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Time to end the violence no one wants to talk about

An officer in charge of GBV cases at Mnazi Mmoja Hospital in Zanzibar, Fatma Ali Haji, is on record that her unit receives over three cases of GBV every day. Speaking at a one-day symposium on GBV organised by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA), she said the cases cut across rape, adolescent pregnancies and child abuse. 

This is disastrous especially for a small country like Zanzibar where the population is less than 2 million. There are number of reasons that have been brought forward for this GBV.  Frustrations from poverty top the list.  Young and old men alike take it out on the womenfolk.

Every member of society has a role to play including the government, politicians, religious leaders, the media, parents, elders and activists in protecting children and women. According to a report from the police force in Unguja Urban region, a total of 268 cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) were filed in 2011, out of which 55 were submitted to the courts of law but only one case was found in favour of the plaintiff.

The report further explains that the situation was worse the year before, whereby 270 cases were reported, 36 proceeded to court but none of the accused were found guilty.  This scenario is not only helpless but poses several questions that require serious and immediate answers.

In the first place, why are there so many GBV cases? The second is why are there so few cases appearing in the courts?  Why is it so hard to prove that the accused is guilty in GBV cases? Most victims of GBV suffer physical torture, psychological trauma, sexual harassment and some girls are forced to drop out of school failing to cope with the stigma and segregation.

In a recent survey conducted by United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) on Violence against Children (VAC), it was established that 50.6 per cent of women who suffered gender based violence in their earlier days undergo some form of trauma after a 30-day time frame. One such disheartening case was reported by activists at Kizimkazi Mkunguni, Unguja South where a four-year old girl was systematically raped by an old man. The poor girl still suffers from a couple of related ailments including a mental disorder and discharge of her sexual organs.

The activists took her to hospitals including the mental hospital on the Isles.  Further investigations and diagnosis abroad are urgently required. The government through the Ministry of Women and Social Welfare has not been able to do that much due to lack of funds.

Another form of GBV is the marrying off of school girls by their parents.  Much as one would like to stop these child marriages, fathers are not threatened as there seems to be no legal implications. Article 20 of the Education Act, 1982 stipulates clearly that parents should send their children to school and ensure that they attend school until they complete compulsory education. 

Unfortunately this Law  appears only on paper but in practice it is not implemented,  leaving the girl child to fall victim at the selfish wishes of her parents. These legal loopholes and impunity of parents need to be urgently  phased out. The police force needs to form a special desk preferably manned by female officers to sensitively handle GBV cases. 

However there is not enough human resource to handle these initiatives.  The police lack the expertise; skills for psychological coaching and temporary shelters for housing the victims. Both the courts and the police force need to create a special reporting mechanism to curb corrupt practices undertaken by officers who close or destroy GBV cases.

Indeed the community should shun the culture of silence and expose people who commit GBV offences. Community leaders should step forward and fight this evil. It should be noted with concern that by neglecting GBV, Zanzibar will not achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) particularly numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5 addressing poverty, universal education, women empowerment and maternal mortality.

THE first day I came into close proximity ...

Author: MZURI ISSA in Pemba

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