7 January 2013

Zambia: Gender Based Violence Fight - Can the Year 2013 Bring Hope?

THE year 2012 has gone but it has left deep scars of gender-based violence (GBV) which has become a common characteristic not only to Central province but the country's society as a whole, as highlighted by the Zambian media.

It has become common nowadays to read headlines such as girl, four, defiled and infected with a sexually transmitted disease, woman raped and brutally murdered and body set ablaze, among others.

But the question is; could 2013 bring about hope and security among the victims and affected families?

The victims of defiled girls and women being brutally murdered are crying out from the ground, they are crying out for justice.

Not long ago, First Lady Christine Kaseba could not hold back her tears when she visited the funeral house of a 12-year-old girl who was defiled and strangled in Chibombo at Musopelo Village.

The First Lady who wept, described the gruesome killing of the girl as barbaric and that it was unbelievable that the nation has gone down to a level where people are not only defiling children but killing them.

She says as a mother, it makes her sad to hear of children being defiled and killed.

Dr Kaseba, who endured the poor road network travelled the whole afternoon to reach Musopelo Village but only arrived close to midnight on Monday morning.

She arrived back in Lusaka in the early hours of Tuesday morning around 04:00hrs.

Therefore, the move by Dr Kaseba to lobby that GBV becomes a non-bailable offence last year was received with a mixed reaction but to the victims and women movement, the move is long overdue.

For sometime now, families to the victims have cried for stiffer sentences and not to bail out offenders of cases such as rape, defilement and other forms of GBV but this has not born fruits.

Dr Kaseba said the current sentences that had been meted out on perpetrators of GBV were not deterrent enough as evidenced from the continued rise in the number of cases.

Dr Kaseba was speaking when she officiated at the Zambia Association of Women Judges consultative symposium on GBV said there is need to work towards eliminating the scourge which has brought pain among family and victims.

"It is common knowledge that the courts in Zambia have been very active and applied very heavy sentences on offenders but we have continued to see a rise in the number of GBV cases. The heavy sentences are obviously not a deterrent and perhaps we need to apply stiffer sanctions on those convicted," she said.

The First Lady appealed to the Ministry of Justice to quickly establish a domestic violence court that would expeditiously deal with the rising cases of GBV.

And Acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda called for legislative amendments to allow for the establishment of fast-track courts.

She said the Judiciary must be in the fore front in the fight against GBV.

UNDP Resident Representative Kanni Wignaraja said high inequalities between the two genders had resulted in manifestations of social tensions and GBV.

She said Zambia's situation could be reversed like was the case with Brazil where reductions in inequality had led to a reduction in domestic violence.

Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) regional coordinator Juliet Kawanda said the women movement has over the years advocated non-bailable charges against would be offenders of GBV.

Ms Kawanda said the organisation has also been lobbying for the creation of a fast-track court to address issues of GBV and was hoping that the move by the First family through Dr Kaseba to support the creation of fast-track court and non-bailable charges as a welcome move.

President Michael Sata has since directed justice minister Wynter Kabimba to review the existing laws on gender-based violence.

Speaking at the inter-denominational church service to commemorate 16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV) at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka last year, President Sata said he was pleased that Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini and acting deputy chief justice Florence Mumba were in attendance at the service as they were key in amending the existing laws on GBV.

"I don't need to incite Ba Florence Mumba.The judiciary does not like any violence. Comrade minister of Justice, you should look at the existing laws and look at the existing penalties because we don't expect courts to do what the law does not permit them to do. Go to Parliament, and the Speaker, as a lawyer, is not going to stand in your way," he said.

President Sata observed with sadness that reports of defilement and GBV had become common characteristic of the Zambian society and that it was unfortunate that these reports had also crept into the Church.

"This is an alarming situation that requires concerted efforts, not just from Government but all stakeholders in the country. How can we say Zambia is peaceful when the cases of GBV are high? More efforts should be directed to ensure safety and peace of our nation is realised," said President Sata.

And a 21-year Kabwe woman, who is allegedly to have indecently assaulted a five-year-old boy and infecting him with a sexually transmitted disease walked to freedom after the court acquitted her.

Kabwe principal resident magistrate John Mbuzi said the there was no collaborative evidence to link the accused Tasila Mwale to the crime and, therefore, acquitted her.

In his ruling magistrate Mbuzi said as per amendment of the juvenile Act referred to in subsection (b) evidence of any other person can only be used to collaborate that of a child and that there was no collaboration evidence to that effect and found the accused not guilty of the offence.

On the other hand, Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) General secretary Fr Cleophas Lungu said the church was concerned that despite Zambia being a Christian nation, the country had continued to witness ungodly acts of GBV.

He said there was need for the country to aim at rebasing the moral behaviour in society and "not just the rebasing of the kwacha.

"Our prayer is that peace and not violence will reign on our land. We need to unite in this fight by eradicating any form of violence starting from the homes," said Fr Lungu.

It is clear that there is need to mainstream health centres, police, and court services which have to be supported and sensitised to handle the growing number of cases coming to them.

While, evidence-gathering investigation must be fast, scientific and water-tight. Insufficient evidence must no longer be an excuse for dropping so many cases.

This could be the only way to heal the wounds.

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