it is a crime of having sexual intercourse with a parent, child, sibling, or grandchild.
There were recent reports of a father who raped and impregnated his daughter and expelled her from their home, a five-year-old stepdaughter who was brutally raped, and a woman whose son fathered her three children. These bizarre stories pour in daily, inundating law enforcement personnel, who are not equipped to prosecute or are frustrated by the slow processes of the nation’s courts. Most of these cases, even when reported, are settled out of court, which may account for the paucity of data on cases of incest.
Yet, there are scientific reasons why incest is prohibited. It is to avoid inbreeding: a collection of genetic disorders suffered by the children of parents with a close genetic relationship. Such children are at greater risk for congenital disorders, death, and developmental and physical disability, and that risk is proportional to how close their parents are. Victims of incest suffer gravely and sometimes throughout their lifetime. They are damaged mentally and emotionally for years. Many must deal with feelings of guilt, shame, and sadness, ending up having anger management problems and distrust. Some victims have been known to be suicidal and others have taken their own lives.
While some people blame the prevalence of incest in Nigeria on broken homes and substance abuse, this is a forbidden redline most families hardly want to cross or discuss because of the discomfort and trauma associated with it. The bigger challenge is that only very few professionals venture to investigate incest. Also, because incest is horrendous and could bring a huge amount of shame and stigma on the family, incidences go unreported to the authorities for criminal prosecution. Regardless, in most Nigerian societies, incest is one of the most widespread of all cultural taboos, both in the present and in the past, according to sociologists and psychiatrists. Most modern societies have laws regarding incest.
Incest is a crime in Nigeria by virtue of Section 3, subsection 1, sub-sub section 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 on government to pass the Sexual Offences Act (Amendment) Bill 2019 to protect minors and under-aged against sexual exploitation and for states government to domesticate laws that criminalise incest.