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Zambia grapple with sexual abuse cases

By Kulthum Ally

LEGAL system in Zambia is still facing several challenges in managing and expedites cases of sexual abuse, particularly, on female children; it was raised at a training workshop of legal practitioners on ‘substantive and procedural laws that facilitate girls’ access to justice.’

“Some of the challenges in dealing with sexual abuse cases include shortage of skilled personnel and lack of modern facilities including DNA machine, leading to poor tracking of these cases,” some law practitioners observed.

The lawyers mentioned another problem in dealing with sexual abuse cases as ‘most cases are solved at family level, and only few are brought in court when evidence has been lost.’

Police report of 2011, indicates that cases of sexual assault of girls hit 1939, with only 511 going through legal procedure, 66 withdrawn, and 329 still under study. “These cases fail to be addressed quickly, due to insufficient evidence,” said Tresphord Kasale, police national coordinator of victims of sexual harassment in Zambia.

He said many families file cases with insufficient evidence, prompting delays in most cases of sexual abuse of young girls. Kasale argues that many sexual abuse cases require a detailed examination, but also due to limited expertise and equipments, cases take longer.

“We have no DNA machine in Zambia; this prompts us to send samples to South Africa for investigation. This takes longer and also is costly,” said Kasale adding that it’s also a challenge to realize evidence from children beyond reasonable doubt.

The police officer said that the police evidence is largely based on the testimony of a child who has been a victim, but sometimes it becomes difficult to obtain evidence from children who fail to completely explain.

“Lack of close cooperation in collection of evidence, is another hitch in sexual abuse cases. We need greater collaboration with children who have abused, if we do not get collaboration with the children, and then the problem becomes difficult to hold,” said Kasale.

According to the Government statistics, about 12,000 cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) were recorded in 2011 alone, which includes two thousands cases of defilement. However, only 1 in 6 or roughly 2000 Cases proceeded to court and out these, 230 cases were withdrawn while some 850 cases resulted in convictions.

Driven by these shocking statistics, the Zambia government has declared to strengthen war on GBV by overcoming all challenges in the legal procedures and public awareness so that perpetrators are brought to justice.

“This tendency to finish abuse cases out of courts should be left immediately, we as stakeholders of human rights, must make sure these cases are solved in law courts in efforts to end the menace in Zambia,” said Alfreda Kansembe deputy minister. of Justice.

She said that the stakeholders have a key role key in bringing about change in the community, particularly working together in ensuring that the GBV offenders are brought to justice.

“We are tired of these unacceptable practices in our communities. We need to join forces against those who commit sexual offences and also ask for the review of laws so that we have tougher punishments to minimize the offence,” said the deputy minister.

Women and children rights activists in Zambia have continued to encounter challenges in tracking these cases including cases of abuse and gender-based violence tarnishing the image of Zambia. One of the challenges is having the community understand a proper definition of a child as far as age is concerned when it come to abuse.

The activists think Zambia community still needs to be educated about the right of the children. “There is laws discrepancy, the community law and constitution differ in defining the age of the children, this provides a room for underage marriage,” said Eugenia Temba, the coordinator of TAAC.

Eugenia pointed out that gender based violence have continued affect women psychologically, as well as health and education, “We should not be silent, we need to act and stop GBV undermining the development of most women and particularly young girls.”

According to United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Children’s Charter is a comprehensive instrument that sets out rights and defines universal principles and norms for the status of children.

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (also called the ACRWC or Children’s Charter) was adopted by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1990 (in 2001, the OAU legally became the African Union-AU) and was entered into force in 1999. The ACRWC and the CRC are the only international and regional human rights treaties that cover the whole spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

It calls for the creation of an African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Committee of Experts). Its mission is to promote and protect the rights established by the ACRWC, to practice applying these rights, and to interpret the disposition of the ACRWC as required of party states, AU institutions, or all other institutions recognized by AU or by a member state.

Children in Africa are affected by many different types of abuse, including economic and sexual exploitation, gender discrimination in education and access to health, and their involvement in armed conflict.

Other factors affecting African children include migration, early marriage, differences between urban and rural areas, child-headed households, street children and poverty. Furthermore, child workers in Sub-Saharan Africa account for about 80 million children or 4 out of every 10 children under 14 years old which is the highest child labour rate in the world.

The ACRWC defines a “child” as a human being below the age of 18 years. It recognises the child’s unique and privileged place in African society and that African children need protection and special care. It also acknowledges that children are entitled to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, thought, religion, and conscience.

It aims to protect the private life of the child and safeguard the child against all forms of economic exploitation and against work that is hazardous, interferes with the child’s education, or compromises his or her health or physical, social, mental, spiritual, and moral development.

It calls for protection against abuse and bad treatment, negative social and cultural practices, all forms of exploitation or sexual abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation, and illegal drug use. It aims to prevent the sale and trafficking of children, kidnapping, and begging of children.