27 December 2012

Zambia: Why the Upswing in Gender-Based Violence?

GENDER-Based Violence (GBV) cases in Zambia have reached alarming levels despite stiffer punishments being meted out on the culprits.

Regardless of ongoing campaigns, cases of GBV are still on the increase, especially child abuse and wife battering which remain a big challenge, thus affecting the development of children and women.

Defilements, rape, sodomy and incest, child neglect, physical and emotional abuse as well as early marriages are sky-rocketing despite the courts of law sentencing the culprits to longer jail terms between 15 years and 30 years.

Despite, the courts meting out longer and life jail sentences, the cases have continued to swell.

Some quarters of society have been calling for stiffer punishment but then one wonders that if the current jail sentences amount to life imprisonment then how stiffer should the proposed sentences be for such offences?

Currently, the Zambia Association of Women Judges is working on modalities to establish specialised fast-track courts to deal with defilement cases.

During the 2012, 16 days of GBV activism, parliamentarians joined the march to show solidarity and add their voices in condemning GBV as a vice which is degrading and eroding morals of society.

Statistics from the Zambia Police Victim Support Unit indicates that the country recorded 9,612 GBV cases in the last quarter of 2012, a figure likely to surpass the 2011 record of 11,908.

Previously, GBV was prone to children and women but nowadays even men are victims and one wonders what is causing such vices to keep swelling.

While other culprits might give an excuse that they were provoked by their spouse, others might say they did not know what they were doing or that it was the devil that prompted them to do so, others will simply keep mute.

For example, in Kitwe, Marvis Mwansa 26, of 692 Bulangililo Township said she was forced to pour hot porridge on her husband after she got incensed by his failure to provide for the family.

In an emotional testimony, Mwansa narrated in a Kitwe Magistrate's Court how she recently poured hot porridge on her husband during a domestic dispute.

She begged the court to forgive her because she did not know what she was doing when she inflicted wounds on her husband of 10 years.

Mwansa would now serve four months simple imprisonment for the offence. She was sentenced to six months imprisonment but suspended for two months.

Other incidences of the recent past include a farmer of Mufumbwe who was sentenced to death for hacking his wife to death and burying the body in a shallow grave he dug in the family maize field.

High Court Judge Isaac Kamwendo handed down the sentence on Eden Dinala, 41, who brutally hacked his wife, Carolyn Zulu with a hoe on December 14, 2009.

The death sentence came on the heels of condemnation of GBV and the need for the police to effectively deal with perpetrators of violence against women.

In another incident, on October 12, this year, a 30-year-old man in Chingola was sentenced to death for murdering his wife whom he beat up after she refused to cook nshima for him.

Maron Sinkala, a house boy of Mutimpa A in Chingola was believed to have caused the death of his wife Edna Makaliki, 20, on December 29, 2011 after a fight erupted between the two.

Sinkala beat up his wife after she refused to cook nshima for him when he came from work.

In passing judgment, Mr Justice Kamwendo said the evidence in the matter strongly connected the accused to the commission of the crime.

In another case, a youth of Ikeleng'e in North-Western Province was sentenced to death for killing a 71-year-old woman he had knocked down and dropped a bicycle on her.

High Court Judge Isaac Chali sentenced to death Guardic Kavwanda, 25, who was charged with the murder of Zaina Kaivwa on September 2 last year.

In sentencing Kavwanda, Mr Justice Chali was satisfied that the assault and the death occurred within the same space of time.

And in defilement cases, the victims are usually minors, who are traumatised for the rest of their lives as observed also by the courts.

On June 13, this year, Kitwe High court Judge Judy Mulongoti sentenced a 38-year-old man to 50 years imprisonment with hard labour for having sex with his two daughters on several occasions.

James Musonda of B9-34 Robert area in Kitwe was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for two counts of incest after he had sex with his two daughters, aged 11 and 13, between October 2010 and February 15 last year.

In sentencing him, Ms Justice Mulongoti said she had considered his mitigation that he was a first offender who deserved leniency.

She, however, said Musonda committed an abominable crime and did not deserve leniency.

Ms Justice Mulongoti said Musonda's daughters would forever be traumatised by what he did to them.

