Source: Tanzania Daily News

Fifteen year old girl Bahati (not her real name) was raped by her step brother on May 12 last year, just a day after celebrating her birth day.

The abuse resulted into pregnancy that led her to abandon schooling.

"My elder sister caught the rapist on-the-spot.

I told my mother and father that my sister could stand as witness.

The case was reported to the police and investigation started immediately," says Bahati.

She said as the case got closer to hearing in court, her aunt intervened and asked the victim to forgive the accused because he is a family member.

"A family meeting was convened and the resolution was to withdraw the case," Bahati says.

"Despite the great pain I had in my life, I had to accept it to remain safe in the family.

" She says since members of the family reached the decision, detectives found difficulties in gathering evidence and ultimately the case was dismissed.

Similar stories in villages are still common, despite increased awareness in the war against gender-based violence.

When talking about successes in fighting violence against women and children, the culture of silence and protection of offenders who have family relations with their victims, remains a major barrier in achieving the goal.

The behaviour of protecting perpetrators has led to either in delays in court hearing or dismissal of cases due to lack of evidence.

Key players in legal processes - the police, courts and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) continue to complain about reticence, yet there have been slow progress for the members of the society to change.

Some abuses like rape, battery, child pregnancies and marriages go unreported or dismissed prematurely in courts just because victims and relatives are not ready to proceed.

Lawyers like Saada Salum Issa say there have been noticeable achievements in the war against child and women abuse but the issue of protecting suspects persists in many Zanzibar families.

President Ali Mohamed Shein and the Minister responsible for Children and Women Affairs, Maudline Cyrus Castico, have in several occasions voiced conern on the protection of rapists and other abusers by ignoring to give evidence in the process of investigation and judicial process.

"If we really want to succeed in the war against violence to women and children, members of the society must show commitment by revealing perpetrators and ready to provide cooperation in all stages of police investigation and court hearing," Castico stresses.

When members of 'Villages Gender Activists' Network' met recently in Mwera, South Unguja, issues of the culture of secrecy, protection of offenders and coyness dominated the forum and that the practices hamper the campaign to fight violence against women.

"It is sad that people feel shy to take action or just sympathize with family members of the rapist.

This leads to tampering in evidence and culprits to be freed. We cannot stop abuse if the behaviours persist," said activist Mwajuma Ali.

The meeting for the activists in villages was organized by the Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) to assess the impact of the campaign under the 'Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) project supported by Denmark.

The campaigners for children and women rights in rural areas said that members of the society should not direct accusing fingers to law enforcers and the government, but partly blame themselves for being the cause of many cases dismissed or delayed.

"When your son or daughter is abused by a man from your family, instead of standing firm and providing information so as the accused is convicted, you (particularly women) eschew the legal process," Riziki Mohamed complained.

She said even when the evidence was clear enough for submission in the court, many relatives of the abused child or woman tend to ignore to the advantage of the culprit who later walks scot-free.

Grace Ngonyani, GEWE project coordinator said family relations with offenders remains a big challenge that needs to be addressed if the war against gender is to be won.

"Under GEWE, we have recorded several achievements, but we need to do more to ensure relationship with perpetrators does not hinder the campaign to stop violence against children and women," she said.

She said some laws such as the Evidence Act and Kadhis Court emerged to be other challenges as heard from village activists.

"The Evidence Act of 1917 is outdated; it does not recognize evidence submitted electronically and children with disability are not properly considered in the law. It must be reviewed for improvement," Saada Issa observed.

In response to the concern raised by the activists over weaknesses in law, the government has proposed a Bill for an Act to Repeal the Evidence Decree, Cap 5 and enact the New Evidence Act and Matters Connected therewith.

The proposed law, if passed in the House of Representatives and later assented by the President into law, is expected to help in search for justice for the abused children. Although the culture of secrecy and reticence remains a problem among the majority people in villages, GEWE has helped to increase awareness.

Researchers say that the best way to protect vulnerable people like women, girls, and people with disability from domestic violence, is to educate them.

Activists from districts of Magharibi, Kaskazini 'A' and Kusini on Unguja Island have been using village meetings including savings and credit societies (SACCOS) to spread awareness against domestic violence, extending also in schools.

"We encouraged women and children to speak out and not to stay silent, bring into light the issues that need attention and seek help," Zainab Kombo said.

Fatma Juma Jabu and Haji Mohamed said villagers engaged in the anti-GBV campaign said laxity in implementation of the laws, weakness of the laws, and coyness against perpetrators have made the war difficult.

They said that the incidents of rape, defilement, underage pregnancy and child marriages are still common in the villages and that concerted efforts would be the only way out in ensuring children are protected.

Data collected between August and September 2016 shows 20 cases of abuse were reported in Unguja West districts.

"We thank other partners who have supported programmes to sensitize our people about their roles in making sure that they are protected.

By Issa Yussuf

Go to top