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Where’s the justice for abused kids in Zimbabwe?

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My aunt’s 12 year-old daughter was recently cornered in a secluded little room by the caretaker of their block of flats where they stay in Avondale. He tried to rape her. Thankfully she managed to escape unscathed, but she is still reeling from the effects of the trauma associated with that experience.

My family has gone through a frustrating episode over this and probably writing about it is my way of dealing with it. Attempted rape in my book and the book of our law is a criminal offence that is (or should be) punishable by long imprisonment. The mother reported the case to the police who at the time swiftly acted and condemned the caretaker to the cells. Less than 48 hours later, the man was back in the yard, going about his business and acting like all was normal. This was quite baffling and it soon became apparent that a few palms had probably been greased.

Realizing the danger of having this man lurking around his victim and the other children, the residents committee unanimously decided to relieve him of his duties as caretaker. But at the moment, the man is not only carrying on as if nothing has changed, he has also harassed the chairperson of the residents committee and slashed her maize crop after she served him with a letter of dismissal. He has also threatened my aunt with unspecified action. In short, the man is a dangerously loose canon and I shudder to think of what he is capable of doing. My aunt has tried going back to the police who have informed her that the assailant paid an admission of guilt fine and could not be detained outside certain ‘specific’ charges. I know it must be devastatingly traumatic for her because the man who fondled and groped her child is still around perhaps promising more, and nobody seems interested in doing anything about it, especially the police.

In a desperate move, my aunt has approached numerous local child protection organizations; a lot of whom have not been able to do anything much for her either because they claim to be overwhelmed.  While I appreciate that obtaining justice for an abused child is not an automatic process in Zimbabwe, it is still quite disheartening that none of these organizations have taken a real interest in dealing with this particular case. My relatives have literally been tossed from one organization to the other and the kid has probably suffered even more trauma from having her case rejected from all sides. Meanwhile she lives in real fear of the moron that tried to rape her.

A few weeks ago, a dejected father whose daughter was raped by a school’s grounds man attended one of our monthly thematic discussions, which focused on abuse in schools. His story was also very sad because the grounds man was being permitted to continue working as normal, lurking around all the small children as the case was still being deliberated on. The father could not obtain justice for his child too, thanks to a lot of red tape and the perennial bureaucratic processes one has to go through to get closure in such cases. His daughter was also denied a place at a nearby school in Marimba because the headmistress said she did not want any ‘problems’. I have heard of several more cases like these – where the perpetrator gets off scot free. It is sad to note that a lot of the organizations representing children’s rights in Zimbabwe are toothless bulldogs who really aren’t doing much on the ground except justifying their existence sufficiently enough to extract rent from the next donor. I know that sounds really accusatory, but people like my aunt and the man whose child was molested by a grounds man and the children themselves, are meant to be amongst the intended beneficiaries justifying the existence of such organizations and their programming.

So if organizations that purportedly work to represent children’s rights are constantly too busy and keep referring cases to each other to no avail, then I guess they are not doing enough. And I don’t know what’s even sadder – that they are too overwhelmed (which says a lot about the levels of child abuse in the country) to pay attention to some cases or that for most of them, they feel that their hands are tied and they cannot actually do much outside what our callous police dictate.

It is my hope that one day, our social services, child protection civic society and the court system may actually work and function to protection our most valuable asset as a country – the children. Probably there is a need for a coordinated response that achieves real impact among these organizations so that the constituents they serve are clear of where to go when in need. In other countries, when a child tells an adult that he or she has been sexually abused, it is taken seriously and a lot is done to protect that child from even seeing the person while the case is being investigated.

I look forward to the day when no matter how complex a case is, or how busy they are, no abused child will ever be turned away from a child protection organization.

4 comments to “Where’s the justice for abused kids in Zimbabwe?”