"A perpetrator of such a gross, wicked and abominable crime deserves no leniency and I thus impose a sentence above the minimum sentence.

"I sentence you to 25 years imprisonment with hard labour on both counts and the sentences will run concurrently," she said.

The girl's had testified that their father used to have sex with them each time he returned home drunk and would threaten them with death if they ever revealed their ordeal.

Musonda used to have sex with the girls against their will either during day time or at night and he used to use an electric cable to beat the older girl whenever she turned down his advances.

The girls told the court that they used to take turns in having sex with their father on different days with him choosing the one he wanted at a particular time.

They said their father would accost them each time their mother was not home and that after their mother died they became traumatised.

In another defilement case, Mr Justice Chali sentenced Frank Bwalya, a 21-year-old man of Mungwi, to 30 years imprisonment after upholding his conviction by the lower court for defiling a 10-year-old girl on October 31 2009.

The girl had testified that on the material day, she was passing by Bwalya's house around 18:00 hours when he called her to collect money for the caterpillars that she had sold to him on credit.

Bwalya, who lived within the girl's neighbourhood, asked the girl to enter the house so that she could collect the money.

When she entered he locked the door, put the light off and threatened to kill her if she shouted for help or if she ever revealed her ordeal to anyone.

The same court also sent Peter Sinkala, 25 of Nakonde to jail after having carnal knowledge of his 18-year- old niece whom he further married between October 01, 2005 and October 31, 2007.

When the charge of incest was read out to him, Sinkala said he understood it and pleaded guilty.

He told the court that the girl was his elder brother's daughter and that he had proposed love to her and she accepted. Sinkala said he did not force the girl into having sex with him.

The actual reasons where there has been this sharp increase in the cases have not been established because no research has been done to that effect.

Kitwe District Women's Day committee member Grace Mikunga said there was need to do research and establish what has suddenly triggered the rise in GBV cases.

"As long as, we don't understand the root cause of the problem, finding a solution will also be difficult," Ms Mikunga said.

However, some reasons for increased cases of GBV, according to chairperson of the Permanent Human Rights Commission, Pixie Yangailo, include traditional norms, religious and customary attitudes.

Ms Yangailo, a legal practitioner, said traditional norms, religious and customary attitudes were at the centre of continued GBV cases and called on all stakeholders to take the opportunity to revise progress made in the fight against the vice.

On the other hand, Chief Madzimawe, who is chairperson of the House of Chiefs, attributed the increased gender violence to poor or lack of communication among families and high levels of poverty which prevents women from reporting such issues.

United Church of Zambia (UCZ) Reverend Bishop Sylvia Mukuka expresses sadness at the increasing defilement and GBV cases in the country and advises that men should take a leading role in condemning such acts to help reduce them.

Bishop Mukuka says GBV cases are a challenge to the nation, the Church and the courts of law and states that more needs to be done to intensify efforts in securing a safe environment for women and children.

"There is need for all of us to embrace Christian values, instill self-discipline and our menfolk should vigorously get involved in condemning the perpetrators of such offences whereas victims should not conceal such crimes," says Bishop Mukuka.

Copperbelt Province Indigenous People's Land Rights Network project coordinator Hachi Mulunda says there is need for society to be morally upright to overcome the challenges of GBV cases.

Mr Mulunda says it's everyone's responsibility to be morally upright and overcome temptations of defilement and spouse battering.

He, however, feels that other than the courts meting out stiffer punishments on the culprits, there is need for the offenders, to be taken for rehabilitation or give them life sentences so that they are kept away from society.

As echoed by Bishop Mukuka, the fight against GBV needs concerted efforts from all and one way is to embrace Christian values and instill self discipline and self control.

It's time to shift the paradigm from women seeking shelter from men's violence to insisting angry men stop abusing their partners because the female fork were more vulnerable than men.

And that shift should be the educational system, media, sports culture, Government, the courts, faith communities in order to collectively lay to rest a damaging, outmoded view of men and masculinity.

That shift also means teaching boys and girls and men and women to look at relationships through the lens of equality.

The old school belief of men dominating women,that objectify women and fails to confront privileged men flouting their entitlement should be loudly and relentlessly challenged.

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