SPOT­LIGHT ON SODV ACT

...pro­tect­ing women and girls

Observer on Saturday - - Front Page -

I must in­di­cate that to many con­ser­va­tive men, this law is not sit­ting well with them and are look­ing for a slight­est ex­cuse to amend it. This is demon­strated by the sen­ti­ments of a num­ber of prom­i­nent men within Se­nate and in the pre­vi­ous Par­lia­ment who are against this law, but be­cause our pre­vi­ous laws failed dis­mally to pro­tect women and chil­dren, it was felt this law does not only em­power women, but re­stores their dig­nity and re­spect by se­cur­ing their rights, es­pe­cially the girl child

In the past week, the is­sue un­der the spot­light has been the al­leged rape of a UNESWA stu­dent in September by a prince. The name of the prince so far has been kept un­der wraps be­cause to date he has not been charged for the al­leged of­fence.

He has al­ready given his side of the story and de­nies the al­le­ga­tions, but stressed that he was will­ing and avail­able to co­op­er­ate with the po­lice on the mat­ter should they ap­proach him.

On the other hand, calls to lock him up have mounted, with civil so­ci­ety groups go­ing to the ex­tent of cre­at­ing an on­line pe­ti­tion and even marched to the po­lice to de­mand for an­swers.

Be­tween the po­lice and the of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Prose­cu­tions (DPP), ques­tions are be­ing asked as to who is now fail­ing the al­leged rape sur­vivor, who is sup­posed to be pro­tected by the Sex­ual Of­fences and Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act of 2018.

The DPP’s Of­fice has claimed though that the docket or file of the said of­fence has not been sub­mit­ted to them to de­ter­mine whether the al­le­ga­tions against the ac­cused con­sti­tute a crim­i­nal con­duct that can be pros­e­cuted un­der the coun­try’s laws, in par­tic­u­lar the SODV Act.

It is not my in­ten­tion to­day to dis­cuss the al­leged case un­til full facts are pre­sented be­fore the court of law and the al­leged sus­pect con­victed or ac­quit­ted.

Im­ple­ment

How­ever, I want to dis­cuss the frenzy around the SODV Act. It is one thing to push for the en­act­ment of a law, and it is quite an­other to

im­ple­ment it.

Look, many women and chil­dren find refuge un­der this law. They feel safe and pro­tected by its pro­vi­sions. At least this was the in­ten­tion when it was pro­mul­gated.

But, even a good law if poorly im­ple­mented, may quickly alien­ate a na­tion to the point of re­volt­ing against its ex­is­tence.

I must in­di­cate that to many con­ser­va­tive men this law is not sit­ting well with them and are look­ing for a slight­est ex­cuse to amend it.

This is demon­strated by the sen­ti­ments of a num­ber of prom­i­nent men within Se­nate and in the pre­vi­ous Par­lia­ment who are against this law, but be­cause our pre­vi­ous laws failed dis­mally to pro­tect women and chil­dren, it was felt this law does not only em­power women, but re­stores their dig­nity and re­spect by se­cur­ing their rights, es­pe­cially the girl child.Whilst men who abuse women and girls ruin their lives, it is equally true that a good law may be abused to the point that in­no­cent souls may find them­selves rot­ting in jail, hence the need to spend more money into ed­u­cat­ing the pop­u­lace about it and its im­pli­ca­tions.

This is so be­cause it is a rev­o­lu­tion­ary which pun­ishes be­hav­iour that was pre­vi­ously treated as ca­sual and just be­ing naughty.

It is one thing to teach the law en­force­ment agen­cies but it ap­pears the pop­u­lace would need to be taught on how this law op­er­ates or what it seeks to reg­u­late.

Puni­tive

For in­stance, this law crim­i­nalises any main­te­nance of a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship be­tween an adult with a mi­nor, who is be­low the age of 18.

The penalty for such a pre­vi­ously ‘ac­cept­able’ con­duct is now puni­tive. In a re­cent case in Nh­langano, a man was close to spend­ing years in jail when his wife al­leged that she did not con­sent to sex, there­fore forced (mar­i­tal rape).

Whilst the ini­tial charge was that of mar­i­tal rape, upon close scru­tiny, it was dis­cov­ered that it was not the case, the woman had con­sented to sex. In fact, the two quar­relled over some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent to the al­leged of­fence, which led to com­mon assault.

Had the court been not care­ful in deal­ing with this case, the hus­band could be lan­guish­ing in jail for mar­i­tal rape.

It is im­por­tant that whilst po­lice or the DPP’s Of­fice, dur­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion stage, takes it time to prop­erly scru­ti­nise the of­fence, the pub­lic must also be in the know what goes into these cases. If the pub­lic is too broad, at least the sur­vivor or rel­a­tives must know what is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated. To sim­ply dis­miss any en­quiry into such cases with a one sen­tence an­swer ‘we are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing’ does not demon­strate that those deal­ing with the mat­ter un­der­stand the im­por­tance of shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with the sur­vivor.

Those who call for jus­tice to be done do so be­cause they don’t seem con­vinced by the law en­forcers’ ac­tions that in­deed jus­tice is be­ing done or seen to be done.

If the se­crecy per­sists in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of such cases, soon peo­ple would say the law is of no force and ef­fect. We can­not af­ford to have this law dor­mant be­cause by do­ing so, we would be un­der­min­ing the rights of women and the girl-child in par­tic­u­lar.

Hav­ing said so, its ap­pli­ca­tion must be of the high­est stan­dard avail­able. No man should be in­car­cer­ated for trumped up charges just be­cause they have lost favour with their part­ners.

If we had a con­sor­tium call­ing for the SODV Act to be pro­mul­gated, then let’s have one that will teach peo­ple about the law, rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of in­di­vid­u­als.

If there is a tougher as­sign­ment that we need to do of build­ing a just so­ci­ety, then it’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity we must all em­brace and ac­cept.

Let’s vig­or­ously fight against gen­der based vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren, es­pe­cially the girl child.

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