  1. Comment by Rev Fr.Taylor Nyanhete:

    I am shocked, to say the list about this story and the lack of cooperation by Child rights organisations; me included although I do not remember handling the case or receiving it. I am coping the case to my colleagues in the child rights sector for comments so keep in touch. If you have an e-mail address share it with me so that you see to who I have posted the complaint to. Lets work together to reduce this scourge that is on an alarming increase. My landline is 796904/793966. cell oii328440/0912430450. Address 19 SELOUS AVENUE. HARARE. 1 ST FLOOR MASS MEDIA HOUSE . lETS ADDRESS THE ANORMALLY IN THE ORGANISATIONS

  2. Comment by John Mutumburanzou:

    The issue referred to in your blog makes sad reading. Probably and most certainly, the issue about justice for abused children is something which the constitution we are crafting need to address without fear or favour once and for all. That done we need to give sharp teeth to the laws so that they bite in case the implementation of those laws suffer terrible epileptic convulsions.

  3. Comment by Sithembile Nyoni Mpofu:

    My heart goes to these and many affected families. We have excellent laws…. but the gap between the written word and actual delivery of justice is an outcry. The new constitution needs to be address some of these anomalies. I hope all of us who read this will be part of the members of society who are advocating for constitution that addresses not only just delivering on justice, but ensuring that children are fully protected, and provided for, as well recognized as significant participants in decisions that affect’s their lives. Thank you for sharing your life and inspiring us to do more advocacy work for children.

  4. Comment by Petronella Nyamapfene:

    I have noted that many at times when a child is sexually abused, society and communities are not yet well informed and sure of where to go and how to deal with the matter.

    It is sad that a lot of the players in the child protection sector be they government departments, civic organizations have not yet managed to understand some of the steps to take when a child has been sexually abused.

    This article is meant to empower parents and caregivers on how to access assistance with a child that has been abused. It will also educate them and all those interested in the justice delivery system on the stages to follow from the reporting stage to the initial appearance of an accused person in court. The article will also shed light on the role of other players especially child protection organizations in such matters.
    Who are the people in the justice delivery system?

    • The investigating officer: this is the police officer who investigates and compiles a docket on the case. He is the one who records statements from the complainant, other state witnesses and accused person’s statement in response to the allegations. He also compiles documentary evidence such as medical reports, documents showing accused’s and victim’s age if necessary.

    • Public Prosecutor- the prosecutor is the state’s legal practitioner and also represents the victim. The prosecutor’s duty is to ensure that justice prevails by presenting the facts of the matter to the court and not to secure a conviction.

    • Magistrate- the magistrate is the officer presiding over the matter and he / she will decide on the evidence submitted by the prosecutor and the accused whether or not the accused committed the offence.

    • Interpreter/intermediary- the interpreter is the intermediary between the complainant and the court as well as the accused and the court. The interpreter is there to interpret from which ever language a party in the proceedings is using besides English to English. The interpreter is also trained to be able to explain to the complainant the proceedings that will be taking place during the trial and also to make the complainant comfortable during the proceedings.

    • The accused person: He or she is the alleged offender.

    • The defence practitioner: he or she is the accused person’s lawyer. Court procedures have been generally regarded as complicated. Many misconceptions have tarnished the image of those that enforce the law and those that practice the law. Public prosecutors are often accused of corruption by complainants in criminal matters because they were seen conversing with either the accused or the accused person’s legal practitioner. I have noted that most complaints made against the prosecution, and the legal system at large, are due to the lack of knowledge of the procedures followed in court proceedings. There is need to sensitise everyone on the procedures followed in our legal system.

    There is a specified procedure that is followed in sexual abuse matters especially those involving children. The article will cover the procedures that the victim goes through from the time of reporting the abuse to the trial stage.

    1. The initial stage is the reporting stage. The victim either in person or with the assistance of someone else can report the abuse at their nearest police station.

    2. At the police station, the victim will be interviewed by a police officer from the victim friendly unit or any police officer on duty who will ask questions relating to the abuse and the identity of the perpetrator. The police officer can either be male or female, being sensitive to victim’s gender and age. A statement will be taken by the police officer who will ask if there were any witnesses to the abuse.

