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Senate Passes Sexual Harassment Bill, 2020

The Senate at its plenary session of Tuesday, 7 July 2020 passed the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2020 (SB 77) which seeks to prevent, prohibit and redress the sexual harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions.

Presenting the report of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Chairman, Sen. Opeyemi Bamidele (APC: Ekiti) stated objectives of the Bill to include:

  • Prohibiting the offence of sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions;
  • Criminalizing the act of neglect or failure of administrative heads of tertiary institutions to address complaints of sexual harassment within a specified period;
  • Creating a strict liability offence by removing mutual consent, as a defense in the prosecution of sexual harassment cases in tertiary educational institutions; and
  • Maintaining and sustaining the fiduciary relationship that exists between educators and students with the aim of making tertiary institution a conducive center of learning and moral rectitude.

Following proceedings from the Public Hearing held on Monday, 17 February 2020, Sen. Bamidele noted that:

  • Stakeholders had unanimously agreed that the internal mechanisms of tertiary institutions for addressing cases of sexual harassment were either non-effective, non-existent or inadequate, hence the need for the Bill.
  • Stakeholders advocated the need for educators and practitioners to promote and uphold standards that will guarantee a safe and conducive learning environment for students.
  • Stakeholders strongly held the view that the aim of sanctioning sexual harassment in tertiary institutions was to ensure that no student on account of gender should learn in an environment characterized by sexual harassment.
  • Stakeholders maintained that sexual harassment in tertiary educational institutions should not be treated with levity in view of a special relationship that exists between educators and students.
  • Stakeholders agreed that the intent of the Bill aligns with the efforts on gender-based violence and other harmful practices being advocated against by human rights activist and organizations.
  • Stakeholders argued that the need to tackle sexual perversion in educational institution was commendable considering that sexual harassment is a great concern among citizens.
  • Stakeholders maintained that the Bill will address the pandemic of sexual harassment and “sex for grades” across tertiary institutions.

Contrary to the views of stakeholders highlighted above, Sen. Opeyemi explained that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) opposed the passage of the Bill by justifying their position on the grounds that:

– The Bill violates all known global norms and legal principles in the sense that universities are autonomous bodies and can regulate their own affairs including issues of misconduct with clearly articulated and appropriate redress mechanism.

  • The proposed legislation targets a particular person or a particular group which in this case are the educators in tertiary institutions.
  • The Bill is discriminatory, selective and spiteful, impulsive and lacks logic as it attacks the character of persons in tertiary institutions as if the act of sexual harassment is peculiar to tertiary institutions alone.
  • The provisions of the Bill excluded sexual harassment in primary schools, secondary schools and workplaces.
  • ASUU does not condone cases of sexual harassment in any form, hence the Bill is unwarranted, weak and filled with contradictions.
  • The Bill failed to take into cognizance the provisions of other extant laws with specific references to the Criminal Code Act, the Penal Code, Child Rights Act, Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015 and the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 which adequately deals with issues of sexual offences.

In line with the submissions on the Bill made at the public hearing, the Committee amended as follows:

  • The Long Title of Bill;
  • Clause 1 which deals with Objectives of the Bill;
  • Clause 10 which deals with Commencement of Criminal Proceedings;
  • Clause 11 which deals with Penalty;
  • Clause 12 which also deals with Penalty
  • Clause 14 which deals with Institutional Disciplinary Procedure;
  • Clause 15 which deals with Institutional Disciplinary Measures;
  • Clause 16 which deals with Independent Sexual Harassment Prohibition Committee;
  • Clause 17 which also deals with Institutional Disciplinary Procedure;
  • Insertion of New Clause 20 which deals with Remedy on the Grounds of False Accusation;
  • Explanatory Memorandum.

In conclusion, Sen. Opeyemi mentioned that the enactment of the Bill into law will fulfill part of the international obligation of the Federal Government undertaken through the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human Rights of Women in Africa and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, among others.

The Senate accordingly considered the report and retained all the provisional amendments in the Bill recommended by the Committee.

Click here, to view the full report of the Committee

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