‘Positive step’ taken in Nigeria against sexual harassment

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NIGERIA

An anti-sexual harassment bill aimed at protesting university students in Nigeria has passed second reading.

Several more steps are required before the bill – introduced by the Nigerian senate in October – could become law, but the progress has been hailed by many as a positive step.

The bill must ultimately be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives before it can be signed into law by the president.

What does the bill say?

Under the proposed law, teaching staff could face up to 14 years in prison for having sexual relationships with their students.

Grabbing, hugging and touching a sensitive body part of a student are listed as sexual harassment. The proposed legislation also seeks to stop teaching staff from sending sexually explicit messages to their students.

Students could face expulsion for making false accusations under the law.

Why was the bill introduced?

The anti-sexual harassment bill was originally introduced in 2016 but didn’t pass both houses of parliament.

The revised legislation was proposed last month following a BBC investigation that uncovered alleged sexual misconduct by lecturers in Nigeria and Ghana.

“The most effective way to deal with the offense of sexual harassment in our tertiary institutions is to penalize the very impropriety of the act, with or without consent,” Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege said.

Are there any omissions?

The bill has faced criticism because it does not cover issues of sexual abuse in centers of worship or schools.

‘’I think it’s a gross omission on the part of lawmakers to exempt religious leaders from the bill because some of them are perpetrators or enablers of sexual harassment,” gender rights activist Olufunke Baruwa told the BBC on Friday.

“The bill currently places religious leaders above the law and that’s unacceptable.”

Senator Omo-Agege argued that extending the bill to schools, centers of worship and workplaces was unnecessary because they were already adequately covered by the country’s criminal code.

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