GENDER FOCUS with JUDITH KONAYUMA
THE debate on defilers has once again come to the fore, this time, with a call for life sentence for offenders.
The voices making the call to stiffen sentence for defilers have been growing over time.
They have not just grown in number but also in their magnitude, with First Lady Esther Lungu calling for life sentence for defilers. The increase in the number of voices is due to the fact that cases of defilement have not receded despite increasing the sentence to a minimum 15 years.
Mrs Lungu is concerned about the increase in the number of cases of defilement and so everyone who wants to see children safe.
She says that if the offenders cannot learn from the 25-year jail term, then life sentence might be suitable.
This year, the Zambia Police released statistics on gender-based violence for the first quarter which shows 495 cases of child defilement.
The current figures are unacceptably high, despite a reduction by 150 cases compared to the same period last year.
And in the first quarter of 2018, 645 cases of child defilement were recorded compared to 627 cases in the same period in 2017, indicating an increase by 18 cases or 2.8 percent.
And these are only official figures. There are some unreported cases of fathers who defile their children and they are hushed by family members, especially mothers who protect the abuser and not the victim.
We have instances where the courts have sent some defilers to prison for 25 years or even more. This, not withstanding, seems to have had no effect on the offenders.
Meting out punishment, as we are told, is aimed at deterring would-be offenders.
By punishing offenders harshly, it is hoped that those who intend to commit a similar offence will give it a second thought before they commit the offence because the consequences would be grave for them as well.
It is not an overstatement to say that cases of defilement have been on the increase, despite the offence being non-bailable and the setting of the minimum sentence.
Defilement is a crime that seems to have taken root in our society and measures to stem it seem to be futile.
Girls, some as young as two, are defiled by men close to them, such as uncles, grandfathers, cousins – and these are not men who are strangers to the victims.
In a lot of instances, they live with the victims or they are very close family members, who at the most, are expected to protect the vulnerable girls from any danger.
Just last week, a father of Luapula allegedly defiled his three-day-old baby girl who later died.
Unlike in the case of some crimes, victims of defilement are often those who can easily be taken advantage of because of their age or ignorance.
The impact of the offence on the children will remain with the victims for the rest of their lives.
Some of the victims have been infected with sexually-transmitted diseases, in some cases, they have turned out HIV-positive in their tender age.
Other victims of defilement have been ushered i n t o motherhood before they know anything about being a mother and this also derails their progress in school.
The increasing number of cases of defilement is an indication that the current deterrent measures have fallen short.
This is not to say that those who enforce the law are not doing enough. Their efforts are laudable and it is because of them that we know the scale of the problem in our society.
It is the scale of the problem that is now a matter of concern to all those who are concerned about the well-being of children.
Children should be allowed to enjoy their childhood and they need all the protection there is from everyone and the time to act for the children is now.
If the current punishment is not enough to prevent defilers from committing the inhuman act, the need to increase it is now obvious.
Defilers need to be kept out of sight by confining them for life where they will have no access to children.
Though a custodial sentence of 25 years is in itself lone for one to serve in a cold dungeon, it still gives a defiler hope that one day he will leave the high prison walls and walk the streets a free man.
A life sentence may sound too harsh, but it should be looked at from the fact that society wants to keep children safe from the marauding men and so that those who have ideas of committing the offence would think twice.
In short, defilers should be kept off the streets the rest of their lives.
Children depend on adults to keep them safe and this places the responsibility on them to take all measures to ensure the young ones are safe whether in the home or on the streets.
GENDER FOCUS with JUDITH KONAYUMA