    3. Witnesses ‘statements are recorded before or after the medical examination and arrest of the suspect.

    4. The victim will be given a request for medical examination form compiled by the attending medical officer.

    5. If it turns out that the victim was abused, the police will arrest the person who will be alleged to have abused the victim and will also record a statement from him in response to the allegations leveled against him/ her.

    6. The investigating officer will compile a docket or an initial remand request report that will be taken to a court which deals with matters from that particular police station.

    7. The prosecutor will vet the docket or the initial request remand form which is a process that involves assessing whether or not there is a ‘prima facie’ case (a case that proves without raising a lot of doubts) against the accused. If the information in the docket is insufficient the prosecutor will decline to prosecute and request the police to investigate the matter further and accused will be cautioned to stay at his/ her recorded place of residence and avail themselves at the courts.

    8. In the event that the prosecutor decides to prosecute, the matter will be set down for court for purposes of initial remand, which is the accused’s first appearance in court.

    9. At the initial remand hearing, the charge will be read out to the accused. At times the Prosecutor may request that the statement accused gave at the police station be confirmed. The accused will be asked by the magistrate whether he / she made the statement freely and voluntarily without undue influence. If his statement is confirmed by the court, that statement may be used as evidence at accused person’s trial.

    10. The prosecutor can make an application to have the accused remanded in custody till the conclusion of the matter if he / she deems it necessary. If the prosecutor decides to apply that the accused be remanded in custody, the accused will be asked by the court to show reasons why it should not remand him in custody. If the reasons submitted by the accused satisfy the court that the accused will not interfere with evidence or witnesses commit a similar offence, or stop coming to court he can be granted bail.

    • Bail: in serious abuse cases such as rape and aggravated indecent assault, the matter is usually referred to the High Court for bail application. Accused person applies to be remanded out of custody, that is, he may request that he be coming from home and not jail, until the matter is finalized. The Attorney General’s office may give consent that the matter be dealt with at the Magistrates’ Court.

    • Why an accused person may be granted bail: Apart from the offence being an accusation, the accused person is considered innocent until proven otherwise. The accused person is entitled to bail on human rights’ principles, but where the prosecutor thinks that this may be unfair to the victim, for example, where both the victim and the suspect stay together, he may oppose the granting of bail. Each case is dealt with on its own merits.

    • Where an accused person has interfered or may interfere with evidence or witnesses, the court may not be inclined towards the granting of bail.

    11.On the next remand date the court will enquire from the prosecutor whether the state is ready to proceed to trial and if not, the matter will be postponed to another date or a trial date will be set.

    12. The accused is furnished with all state papers including the state outline, complainant’s statement and witnesses’ statements. These are called the state papers since the prosecutor will use them during the trial. The accused in turn should furnish the prosecutor with his defence outline before trial date if he / she is represented. All this is done in preparation for the trial.

    The role of child protection organizations can play an important role in the case of an abused child. They can provide the necessary checks and balances and can facilitate the reporting of the case to the police. Child rights organizations which include lawyers for children can also assist where there are complaints by informing the affected people of the stages that their matter should go through. They can also be the child’s rights watchdog. The child can either be a victim or an accused person. Other child protection organizations can provide other logistical support such as medical assistance, shelter for the child, if need be, and counseling. It is important to note that only the police can investigate a matter of abuse. All the other players are urged not to interfere with a case’s evidence. Unnecessary interference may lead to the matter being thrown out of court, leading to a gross miscarriage of justice.

    The sad reality is that the current laws are not being implemented or are not known and it seems children’s issues be it in the justice delivery system, are not being given priority and hence I am urging all players to ensure that government prioritizes children by incorporating children’s rights in the constitution. Once this is done, we hope government will allocate resources to issues that have a bearing on children as currently, this seems not to be a priority.

    Parents/guardians and children: let us all participate in the constitution making process and air our views on child protection issues that need redress.