Maputo — The Mozambican Minister of Public Works, Joao Machatine, on Friday announced that the government will not tolerate the sexual abuse of young girls by the employees of contractors working on road projects in Zambezia and Nampula provinces.
The government would approach these crimes with "an iron fist", he warned, at a meeting with the Ministry's road construction staff and contractors working on the Rural Roads Project. This was launched in 2018 to improve accessibility in the remote areas of the two provinces, and is budgeted at 260 million US dollars, funded by the World Bank and the government,
"It is very sad that 12 months after the rural roads project had been launched, there are records of the sexual exploitation of underage girls", said Machatine. "Six girls have been sexually abused in four districts".
In Zambezia, two cases had been reported in Mocubela and one in Pebane. In Nampula, there were two cases in Mossuril and one in Mogincual.
Without disclosing either the ages or the identities of the girls, for ethical reasons, Machatine declared that current laws strengthen, promote and protect children's rights and the government will not tolerate any form of such deplorable practices. Under Mozambican law, anyone under 18 years of age is a minor.
After recording these cases, he said, the Ministry took a number of measures which included expelling the individuals involved from the construction companies and holding them accountable for their behaviour. The move is intended to ensure that such acts are never recorded again, and the offenders will never be hired for any future contract.
Secondly, he added, the contractors will be held accountable for the offences, in order to ensure that their employees provide medical, food and every other form of necessary assistance to the victims, including child protection. They must not be exposed to any sort of retaliation. "Those are the immediate measures we have taken."
Machatine recommended that the contractors improve and expand awareness of child protection as well as placing gender based violence at the core of their priorities, because from now on penalties may include withdrawal of licences from contractors.
He advised contractors to create conditions which can prevent similar cases. They should first ensure conditions in the work camps that guarantee full control over staff, as the majority of the cases involve employees renting a shelter in the communities.
"The amount they get from the rent was meant to improve their livelihood, however what they receive in turn is sexual exploitation of their children," he said.
From the minister's point of view, hiring the work force locally, especially for jobs which do not need special skills, will help avoid similar cases, and contribute to child protection. He added that the cases reported have been sent to the Public Prosecutor's Office and the police.