By Gershom Ndhlovu
Last week when I read a story of an 11 year-old who was defiled for over a year in a Ndola grave yard HIV/AIDS ritual in the online version of the Times, and that the woman who pushed the child into it was released by police while the girl ended up getting infected, I could not help feeling a sense of anger towards the police.
This case reminded me of one of my then 15 year-old niece who was defiled by a 29 year old man last year. The girl did not only fall pregnant, but she also contracted HIV/AIDS but the culprit is still roaming the streets and has obviously infected even more hapless girls and women he is able to lure into his nefarious lair.
At some point the police were demanding transport from the family for them to travel to travel to the area just outside one of the Copperbelt towns which could not be provided because of the financial circumstances the family is in. In the process, the case just fell through because those who were pushing it gave up.
There are obviously a lot of similar cases that do not go any where for reasons cited above and also ignorance of the law that many people find themselves in. There is also an element where families of victims enter into compromise deals with culprits.
A few weeks ago, I listened to Zambia Police’s Dr Solomon Jere on a Nyanja programme on ZNBC radio one streamed on the internet, on which he talked about the need to preserve evidence of a rape such as not disturbing the scene of the “ndendeule” as he called it, keeping torn pants if they are any and not bathing until a medical examination has been carried out.
This is very obvious but evidence as well as statements from sex crimes such as defilement, rape and incest should be treated rather differently because there could have been threats accompanying the act as well as the stigma attached to it that could have forced victims into silence for a long time.
We have stories of how victims were told they would be killed if they told anyone about the abuse especially that involving minors or in some instances they were promised or given sweets to but their silence.
Sex crime is not like one stealing a TV set which the police may find and present before court, there is also a psychological aspect should be taken into account.
The Zambian police and judiciary could learn a thing or two from their counterparts in the UK where culprits are jailed years after the offence was committed on the strength of a victim’s statement on the alleged abuse. There are of course safeguards against false statements to settle scores against people one does not like and the sanctions are equally harsh.
In this way, many sex offenders in the UK have been jailed and made to sign a sex offenders' register which proscribes from working with children and other vulnerable groups on their release from jail.
What is needed is also stiffening the punishment that culprits get on conviction to deter other would be offenders. The starting point should be making sex crime offences non-bailable if the case of the Ndola woman who subjected the poor girl to defilement is anything to go by.
And on the question of rituals to “cure” HIV/AIDS, every genuine traditional healer and any HIV/AIDS advocate will agree with me, the best rituals are abstinence in the first place, being faithful and the use of condoms. When these rituals fail, the next best ritual is taking ARVs. In fact, we should count ourselves lucky that these are now freely available unlike a few years ago when they were a preserve of the rich.
Anything else, such as the act of defiling children or virgins as a way of “chasing” HIV/AIDS demons like in the Ndola case, is as misplaced as it is illusory.