A SWAKOPMUND man convicted of five counts of child trafficking and of the sexual abuse of five minor girls was sentenced to an effective prison term of eight years at the end of his trial in the Windhoek High Court yesterday.
Although Bertus Koch abused society's trust in him as an adult and abused the innocence of five children when he committed or tried to commit sexual acts with them, a considerable degree of mercy was called for in view of his personal circumstances, judge president Petrus Damaseb remarked during Koch's sentencing.
Noting that Koch (41) had health problems and lived in poverty before his arrest, when he was trying to make a living by scavenging potentially useful items from dumpsites at Swakopmund, the judge president said: "He is a poor man, on whom life has not been kind. He makes ends meet in very trying and unenviable circumstances, but that cannot excuse the conduct I found him guilty of."
The fact that Koch had been in jail since his arrest at the start of May 2016 was a weighty mitigating factor, judge president Damaseb also said, before going on to sound a warning about the consequences to be faced by people who commit the sort of crimes of which Koch was convicted.
He said: "Those men and women in our community who are minded to abuse children in the manner he has done must know that the courts will not look kindly upon such abominable behaviour."
The judge president sentenced Koch to five years' imprisonment on each of the five counts of child trafficking, but ordered that one year of each of those jail terms would be suspended for five years on condition of good behaviour. He further ordered that three of the prison terms on the child trafficking charges would run concurrently with the other two sentences - translating into an effective prison term of eight years.
In respect of the five charges of committing or attempting to commit a sexual act with a child below the age of 16, which is an offence in terms of the Combating of Immoral Practices Act of 1980, Koch was sentenced to one year of imprisonment on each of those counts, with those sentences ordered to run concurrently with the one sentence for child trafficking.
Koch was initially charged with having raped five girls, at the time aged between nine and 13, during the period from November 2015 to May 2016 in the room where he lived in the DRC area of Swakopmund.
In the judgement that he delivered on 18 September, judge president Damaseb found that the evidence the prosecution presented to him in an attempt to prove the rape charges was contradictory and confusing and not supported by physical evidence, and that it would not be safe to rely on such evidence to convict Koch of rape.
However, he also found that other testimony - about Koch having been naked and masturbating in front of two of the children - had the ring of truth, and showed that Koch solicited the girls to commit sexual acts with him.
In terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, someone could be convicted of trafficking in persons if it was proven they received or harboured persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation, like Koch did, the judge president reasoned in his judgement.
Deputy prosecutor general Innocentia Nyoni represented the state during Koch's trial. Koch was represented by legal aid lawyer Mpokiseng Dube.