When the President closed schools for the first time early last year to curb the spreading of the Covid-19 pandemic that was ravaging the world, little did we know the extent to which the novel disease would disrupt our every day life.
As the world came to a standstill, all education institutions in Uganda were closed and 15 million learners were sent home.
But that meant sending the children from their safe spaces, in the process exposing them to sexual predators. Police say sexual assault cases are among the most registered during the pandemic.
This week, government announced that at least 14,134 cases of defilement were reported to police between March 2020 – when schools were closed – and December last year alone.
A very painful example is of a 16-year-old visually-impaired schoolgirl with mental disorder in Jinja District that has given birth to two children within 18 months of Covid-induced lockdown.
The release of the report coincided with the launch of the investigative documentary film titled ‘Defiled by My Father’, a production of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ), that exposes the loopholes in the justice system that sexual predators are using to avoid the long arm of the law. The one hour film tells a chilling story of a 13-year-old minor who was allegedly defiled by her father.
Speaking to the media during the release of the ‘Financing Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Interventions in Uganda’ report, Gender minister Betty Amongi said whereas many of these cases are reported, prevention, mitigation, and prosecution of reported cases remains low.
The AIIJ documentary highlights why it is difficult to investigate and prosecute these cases. Suspects with money buy their way out of their crimes by compromising those handling the case. Investigating officers are bribed to bungle cases. Medical officers, who are supposed to examine the victims and give a report, are also being compromised, making it difficult for victims to prove that they were abused.
On the other hand, the Judiciary says they are financially constrained to adequately prosecute defilement cases.
For us to be able to tackle the defilement problem decisively, we need to allocate more money for this cause. We have the laws and policies in place to protect the minors. The focus should be on enforcing the laws.
But for that to happen, all defilement cases must be reported. There is a tendency for parents to settle defilement cases outside court. This has only worsened the situation since suspects know that they can pay a few thousand shillings and walk away scot-free.
For us to effectively deal with this vice that has only worsened during the lockdown, we all need to be our children’s protectors.