9 April 2014

Tanzania: Poverty Bars Women From Accessing Justice

Zanzibar — A STUDY in Zanzibar has proved that accessing legal remedy becomes difficult to many victims of gender violence from poor families.

Ms Fatma Omar, 52, a farmer in Kiboje village, South Unguja is an example of a poor woman who decided to stop going to court because of frustrations in following up a rape case.

Fatma's daughter was seriously abused by a 35-year old man in October last year. The suspect who happens to be the victim's uncle was arrested one month later. He raped and sodomized the child on the day when the youngster was celebrating her ninth birthday.

"It is painful; my daughter's future has been ruined. The perpetrator was arrested and charged in regional magistrate court, about 40 kilometres from my residential area. It is difficult for me to follow up the case because I have no money for the bus fare and food," said Fatma.

She said: "I tried to follow up the case because I want the rapist jailed, but I have decided to give up. I am a widow who has to work hard daily to earn a living for my family of four, myself and three children." Fatma said she has failed to concentrate on the case because she cannot budget her time both for the case and struggle for survival.

"It needs money, a lot of time to hunt for justice. Always a court starts session late, and sometimes, the magistrate is absent leading to postponement of the case."

According to a study by Tanzania Women Media Association (TAMWA) in Unguja West District, examining the relationship between gender violence and access to justice, victims from poor families have problems in reaching police stations and courts.

While Justice, law and enforcers are there to enable people in the country live safely, the reality remains that still many victims, particularly the poor and marginalized groups like women, children and people living with disability have very little access to justice.

The November/December 2013 study indicated that many people mainly women in comparison to men have more difficulties in accessing justice as they constitute the majority of the poor.

TAMWA study revealed that many gender violence incidents are unreported, and yet for example, out of more than five hundred reported cases in the past three years (2011/2013) only thirtythree perpetrators were convicted. and many cases dismissed.

The problem also attributed to lack of access to justice, is mainly long distance to the Courts, and money to pay for bus fare from villages to police station and courts, and even distance to community leaders (Shehas) is also a burden. Ms Asha Abdi, activist with TAMWA, said it is important to ensure that justice is available to all people by easy access to judiciary, and would help in the war against gender violence in the islands.

She said that the study has proved that access to justice is a prerequisite in the fight against gender violence, and quick hearing of abuse cases. "Justice delayed is justice denied."

The activist argues that all stakeholders in anti gender violence should help to improve access to justice for victims in rural areas, where many gender violence cases are still unreported and perpetrators walk freely.

It was also established in TAMWA's study that many victims and their relatives in rural areas do not have the money to pay bribe to some police, and engage lawyers who demand big payment from their clients. Some organizations like the Zanzibar Female Lawyers Association (ZAFELA), and Zanzibar Legal Services Centre, provide free legal service, but the legal aid is limited, and still many poor people cannot afford to come to these organizations.

Haji Khamis Bakari, a parent from Bubwisudi village in West District, said distance was a problem, but also reception to victims and relatives of the victims who travel to hunt for justice, is not good. "The distance to onestop centres: Mnazi Mmoja, Kivunge in the north, and Makunduchi in the South of Unguja is also a problem.

One needs to spare enough time to get to the centres established to ease care to the victims. Sometimes some staffs use unfriendly language towards people who seek help," Haji said.

The Registrar of the Zanzibar High Court, George Kazi, admits that access to legal centres is still a big challenge to many people who fall victims of abuse in rural areas.

"We need better distribution of Police stations and courts throughout the Islands so that it is easy for people to report cases and follow-up," he said. Kazi said that the government has plans to increase Courts and magistrates in many parts of the islands, should funds be available.

Gender violence defined by the UN as "Any acts of gender-based violence that result in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and children, are perpetrated by partners and close family members.

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