DAKAR, Senegal — A new law punishing child rapists with castration and death has come into force in a Nigerian state.
Men convicted of raping children under age 14 will have their testicles surgically removed before being executed, under legislation that the governor of Kaduna state signed on Wednesday. Women will have their fallopian tubes cut out.
Many Nigerians clamoring for action in the face of a countrywide rape crisis have greeted the new law enthusiastically, but critics say it is a populist move incompatible with the country’s Constitution. They predict it will lead to fewer rapes being reported.
Kaduna’s governor, Nasir el-Rufai, said the new measures were “required to help further protect children from a serious crime.” Why rapists would be castrated if they are then going be executed was not immediately clear.
Those convicted of raping people over age 14 also face castration, followed by life imprisonment under the new legislation.
The Kaduna government is the only one in West Africa to adopt such harsh punishment for rape, but castration has been tried elsewhere.
The Czech Republic offers voluntary surgical castration to violent sex offenders. And several American states have legal provisions for chemical castration, which uses a drug to reduce testosterone levels and is not permanent. Indonesia authorized chemical castration in 2016.
Earlier this week, Pakistan’s president suggested that rapists and child molesters be castrated; initially, he said they should be hanged, but then worried this might affect the country’s trading relationship with the European Union.
In Nigeria, the minister for women’s affairs said last December that two million women and girls were raped in the country each year. Then in June she said that the number of rapes had spiked to three times the typical rate, because women and girls were locked down with their abusers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The same month, Nigerian governors declared that the levels of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls constituted a state of emergency.
In recent years, Nigerian women have increasingly been coming forward with accusations of rape. Last year, the alleged rape of a 7-year-old in Kaduna caused widespread outrage.
But those who speak out risk being dismissed, or worse.
“The truth is, the pain of women and girls — including the kind of pain caused by sexual violence — simply isn’t a big deal in Nigeria,” OluTimehin Adegbeye, a Nigerian writer, lamented in a recent Op-Ed article in The New York Times.
Some studies have suggested that surgically castrated sex offenders are unlikely to reoffend.
But one Nigerian lawyer and activist, Chidi Odinkalu, said the law might make it even harder to reduce sexual assault in his country.
Much rape in Nigeria, as elsewhere, takes place within marriage. Socially, Mr. Odinkalu said, women and girls would be “toast” in their families and communities if they reported their husbands for a crime that carries the punishment of castration, and so they will be less likely to come forward.
“You’re going to get fewer cases of rape and sexual violence reported,” he said, asking, “What’s wrong with life imprisonment?”
Mr. Odinkalu described the new law as “legislative sadism.”
With 3.5 million child brides, Nigeria has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. It is unclear how the law will be applied in cases of child marriage, which is especially common across its northern states.
When one Nigerian official was accused of marrying an Egyptian 13-year-old in 2010, he defended himself by saying that the Prophet Muhammad “did marry a young girl, as well.”
That official, Ahmad Sani Yerima, has said he will run for president in Nigeria’s next election.