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Delay hindrance to justice for children victims

31 May 2023

Mpho (not her real name) probably agrees with the common legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied.

She was repeatedly molested and raped by a man for over eight years and has not seen justice yet. And her wish is for the state to drop the charges against the man. 

“The witness and her mother no longer want to pursue the matter,” state prosecutor, Ms Neo Molelekwa told Village magistrate, Mr Daniel Nkau on Monday.

The state prosecutor told court that Mpho, who is now 18-years-old and her mother, were no longer interested in pursuing criminal charges against Mompati Lekoko, the man charged for abusing Mpho from the age of six until she was 14 years.

When the state case resumes on August 10, the case might crumble due to lack of witnesses.The case shows the difficulty faced by the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute child abuse cases successfully.

Deputy director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Wesson Manchwe said prosecuting child abuse cases was a struggle. 

He said the challenge they faced when dealing with such cases was that they took long to be concluded, as they followed mainstream cases like any other case.

He noted that in some cases when the matter was ready for trial the victim would have already reached the age of maturity and that they could decide not to proceed with the case due to circumstances such as marriage.

“I once had a rape case of a minor child and when trial commenced she was married and did not want the husband to know about the incident,” he stated.

Other challenges cited include lack of child friendly courts as victims were treated like any other witness and were subjected to cross examination by the accused. “Abused children also sometimes close-up and do not want to talk, fearing to be victimised more,” he said.

Common cases at the prosecution’s desk, according to Mr Manchwe, were rape, defilement and assault.

Botswana Police Service statistics have revealed that during the COVID-19 lockdown from January to May 2020, over 130 children were sexually abused by close relatives.

In another report this year, the police stated that from 2020 to 2022 they recorded over 2 300 offences involving children.

The offences included negligent or ill treatment, failure to report a child in need, cruel treatment, failure to provide necessities and failure to comply. They all attract judicial wrath.

University of Botswana academic, Dr Kgomotso Jongman observed that there was a correlation between child abuse cases, societal moral decay and economic hardships. 

He said they led to a rise in issues of child neglect, child abandonment and malnutrition. “There is no person out there to protect anybody, children are the ones who are suffering more because they cannot protect themselves,” he said.

Dr Jongman also said parents could not protect their children at all times and that there was need for concerted efforts from families, communities and individuals to curb the scourge. 

“The laws are adequate, the Children’s Act on its own is adequate to deal with all these things, but the problem comes with implementation,” he said.

He noted that the Children’s Act prescribed a specialised court for children, but that 14 years later it had not been instituted.

“The law is sufficient on its own, but implementation is the problem,” the University of Botswana academic said, adding that those implementing were not well resourced.

Punishment for contravening some provisions of the Children’s Act range from a fine of P5 000 to P20 000 or imprisonment for a term not less than six months, but not more than two years.

However, the country's judiciary last year set a tough precedent when it confirmed a life sentence imposed on one Dipuo Marutwane of Palla Road for raping a three-year toddler in 2014.

Other than life sentence, Mr Manchwe explained that penalties could range from three years imprisonment or a mandatory rape sentence of 10 years imprisonment. ends 

Source : BOPA

Author : Bonang Masolotate

Location : GABORONE

Event : Court

Date : 31 May 2023