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Friday, December 2, 2022

What are the legal sanctions for domestic violence?

By Runsewe Solomon


Domestic violence is a violent act committed against a person in a relationship whom the law protects from assault, such as a spouse, a relative, or a dating or sexual partner. Some states also classify threats to commit violent acts against protected persons as domestic violence. Federal laws also make criminal certain acts that involve violence committed among persons in intimate relationships. In addition to criminal penalties, incidents of domestic violence can serve as grounds for court-issued protective orders that affect contact with the victim and child custody. The Hope Classics spoke with legal practitioners on the matter.  Excerpts;


Domestic violence transcends natural frontiers and has been condemned in legal instrument produced at both local and international institution in which Nigeria has participated. The root causes are varied and include inter alia the socio-economic position of the genders.  According to United Nations, domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner which could be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.

Also, section 18(g) of Lagos State Domestic violence Law define domestic violence to include physical abuse, sexual abuse exploitation including but not limited to rape, incest and sexual assault; starvation; emotional, verbal and psychological abuse; economic abuse and exploitation; denial of basic education; intimidation; harassment; stalking; hazardous attack including acid both with offensive or poisonous substance; damage to property; entry into the complaint’s residence without consent where the parties do not share the same residence; or any controlling or abusive behavior towards a complainant, where such conduct harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or well-being of the complainant; deprivation against any person.

Laws against domestic abuse are essential in the effort to protect battered men and women from the abuse. Despite the alarming rate of domestic violence in Nigeria, domestic violence does not fall within the exclusive legislative list of the National Assembly under the 1999 Constitution as amended. However, it comes within the confines of legislative competence of states.

The Judicial ineffectiveness when dealing with individual cases of violence against women encourages an environment of impunity that facilitates and promotes the repetition acts of violence in general and sends message that violence against women is tolerated and accepted as part of daily life.

The legal battle has further been weakened by some statutory provisions which actually appear to support components of domestic violence. A typical example is the Section 55(1) of the Penal Code (applicable in Northern Nigeria) under which the beating of a wife for the purpose of correction is deemed legal. The deep cultural belief system further initiates and sustains the prevalence of domestic violence in Nigeria.

Also, domestic violence may be dealt with under civil proceedings, although the law in most states prohibits action in tort between husband and wife as a means of preserving matrimonial peace, such action are now permissible in appropriate cases in some states. The possibility also exist for the grant of a decree of divorce or judicial separation on the fact that since the marriage, the respondent has behave in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably expected to live with the respondent.

Nevertheless, there have been some attempts in various states to provide some legislative framework for protection against domestic violence. But these laws are essentially lacking in providing full remedies such as provision of prompt and safe housing for victims, ensuring sustained policy implementation, financial security and public awareness.

Some states which include Anambra, Bauchi, Enugu, Kaduna, Ekiti and Oyo states have also domesticated the law into their state law.

The Law covers domestic violence ranging from depriving a person of his or her liberty, damage to property with intention to cause distress, forced financial economic abuse, forced isolation or separation from family and friend, verbal and psychological abuse, abandonment of spouse, children, and other dependents without sustenance, stalking and attack with harmful substance.

Adedunmade Onibokun, Esq

I have read about many victims of domestic violence, seen photos of bruised women and heard of the psychological effects it has on the personalities of these victims.

The fear it creates in their minds and in extreme circumstances, the death of such victims. Domestic violence is a monster; it is wrong and should be prohibited by all means.

It’s common to hear friends and family members asking one to endure and bear with it or better yet pray that the husband turns a new leaf and begins to see his wife as a partner rather than a punching bag. Let’s not forget wives who also beat their husbands, though they are a minority.

In family courts today, domestic violence is one of the many grounds upon which spouses seek dissolution of their marriages.

Over the years, there has been a call for decisive legislation to deal with domestic violence in Nigeria and finally its here.

Section 19 of the Violence Against Persons Act 2015 prohibits spousal battery and provides thus:

“19(1) A person who batters his or her spouse commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or to a fine not exceeding N200, 000 or both.”

This law is most welcome by advocates against domestic violence and a relief to victims who must now be informed that there is a law to check their plight.

The law further states that an attempt to commit the act of spousal battery also attracts imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding N100,000 or both. Inciting another to commit the offence also attracts a jail term not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding N200, 000 or both. Same goes for an accessory after the fact who aids another who has committed an act of spousal battery.

Though, this legislation is a step in the right direction, spouses need to be informed and most especially supported. The fear of public opinion and also the protection of the children or family name may prevent victims of domestic violence from speaking out while they suffer in silence.

Such people must understand that there is no need for shame, rather they should hold their heads up high for they are survivors, it’s the wrestler of a spouse that should be ashamed.

Bewaji Idowu Isaac Esq

The Prohibition Against Domestic Violence Law of Lagos, State Law No 15, 2007, was enacted as a response to the rising incidents of violence against women in Lagos State.
The state of the legal system prior to the enactment of the Law was generally unfavourable to women who suffered beatings and abuse from their partners. The Criminal and Penal Codes provide for punishment for assault but most women would not consider taking their partners before the Law Courts.
The enforcement agencies, such as the police, were not interested in pursuing cases of a ‘domestic’ nature when there were more ‘serious’ crimes such as robbery to deal with.
The law prohibiting domestic violence is a mechanism to correct the inadequacies of the legal system by ensuring that victims of domestic violence are protected, the strict compliance of police officers in apprehending suspects, providing alternative orders such as interim protection orders and expanding the definition of the laws that constitute domestic violence.
This Focus analyses the law in order to identify ways that women can access justice through the judicial system and proffers suggestions for the effective elimination of violence against women in Nigeria.

