ZAMBIA: Advocates push forward to protect women & children from violence
Lillian Banda – WNN Breaking
(WNN) Lusaka, ZAMBIA, AFRICA: With the global campaign to stop violence against women, 16 days of Activism, well underway, those who are working for women and human rights in Zambia are calling for the establishment of fast-track courts so that cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) are processed through the courts in the shortest time possible.
This comes in the wake of an increasing number of GBV cases that are being withdrawn from the courts by survivors, mainly due to prolonged delays in the delivery of justice.
The Non Governmental Organizations Coordinating Council (NGOCC) based in Lusaka, Zambia says that access to justice is only available to the few. It has remained a preserve of those who are well to do in society, outlines the NGOCC.
Gender Based Violence survivors are predominately women and girls who are not able to hire lawyers to represent them in court. Lack of funds is most often the reason. Lack of proper protections is the other.
Numerous families in Zambia have had to grapple with court cases resulting from GBV that can take as long as ten years to process; a situation that indirectly works to perpetuate violence against women and children.
In the face of challenges in reporting crimes of violence against women, many in the women’s advocacy and human rights movement inside Zambia are now proposing that the sentencing powers of Zambian Magistrates be changed to increase their ability to expeditiously deal with cases of GBV directly without having cases referred, and delayed, to the High Court.
Advocates are also demanding that sexual violence offenses such as rape and exploitation be made ‘non-bailable’ offences.
“This is because when perpetrators of GBV are given bail, they, in most cases tend to intimidate survivors to withdraw cases and as such, no justice prevails for the victims,” explains NGOCC chairperson Beatrice Grillo.
“We also propose that the Judiciary maintains separate books of GBV cases for easy tracking within the court system and that sensitization on the Anti GBV Act among members of the judiciary be scaled up so that the learned men and women adjudicating over matters of GBV are well acquainted with this law so that they can effectively apply its provisions,” added Grillo. “We further ask that child friendly courts be available,” Grillo continued.
The NGOCC is now urging the Zambian government to ensure that District Attorneys are deployed throughout the region so that women and children are able to access the courts and bring their cases to justice with fairness and ‘on time’ expediency.
Meanwhile, the government announced that it would soon put up an Anti Gender Based Violence Fund to assist survivors to “stand on their own and actualize their potential, ” said Minister of Gender and Child Development Inonge Wina recently.
If the Sexual Offences and Gender Violence Bill can be passed it would “make substantive amendments to criminal law with regard to violence against women and children,” says SIGI – Social Institutions and Gender Index report.
“The draft bill defines gender-based violence, including explicit psychological and economic violence, marital rape, dowry violence, widow inheritance or property grabbing, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, child marriage, among other offences occurring in the family, as well as exploitation and trafficking. It also provides for aggravated sentences when rape results in HIV transmission and for the presumption of lack of consent when the victim is a child or unable to resist,” continued SIGI.
Zambia has continued to record an increase in the number of cases of violence particularly against women and girls as evidenced by records from Zambia Police Service’s Victim Support Unit for the past number of years.
In an effort to help protect women and children Zambia’s YMCA has also recommended that “Stakeholders should consider putting up toll free lines specifically aimed at to addressing issues of GBV. This would among others, serve as a safe space for men to come out and seek counseling men. Such arrangements would help men who are cultured to keep things to themselves, confront issues without resorting to violence as a way of solving problems.”
Minister Wina recently revealed that the total number of cases reported in 2009 to the police across the country was 8,261. The number rose to 8,467 in 2010. The increase was even more extreme in 2011, which recorded 11,928 cases of GBV.
By the end of June this year, over 9,000 cases had already been reported; indicating that the statistics for this year are likely to surpass all previous ones. This is despite many measures being put in place by government and other stakeholders.
“We also urge government to ensure that as a nation we endeavor to promote zero tolerance against GBV and the time to act is now,” outlined Grillo. “Our members of parliament must be heard denouncing GBV during their debates.”
Lillian Banda is a WNN human rights journalist based in Lusaka, Zambia.
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