BONELA ADDRESS ON THE SEBINA SAGA

18.05.16: BONELA ADDRESS ON THE SEBINA SAGA

BY:       PHAZHA MOLEBATSI

            (Policy & Legal Advisor)

Following the recent media reports for which we thank the media fraternity for, we have learnt with great concern that a child of about sixteen (16) years of age, registered at Nata Senior Secondary School has fallen pregnant allegedly impregnated by a councillor from Sebina. Even though this is a topic that desperately needs our attention as Batswana, not enough people have been talking about it above whisper until recently.

To date no official address has been issued in respect of the reports save for statements made or issued by leaders about themselves and not about the child in question. We would have expected the responsible Government departments to advise us of measures taken towards the issue. This therefore became of even greater concern to us as an organisation that is working around the promotion and protection of children’s rights who are vulnerable and need of special protection from parents, teachers, police, senior government officials and law makers. We therefore had to hold our leaders accountable.

We have said, and I reiterate that we take the strong view that in order to significantly deal with the problem of teenage pregnancy in schools, action should be taken against perpetrators and those failing to protect children from being victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, which in most cases leads also to disruption of the enjoyment of their right to education.

Having considered the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Skills Development together with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to address the issue of teenage pregnancy, on the 10th instant we wrote a letter to the two Ministries who are under an obligation to devise or cause to be devised programmes to prevent the sexual exploitation of Children, in order to ensure the protection of children from sexual exploitation.

In our letter we among other things and in pursuit of justice for the child, called upon both Ministries to hold duty bearers accountable as prescribed by Section 25 (2) of the Children’s Act which outlaws failure by parents, teachers and other persons to report a case of child abuse or exploitation or conniving with a person who sexually abuses or exploits a child.

We further requested the two Ministries to apprise us of the steps that have been taken in order to safeguard the child’s best interests. We are disappointed to inform you that to date we have not received any response or at least an acknowledgement of receipt of this very important letter. We therefore sense that the two Ministries aren’t determined to address this issue and seek justice for this child or other children who find themselves in this kind of situation. Yes I refer to her as a child or them as children, the children’s Act states that a child is a person below the age of eighteen (18) years.

We have however seen a statement circulating on the social media, allegedly emanating from Minister Unity Dow’s Office, authored by the minister herself. Our view on the statement is that it is just focused on the Minister’s frustrations and disregards the importance to reveal action taken or being taken by her Ministry to address the current issue and similar issues. In fact the Minister’s address admits the alarming rate at which school going girls are falling pregnant and being disrupted in their studies.

Because we remained in the dark, we had to do something and BONELA in partnership with Ndadi Law Firm, both on the quest for justice, embarked on a fact finding mission that entailed a trip to Sebina.

We have now determined that the girl is indeed pregnant and that she fell pregnant after attaining the age of sixteen (16) years, laying to rest speculation that she may have been defiled. Most people would agree that a person at her age is still vulnerable and most likely does not have the sufficient sexual education to protect herself. We consequently still condemn in the strongest terms the actions of the councillor involved and reiterate our concern about intergenerational sex as well as teenage pregnancy among school going kids.

From our visit we have also noted evidence of the failure or reluctance by children to report cases of child abuse. The world may not be as safe as we think it is, consequently a need arises for parents to closely monitor their children as they may easily fall prey to some of the immoral members of our society. In most cases our children are not abused by strangers, the abusers are usually known to them like in this case.

We must also teach kids to be aware of what actions and behaviours are inappropriate instead of teaching them to beware of a stereotypical “bad guy”. If we do not do so, children will let their guard down around anyone who does not fit into that rigid box. This is a typical case of a child who let her guard down around a community leader who no one could have expected to be a perpetrator in this case.

Even though we are of the view that all people who are being inappropriate with children should be brought to justice, we strongly condemn those who use the influence of their offices to take advantage of children and we consequently urge the law enforcement agencies to openly punish them rather than seem to be shielding them. This will advance the freedom to report sexual abuse.

We understand that Police have commenced investigations on the matter. We urge them to expedite their investigations and we call upon the Police to look also into the possibility of the perpetrator having provided the child with alcohol, which is an offence in terms of the Children’s Act.

The current relationship between the Police and Civil Society Organisations working around children’s issues leaves much to be desired. We have in the past struggled to get opportunities to discuss issues pertaining to children’s rights with the Police with little to no explanation for not heeding our call. A strong relationship between the Police and Civil Society Organisations working around children’s rights issues would go a long way in eradicating sexual abuse of children and protecting our future leaders.

In the meanwhile we shall be giving the family concerned legal advice and/or services as they await the Police to conclude investigations and beyond. If need be we shall institute legal proceedings to compel government to take certain steps to ensure justice for this child and her family.