The Chief Judge of Anambra State, Justice Onochie Anyachebelu has approved the establishment of a specialized court for children, Sexual and Gender Based Violence offences in the state.
The establishment of the court follows the request by the Commissioner for Women and Social Welfare, Anambra State, Mrs Ify Obinabo.
The court designated “Children, Sexual and Gender Based Violence Court Holden in Awka” is a magistrate court, which will strictly try special offences that affect children or gender based violence such as rape, child defilement, gender based violence crimes and other related offenses.
It aims to give accelerated hearing and to ensure speedy justice delivery to such cases.
With this development, Anambra State has become the second state after Lagos State to have established the Court.
Speaking on the development, the Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs Ify Obinabo explained that the court became necessary to address the numerous SGBV cases she found to have remained unattended to for many years in the Ministry, when she assumed office this year.
“When I assumed office, I found out that the Ministry had the problem of not giving accelerated hearing to these cases, with many lasting up to 5 to 8 years.
“And if we don’t prosecute these people and make them face the law, then the spate of these SGBV offences will continue.
“I then conferred with the CJ and then they granted this because without this court, the incessant adjournments at the regular courts will slow down the pace of prosecution of cases,” she said.
The Women Affairs Commissioner said the Ministry will provide every necessary support to ensure that the Court runs at full speed.
She said; “We have had our first cases and it is a major milestone in our efforts to stop issues of SGBV offences in the state.
“There is no going back, as my Ministry will provide every necessary support to ensure that the courts perform at its best.
“With the appointment of Magistrate Genevieve Osakwe as the first Chief Magistrate of the court, the first day of trial in the Court, saw the hearing of three cases which bordered on rape and child defilement.
“The cases were however adjourned to 3rd August, 2022 and the defendants reprimanded at Amawbia Correctional Center, Awka.
“With this achievement, it is now clear that it will no longer be business as usual for gender and sexual offenders in the State.”
When she was reached, the Coordinator, Violence Against Persons Prohibition, VAPP law Implementation Committee in Anambra, Hope Okoye, said the work of the committee had been made quite difficult because of the absence of a court designated for such matters.
According to him, since 2019 when the Sexual Assault Referral Centre, SARC came into being, they have not recorded one single conviction due to the delays associated with prosecuting such cases in regular courts.
Okoye commended the State Commissioner for Women Affairs for the establishment of the court, describing it as a step in the right direction.
“Prior to this time, the VAPP committee, together with the Sexual and Gender-Based violence response team, has been working in the state.
“Even with the establishment of the Sexual Assault Referral Centre, SARC, established in Anambra State as required by the VAPP law, we faced a lot of challenges.
“This SARC was established as a crisis centre for rape and sexual assault incident victims, where they access free medical tests and obtain medical reports for prosecution of cases in the courts.
“It is unfortunate that since 2019, we have not been able to secure any conviction because of the delay in the process.
“We found out that the cases are being charged in the various magistrate courts and most of them are transmitted to Director of Public Prosecution, DPP as matters that will be prosecuted at the High Courts.
“The magistrates have a lot of other criminal matters and most times, when these cases are brought before them, they consider those ones first and even give attention to cases by Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN.
“At some point, the victims and their families became unwilling to continue the matter because of these delays.
“And because up to 80 to 90 percent of the cases are those of minors, most times when these delays occur, the parents usually feel they are not to be exposed unduly,” she noted.
Okoye however urged that every necessary logistics be made available for it to succeed, advocating for the designation of a high court for such offences due to the jurisdictional limitations.
“Because many people are yet to informed of the presence of this court, it may not have the traffic it should.
“There is also need for high court to handle these cases because we are aware that the magistrates have limitations with the kind of sentences they can give.
“There is also need for provision of logistics for the court to function,” she said.