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Muthoni Muriithi – WNN Justice

Disabled girl Uganda

Girl children in Uganda who have special needs because they are disabled, as in numerous regions worldwide, are especially vulnerable to sexual violence. Image: Espen Faugstad

(WNN) Kampala, UGANDA, AFRICA: In many instances accessing justice can be difficult for most women and girls around the world, particularly in cases of sexual violence.  Those with disabilities are often presented with serious additional challenges.  In the case of a young girl in New York who was gang raped by three boys last year, the state police has just decided that she was not sexually assaulted at all, due to the fact that both she and her three rapists had low IQs.  The New York Penal Code permits rapists to avoid prosecution if they can illustrate ‘mental incapacitation’, which causes them to be unaware of their victim’s refusal to give consent.

Unfortunately the New York law is not unusual. Inadequate global laws fail to protect the fundamental human rights of women and girls around the world who suffer under similar challenges.

“Women and girls with disabilities experience violence in many ways: in their homes or in institutions, at the hands of members of their immediate family, care givers or strangers, in the community, in schools and in other public and private institutions. According to a report by the European Parliament, almost 80 per cent of women with disabilities are victims of violence, and they are four times more likely than other women to suffer sexual violence. According to the report, 80 per cent of those who living in institutions are exposed to violence from the people around them, whether health and service personnel or caregivers,” said the United Nations OHCHR – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in March 2012.

“Research has also found that women and girls with intellectual disabilities are at a particularly high risk of violence, including sexual violence,” continued the OHCHR.

In the fight to stop violence against girls who are disabled Equality Now is currently campaigning on behalf of Sanyu, a blind, deaf and mute Ugandan girl who was raped at the age of 13. In 2007 she became pregnant as a result.  Although her mother contacted the authorities at the time authorities did not follow up with Sanyu’s case.

It was only after the case was publicized in the news media that the police decided to open an investigation.

In 2008 Sanyu gave birth to a baby boy.  As her disabilities made it impossible for her to identify her rapist, her mother asked if family DNA tests could be made to help establish the identity of the father of Sanyu’s child. At the time of her rape, Sanyu’s father and three brothers were the only males who had been in contact with her. In spite of this request at the time no DNA samples were taken by the police.

In 2011 Equality Now raised the funds necessary for the completion of DNA testing to help Sanyu and her case. This action, along with sustained pressure on Ugandan authorities by the Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities, helped the case to be reopened. DNA samples were taken from three of the four family suspects in the case in August 2011. One brother who ran away after the crime never did have DNA testing.

“Despite the urging of our partner, Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities, the Ugandan government refused to pay for DNA testing, giving a message that violence against [the] disabled will be tolerated,” said Yasmeen Hassan, Global Director of Equality Now, in a September 2012 formal report created for a UN Expert Group Meeting on “Prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls” organized by United Nations super agency on women – UN Women, in cooperation with ESCAP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO.

The DNA results showed that, although none of the three family members were the father of Sanyu’s baby, the baby’s father was a true genetic match with the same paternal line. In the last month Sanyu’s missing brother was found dead in a nearby lake close to the family home. In spite of finding the body the police are still refusing to test the brother’s DNA to help in Sanyu’s case.

According to reports, no effort has been made by the police or authorities to apprehend and test the remaining suspect. Disturbed by the lack of a thorough investigation Equality Now, along with the Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities, feel the five year delay in justice for Sanyu now creates an ongoing impunity for Sanyu’s rapist.

Equality Now is currently working to persuade the police to get DNA evidence, that may greatly help the case, from Sanyu’s dead brother.

To ensure that Sanyu and other girls in similar situations receive human rights under justice, Equality Now has also called on the government of Uganda to live up to its legal and ethical domestic and international obligations. They’ve also asked the Ugandan government to take additional steps to improve the investigation process and prosecution rate for sexual violence cases involving victims with disabilities in the region.

“While laws and legal systems are commonly perceived as a response to violence against women, it is clear that a well-functioning system with comprehensive laws on gender equality and violence against women goes a long way in preventing violence against women through sending a clear message from the State that such acts will not be tolerated,” continued Equality Now Director Yasmeen Hassan.

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Link here to see how Equality Now is currently Taking Action on this issue.

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WNN/EN