Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
THE year will soon be closing in three days’ time, and by God’s grace, we’ll be saying goodbye to 2017 and opening a new chapter.
The best way to close the year is to count the blessings and achievements and also take note of failures or challenges for the purpose of making amends in future.
They say unfulfilled New Year resolutions shouldn’t be abandoned at the end of the year.
The idea is never to give up on unfulfilled dreams and aspirations but rather to pursue them with tenacity, drawing strength from lessons learnt from previous hurdles or failures.
Well, in our quest for a just and fair society, where all women and men, boys and girls, have equal rights and opportunities, the biggest challenge in Zambia right now is gender-based violence.
Besides the usual sexual violence, 2017 is one year when we saw spouses maiming and killing each other with an unbelievable fashion of brutality.
Stories of men and women turning guns on their intimate partners, some stabbing their partners to death and others hacking them with machetes, sent shock waves in the nation in 2017. In one bizarre incident, a man beheaded his wife for suspected infidelity, while in a similar fashion, another man shot dead his wife and her male workmate after he caught them walking home together after work.
The Zambia Police Service actually states that there is an increase in the physical type of GBV in Zambia such as murder, unlawful wounding and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
According to the 2017 third quarter statistics issued by Police spokesperson Esther Mwata Katongo, there were 55 cases of murder reported this year between January and September compared to 41 cases reported during the same period in 2016.
This translated into an upsurge of murder cases of about 26 percent. Among these cases, nine victims were female adults, nine male, a girl and there were also four cases of infanticide.
In the murder cases involving married couples and intimate partners, the major cause was suspected infidelity.
I don’t know if this is how we have lived or there is an emerging culture of gun violence. We saw victims of infidelity terminating the lives of their partners on the spur-of-the-moment.
Apparently some had evidence of their spouses, especially women, cheating on them, others merely acted on suspicion.
But in any case, there is no reason to take the law into one’s hands and condemn an unfaithful partner to death.
When faced with such a situation, one has to seek help from marriage counsellors, or better still opt out of such a relationship if forgiving a cheating spouse is too much of a bitter pill to swallow.
But with the intolerance we are witnessing, coupled with the culture of gun violence and use of objects such as knives, indications are that we have a lot of work to do to make our homes and communities havens of peace and harmony.
If what murder convict Beatrice Hangwende said during the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is anything to go by, we need to deal with bottled anger, infidelity, intolerance and the mere animosity in man to stop the senseless killings.
Hangwende claims she had been a silent victim of infidelity, and failure to speak out and seek help is what prompted her to hire goons that killed her husband’s girlfriend.
It was a premeditated murder where by Hangwende watched as the woman was being mugged and killed by thugs in some bush in Lusaka.
Anyway, what I expected from Hangwende that day was remorsefulness rather than justification of what she did. The point is, there is no justification for murder.
What is happening should forearm the Church, marriage counsellors, non-governmental organisations and state parties such as the Police to wage a serious campaign against domestic violence.
For example, between January and September police received 16,090 cases of GBV countrywide compared to 13, 092 the previous year, representing an increase by 18.6 percent.
In the third quarter of this year, there were 5,096 cases of GBV, against 4,235 recorded in the same period in 2016. This includes rape, child defilement, indecent assault and assault.
The sad part is that the victims in most of these cases do not seek justice in the courts of law. For instance, 1,538 (30.2 percent) cases were withdrawn at police station level in the third quarter alone.
On a good note, 579 (11.4 percent) cases were taken to court, resulting in 64 convictions, one acquittal, and 31 withdrawals.
About 483 of these cases are still pending in the courts, while 2,979 are being investigated by police. Another thing to note is that victims of abuse, especially GBV and rape, find it hard to secure convictions against their attackers.
Apparently in GBV, lack of corroborative evidence tends to weaken the cases, while other victims of sexual assault, including rape, often destroy evidence before reporting their cases to police.
There were actually 416 cases of child defilement reported in the third quarter of 2017 compared to 615 in the previous year.
Similarly, there was a decline of sexual assault of children between January and September this year by 10.3 percent compared to the same period in 2016.
About 1,466 children were sexually molested during this period against 1,634 victims last year.
And all the children who suffered sexual assault during the third quarter were girls.
Although the January to September period shows a reduction in cases of child defilement, we can’t celebrate yet. Having over 1,400 children sexually assaulted – 416 of them in a space of three months – is way too high.
There is a lot that needs to be done to make our homes and communities safer for girls.
Children actually continue to suffer many forms of abuse such as assault on a child, parental negligence, desertion, lack of food and school necessities, culminating into many of them dropping out of school.
As a matter of fact, others actually don’t even set foot in school because either they are neglected by their parents or they come from underprivileged families.
In the third quarter of 2017 alone, police statistics indicate 610 reported cases of breadwinners failing to provide necessities of life for their families.
About 237 people, I suppose most of them being fathers, were cited for parental negligence. On top of that, there were 54 cases of assault on a child; 30 of them boys and 24 girls.
These are some of the things that child rights activists, the women’s movement and the Church should aim to fight with renewed vigour in the coming year.
It’s my hope that the police will find tangible evidence in the thousands of GBV cases that they are currently investigating and hoping to take to court. And if victims do not withdraw these cases, we might just see more culprits being sent to correctional homes.
Let me end by saying thank you to every reader and contributor to Gender Focus. I am wishing you a happy and fruitful 2018.
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