On February 6, the President signed the Anti-Pornography Act, 2014 into law. It is one of the local legislations that have aroused the most emotional responses from Ugandans. Even while still a Bill, debate about it was peppered with excitement. This has not died away.
In fact, it has been fanned, noticeably by reports on social media of some boda boda men who are undressing women in miniskirts, under the guise of implementing alleged provisions of the Act. We talked to legal experts to explain the contents and consequences of the law.
What exactly is pornography?
Under Section 2, pornography is defined as any representation through publication, exhibition, cinematography, indecent show, information technology or by whatever means of a person engaged in real or stimulated sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement.
Doctor Ronald Kakungulu Mayambala, a law lecturer at Makerere University, says this definition takes into account fora used for propagating pornography such as media houses, video halls and the internet. He adds that it is from this definition that the conclusion that the law bans miniskirts was reached.
“A person wearing a miniskirt can be captured in the definition of pornography because the miniskirt is representing their sexual parts although it would be difficult to tell whether they are doing so primarily for sexual excitement.” So, who determines that a belle flaunting a miniskirt is doing so for sexual excitement? “A court process will be undertaken and the magistrate will determine so,” he replies.
The lecturer offers that the Act has a general prohibition (for both adults and children) of pornography under Section 13 which provides that a person shall not produce, traffic in, publish, broadcast, procure, import, export, sell, abet any form of pornography. He points out that Section 14 which caters for child pornography is only there for emphasis.
“In some places such as countries in the West, pornography is not prohibited for adults. It is only prohibited for children because it may negatively affect their proper growth and well-being as children,” he says adding: “Enforcing this law on adults will border on infringing their right to privacy. Because two adults in the confines of their bedroom, away from any children could choose to watch pornography; will the police break in and arrest them?”
Why was it set up?
Nicholas Opiyo, the secretary general of the Uganda Law Society, says the law is premised on the assumption that pornography has become a big problem in the country which has to be dealt with. “Thus the Act basically creates the offence of pornography and sets up a Pornography Control Committee whose responsibility, among others, is to prohibit pornography. The committee consists of membership from the Uganda Law Society, media houses, publishing houses, entertainment industry, etc.”
How will they catch culprits?
According to Section 7, one of the functions of the Pornography Control Committee is to develop and install software on electronic equipment such as computers, mobile phones and televisions for detection and suppression of pornography.
Opiyo argues that this will be stifling freedom of expression. “It is akin to telling you what to watch or surf and what not to. That is not the role of the government. “The assumption that they want to protect morals is wrong. Our morals differ. It is going to be applied selectively,” the Law Society Secretary General states.
Who punishes culprits?
Mayambala reacts to the case of the boda boda men whom he notes could be acting in ignorance of the law. He says according to Section 27 of the Act, it is the responsibility of the Minister for Ethics and Integrity to curb such instances by educating the masses.
“The section provides that the Minister is supposed to come up with a statutory instrument which will make regulations for among other things, establishment of programmes aimed at sensitising and educating the public about pornography as defined in the Act. The instrument is also to deal with eradication of pornography as well as rehabilitating persons who may be affected by it,” he states.
Is the Act implementable?
Mayambala says applying the law will be a tall order. “I don’t know the studies which were conducted before the Bill was passed, but the impression which has been created is that pornography is an enormous problem into which massive resources should be dedicated. If you are talking about developing software that is going to be a challenge. But perhaps the resources are there though it will be a tall order,” he concludes.
Opiyo offers that the government does not have the capacity to put the legislation into operation. “It is going to have a negative financial effect on many Ugandans. Particularly, outlawing certain dresses, will affect business persons, fashion designers and media houses. I suggest that instead efforts be put towards limiting access to pornography so that the children are protected and leave the adults for they know what is good for them,” he concludes.
Misinterpreting the Anti-Pornography Act
It was at 4p.m as I walked out of one of the arcades downtown. I saw a group of people shouting at the top of their voices. Out of curiosity, I went to see what they were looking at.
It was a lady wearing tight skinny jeans and the group of men who had surrounded her were asking her why she was showing them her buttocks and yet the “miniskirt law forbids it.”
The girl begged the men to forgive her and even pulled her top to cover up part of the skin that was showing but these men did not listen. Within a few minutes, three of them got hold of her jeans and ripped them to pieces leaving the poor girl naked. Fortunately, a woman came from one of the shops and covered her with a wrapper.
It made me wonder how ignorant people can be. There is no part of the Anti-Pornography Act that talks about undressing people. The part they have misinterpreted is the one that defines pornography as “…any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement.” Since the law did not go into details about this definition, authorities need to come out and put a stop to this unbecoming behaviour.
Additional reporting by Sarah Tumwebaze