Saturday, April 4, 2009


Botswana's women's groups have vowed to expose the growing rate of incest - particularly the rape of young girls by their step fathers-despite being castigated for interfering in "family secrets". Incest is generally condemned as abhorrent in Botswana and referred to as 'botlhodi'-a term suggesting blasphemy or an unnatural event. Elders say that traditionally men who committed the crime were banished from the community and sent to live amongst wild animals.However, recent research commissioned by the department of women's affairs suggests incest is on the rise and in some cases becoming more acceptable. Of 704 interviewees, eight percent in the 16-30 age bracket said verbal abuse is unacceptable but only three percent said incest is unacceptable.

The study found that incest is normally associated with traditional rural areas, but that a significant 28 percent of people living in semi-urban areas believe that incest is a common occurrence. Women Against Rape (WAR), Botswana's only rape crisis centre, has spent the past year focusing on incest and defilement during community workshops held throughout the Northwest part of the country. Incest is now the second most common offence they handle, after seven years of operation. Women in Law in Southern Africa (WILSA) has also carried out research into incest in the district, and confirms that incest is "happening all the time" although there are still no nationwide figures. Cases of incest are notoriously complicated to prosecute. Mothers often side with the perpetrator, especially if he is the bread-winner. The women argue that if the man is jailed then years of economic hardship may lie ahead-even though in reality it is usually the woman who earns most of the family income. In one recent case in the north of the country a 10-year-old was repeatedly raped by her step-father. Eventually she told her aunt who took her to the police and the step-father was arrested. But the furious mother threatened to beat the aunt and, even though her husband had admitted to the rape, persuaded her daughter to withdraw the charges. Within 48 hours the man was released and returned home. All the documents, including medical reports, needed for the court case went missing. And the girl suddenly refused to talk. However, after pressure from WAR, the step-father was taken into custody again. A week later all the missing documents were handed to the police.

But when the case reached court, the mother then hid all the witnesses. In an unusual move, she was charged with contempt of court and sent to jail for 14 days. In another recent incident an 11-year-old girl was raped by her step-father while her mother was away from home. "He covered my eyes with a pillow and laid his big body on me," explained the girl. "He started to hurt me and that was the part I hated. When I screamed, he said I should calm down and relax." Such rapists take full advantage of a worrying legal loophole....



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