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Send ritual rapists to jail

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Cases of ritual child rape are hogging the headlines in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Last week, I attended a media forum in Lusaka, Zambia, where local journalists were discussing the second draft constitution, specifically looking at issues that relate to children.
Like Zimbabwe, Zambia is in the process of drafting a new constitution.
Journalists present agreed that the second draft adequately addressed children’s rights according to international and African standards, but they were concerned that despite all the good laws and seemingly deterrent sentences, rape, especially ritual rape, was still on the increase.
A number of unanswered questions emerged from the debate. Is it that African men can’t control their libido? Or that the love for wealth supersedes the value of the lives of children? Are men finding it difficult to negotiate for sex with their adult counterparts, hence they pounce on innocent children? Or could it be that the police and courts are not executing their duties adequately on rapes cases?
In December 2009, 37 cases were recorded in Harare alone, 19 of them involved young girls. In South Africa, Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) reported that in the fortnight, (between 5 – 19 January 2009), 48 cases were reported. Of these, 37 were girls including babies. South Africa is reported to have the highest rate of rape in the world, including baby rape, with one person estimated to be raped every 26 seconds. In Zambia over five children are reportedly raped by close relatives a month. This trend is more or less the same in other African countries.
While social researchers blame economic, social and cultural factors for the prevalence of rape against children, journalists in Zambia questioned how a normal man, in his right frame of mind, can find sexual palliative in a young child. Most of these cases are perpetrated by those, who at the advice of their traditional healers, believe that by sleeping with a virgin baby girl they can be cleansed of HIV, bad luck and make them rich and powerful. In their small minds, the quest for treatment, power and wealth supplants the value of life for these young and innocent souls.
I don’t have anything against traditional healers as long they do their business without putting other people’s lives in danger, especially children. Of course, some apostolic ‘prophets’ are also part of this evil practice.
Isn’t it appalling that where perpetrators of ritual rape have been identified, the police and courts mainly focus on the perpetrator leaving the source of the problem — the traditional — healer to continue spreading the rape-a-child-for-wealth prescriptions? If the same investment that were allocated towards the manhunt for Rotina Mavhunga after her diesel-from-the-rock fable were to be focused on rape, I am convinced that by now, cases of rape would have been reduced immensely.
Unfortunately for our children, they live in a society where they are only seen and not heard. Very few rape cases reach sentencing stage, if ever they are reported. A study in South Africa shows that of the 2 068 rape cases reported in Gauteng from 2003 to 2008, only 4, 1% resulted in a conviction. Only one out of every 10 child rape cases reported to the police resulted in a conviction. More than a third of reported rape victims were under the age of 17, with children under the age of 7 making up 14, 6% of all victims. Of the 34 convicted rapists eligible for a life sentence, only four received a life sentence. In Sierra Leone a United Nations report shows that only 40 out of more than 7,000 reported cases in the Sierra have been convicted in the last 10 years.
Perhaps, rape is not a concern for African leaders as they sometimes use it as a weapon to threaten their people when their power base is under threat. Or perhaps, the same leaders rely on these traditional healers to climb and maintain power. If not, then why are these unscrupulous n’angas still loitering freely? Perhaps, we can follow the Zambian way by including some of these issues in the constitutional discussions.
Rape has serious negative effects not only on the development and growth of children but on the development of a nation as whole, hence the need to ensure children are protected by tackling the root causes.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in
Pretoria, South Africa

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