Ayelabola Esq

Traditionally, in Nigeria, as in many other African countries, the beating of wives and children is widely sanctioned as a form of discipline (UNICEF, 2001).
Therefore, in beating their children parents believe they are instilling discipline in them, much the same way as in husbands beating their wives, who are regarded like children to be prone to indiscipline which must be curbed.
Violence against women in the home is generally regarded as belonging to the private sphere in Nigeria and is therefore shielded from outside scrutiny.

Police actions in domestic violence have been widely evaluated; this also has been the arena of legal interventions where experimental designs have been used most often.

Although the results have been the strongest overall, they have also been equivocal.

The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment is perhaps the

most widely cited and influential criminal justice experiment in recent criminological and policy literature.

The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment (Sherman and Berk, 1984a,

1984b) was a critical event in changing public and scholarly perceptions of domestic violence from a “family problem” amenable to mediation and other informal, non legal interventions

(Bard and Zacker, 1971) to a law violation requiring a formal criminal justice sanction.

In that experiment, street-level police officers’ selections of the most appropriate response to misdemeanor domestic violence were determined by an experimental design, i. e., random assignment to one of three treatments: (1) arresting the suspect, (2) ordering one of the parties out of the residence, and (3) advising the couple.

Using victim interviews and official records of subsequent police contact, Sherman and Berk (1984a:267) reported

that the prevalence of subsequent offending—assault, attempted assault, and property damage—was reduced by nearly 50 percent when the suspect was arrested.

On the basis of the results from what they emphasized was the “first scientifically controlled test of the effect of arrest on any crime,” Sherman and Berk (1984b) concluded that: These findings, standing alone as the result of one experiment, do not necessarily imply that all suspected assailants in domestic violence incidents should be arrested. Other experiments in other settings are needed to learn more.

But the preponderance of evidence in the Minneapolis study strongly suggests that the police should use arrest in most domestic violence cases (1984b:1).

Adetoro Awojobi, Esq

The Dilemma of domestic violence is that because a man is married to a woman does it mean that he has the right to beat her? And on the other hand, the dilemma of “I don’t want to end my marriage I just want the violence to stop. Most women are faced with the resentment from the family of the abuser and the attitude of the police towards victims of domestic violence and the constant battery.

The VAPP Act is the first criminal legislation in Nigeria to prohibit and punish female genital mutilation, forced eviction by a person of his/her spouse and children, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuses, harmful widowhood practices, political violence, etc.

The VAPP Act also provides a protection order to protect victims of domestic violence. However, the Act is restricted in its application to the federal capital territory, Abuja. It is hoped that the component states of the federation of Nigeria will locally enact the Act into law.

Protection Order and Offences Section 23 of the VAPP Act provides for a protection order. A protection order has been defined in the interpretation section43 as an order issued by a judge and which restrains a person, whether a private person or a State Actor from further abusive behavior towards the victim.

An application for a protection order can be made at any time since there is no time restriction within which the application shall be made. The format which an application for a protection order shall take is provided for in the schedule to the VAPP Act.

The persons who on behalf of the victim or complainant may apply for a protection order are provided for in s.28 (4) of the VAPP Act. However, the victim must give his consent in writing before the said persons can act on his behalf.

The requirement of consent is discountenanced with where the victim is a minor, mentally retarded, or unconscious. Interestingly, under s. 28(5) of the VAPP a minor or a person acting on behalf of a minor can apply for a protection order without the consent or assistance of the minor’s parents or guardian.

Segun Oni, Esq

Domestic violence has become so rampart in the recent times, one wonders why this is so now.  There have been so many views on this, it means so many things to many people but the fact  remains that outrightly, it should be condemned and not encouraged.

The Oxford Dictionary defines domestic violence as violent or aggressive behaviour within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner.

Domestic violence is the intentional and persistent abuse of anyone in the society.

It is basically against women folk, it borders on the attitude of certain men, it can also be said to be an abuse against this set of people. Nonetheless, it does not negate the fact that men can as well be victims of domestic violence but predominately, it is basically against the women.

It will be right to say that the concept of domestic violence varies from people to people, from race to race, this shows or reveals attitude to women, perception about women, cultural belief about the women.

I will simply look at it from the lowest point of view, by considering the two key words one after the other, that is, domestic meaning something that has to do with homes, family affairs or issues while the word violence means the use of force.

Domestic violence is characterised by a life of struggle, I don’t mean financial struggle but here I am talking of emotional struggle, trauma to our mothers, wives and sisters but definitely

It has been defined in the Domestic Violence Act to include any act that causes bodily pain or danger to life, limb or health or development of the victim. Assault, criminal force, and criminal intimidation are forms of physical abuse.

The current definition of domestic violence is: “any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse [psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional] between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”

Looking at all the definitions from different individuals and organizations, it becomes an incontestable fact that domestic violence is a criminal act which is very capable of terminating the life of the victim, no doubt, it is a violation of fundamental rights viz:

Right to life; Right to dignity of human person; Right to personal liberty; Right to private and family life; Right to freedom from discrimination (Sections 33;34;35;37;39;42 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended).

Basically, it is a violation of the fundamental right of the victim and must be challenged in the competent court of jurisdiction.

Apart from the Criminal Code and the Penal Code, there are other laws like the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition Act (VAPP)2015 – this has been domesticated by so many states, also Protection Against Domestic Violence Law (PADLV) – this was passed in 2007 and is only applicable in Lagos State.

Then a very notable organization in this area is International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) – they have branches all over the nation; they challenge any form of women abuse.

All these enactments and organizations are meant to curb and to punish any perpetrator of domestic violence.


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