Stricter laws vital to curb old women killings

THERE is a belief that if one sleeps or secures body parts of elderly women, the person will acquire wealth and become mega rich.

The so-called witchdoctors are said to be in the forefront in telling their clients who their enemies are, what needs to be done for them to get rich or what to do for them to become successful in their endeavours, a move that contributes to the killings and violence in the country (Tanzania Human Rights Report, 2016).

Older people, especially women, continue to face challenges related to violation of their human rights despite efforts taken by the government, civil society organisation (CSOs) among other initiatives.

Issues such as discrimination, lack of strengthened security systems for old people like abuse, acts of violence such as killing of elderly women due to misconception also remain as challenges in the society.

Abdallah Kumwaya (62) a resident of Ruvu Village of Mchinga Ward in Lindi Rural recounts how his mother went missing for two weeks and her body was recovered in the bushes with some of the parts missing.

The incident occurred when he was visiting a traditional healer at Matimbui where his grandchild from Dar es Salaam was being attended.

“The procedure ended late, so the herbalist convinced me to sleepover until the next day…when I got up and started preparing myself to leave the following day; he again prevented me from leaving before taking porridge.

He made a few stops before arriving at his home in Kilolombwani and found his wife stranded in a bush. Kumwaya’s wife, Binti Masoud broke the news about the missing mother-in-law.

According to her, on the fateful day, she left for the farm in the morning as her daily routine and the mother-in-law remained at home as usual.

When she got back in the afternoon there was no sight of her anywhere around the house. Having heard the news, Kumwaya began looking for his mother in all the areas he thought he could find her, including bushes and neighbours’ houses.

Having searched everywhere and was about to give up hope, his wife’s sister arrived from Dar es Salaam. He told her what had happened, and she joined in the search.

It was almost getting dark and still there was no sign of the missing mother and they were left with no any other option but to report the incident to the village leadership.

An intensive search was lodged involving all the villagers; they kept looking for the missing woman for four consecutive days but still there was no trace of her.

And, having lost all hopes of finding her, “Two weeks later, some youths came running to my house and told me to go along with them to the bush where my mother’s body had been discovered.

“When we arrived there, the head was on one side with no skin, clothes hanged in the front and the body on the other side, but the feet and hands were not there.

“We returned to the village to report what we had observed and notified the police …nothing had to be done until they arrived at the crime scene,” he said.

The interrogation started and Kumwaya was arrested by the police as among the suspected criminals, much as he explained himself.

After some days, he was bailed out by a Good Samaritan since there had not been any report from the police regarding the crime.

He pointed out that there had not been a time where they had seen her as an inconvenience to the extent of locking her in, because she was still in her own state of mind.

She could walk, talk and do some things alone without any kind of assistance. Ruvu Village Executive Officer (VEO), Ramadhani Yusuph confirmed the incident saying he has filed several reports to the authorities.

The VEO also revealed details on the intensified search conducted by the villagers up to the recovery of the body after two weeks.

According to him, the police arrived with a doctor at the crime scene and took samples and later confirmed that the old woman was slaughtered twice on the neck.

It was also confirmed by the doctor that some of the body parts were missing. After examination, the body parts were gathered for burial process while the police left with the deceased’s son for further investigation.

“The police pledged to return to the office for feedback, but we have not heard anything from them up to now,” noted Yusuph.

In the presence of the Officer Commanding District (OCD) in Lindi, Mr Agustino Titus the officer handling the case, when reached for comment, confirmed the incident pointing out that investigations were incomplete.

Some villagers who did not want to be named claimed that the elderly lady was murdered by the son for witchcraft reasons, associated with wealth accumulation.

Mchinga Ward is part of the 10 districts where the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) is implementing the project on Prevention and Reduction of Gender-Based Violence (PRGBV) through the support of the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) for five years, in the country.

The PRGBV working committee in the village is following up on the matter to ensure justice is served. A Brief on Violence Against Older Women of 2002 establishes that violence against older women is widespread yet mostly hidden.

It occurs in multiple, often intersecting forms by varying perpetrators, spouses, family members, caregivers or members of their community.

The brief also notes that violence against older women as any act of gender-based violence results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women aged 50 and above.

Globally, older women experience discrimination that jointly stems from strict gender norms and culturally embedded values that place a premium on youth and women’s role as child bearers in some cases, making harmful assumptions that older women are “useless” once they are past reproductive age.

According to the brief, older women face greater risk of physical and psychological abuse due to discriminatory societal attitudes and the non-realisation of the human rights for women.

It further states that some harmful traditional and customary practices result in abuse and violence directed at older women, often caused by poverty and lack of access to legal protection.

The government has an obligation to take appropriate measures to safeguard Tanzanians, and to put in place effective criminal law provisions to deter these offences.

In some parts of the country elderly women, especially those with red eyes seemed to be mostly targeted, witchdoctors and fortune tellers are the centre of this wave of violence (Tanzania Human Rights Report, 2016).

Prevalence of such killings is also attributed to other factors such as lack of education, poverty and poor investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of such killings and violence.

In 2015, the government moved to ban witchdoctors as part of the mission to protect victims of witchcraft beliefs and practices.

The Tanzania Human Rights Report of 2016 establishes that witchcraft related violence and killings continued to be a key issue in Tanzania affecting citizens’ right to life.

The Ministry of Home Affairs 2016 records indicated that the killings of elderly continued in various places across the country. For the year 2014, a total of 557 old people were killed, whereas in 2015 the killings claimed the lives of 190 old people. However, for the period between January and October 2016, there were more killings of 119 old people.

Regions that had the largest number of deaths between July 2015 and March 2016 comprise Tabora (49), Shinyanga (17), Mbeya (15), Geita (11), Rukwa (9), Njombe (9) and Simiyu (7).

A statement issued last year by the Commission of Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) to mark the International Day of Older Persons noted that social civilisation of any country worldwide is not only based on the wealth of resources or a good environment, but in the formulation of an effective protection system on the various groups in the community that needs it.

In recognising the rights of the elderly in the country, the government ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) along with the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of elder persons in Africa.

Others are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Nationally, the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania 1977 as it is amended in Article 12 (2) and 14 that stipulates that older persons have the right to shelter and respect from the community.

CHRAGG on the other hand is also bestowed with powers to govern for the rights of the elderly in the country. The 2002 census recorded 1,952,041 old people including 940,229 men and 1,011,812 women and in the 2012 census, the number went up to 2,507,568 old people (1,200,210 men and 1,307,358 females) which is equivalent to 5.6 of the entire population. As the number increases so are the challenges, therefore, concerted efforts are needed to overcome the problems.

CHRAGG proposes that knowledge on human rights and good governance is imparted to the entire community to create a society which adhere to principles of human rights.

The commission also calls upon the government to among other things finalise the process of enacting a law on older persons to facilitate the implementation of the 2003 policy on the elderly.

Again, the government through its security organs should strengthen the security among older persons, which includes arresting the perpetrators of the killings and prosecuting their cases on time as well as the community to accord maximum cooperation by testifying in court.

The ward and village security committees should be strengthened to protect the lives of old people.

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