- A Zambian nongovernmental organisation (NGO) revealed this week that it records eight cases of rape of young girls every week at its centre in the capital, Lusaka.
The statistics were released by the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of Zambia to mark the start of the global campaign, '16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence', which runs from 25 November - International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women - until International Human Rights Day on 10 December.
Katembu Kaumba, YWCA's executive director, said alongside the abuse of girls, the organisation's shelter in Lusaka also recorded 10 cases of rape of adult women every week. "Since we have only two safe houses - one each for the girls and women - they are full all the time."
"Nationally, the figure is much higher - about 12 every week," said Superintendent Presphord Kasale, who heads the Victims Support Unit of the Lusaka Division of the Zambia Police Service.
A joint report by the support unit, the YWCA, Women in Law in Southern Africa, a rights NGO, and the government's Child Justice Forum released more shocking statistics: almost half of married women aged over 15 reported being battered or physically abused by their husbands, and 53 percent of women overall experienced physical violence.
Kaumba said the number of cases of gender violence was high because girls and women were now more prepared to report the abuse.
She added that alcohol and substance abuse was often a contributory factor in abuse cases. "We found that in a majority of cases of rape that we recorded at our unit, the perpetrators blamed alcohol for their behaviour."
The unit and its NGO partners have begun an awareness campaign in schools to give the students tips to on how to protect themselves. "We find that most of the rapes are committed between 6 [pm] and 7 pm, when most children are sent out on errands. We advise them never to go out without an adult companion during these hours."
The Zambian government, in collaboration with civil society, has also begun a consultation process on a gender-based violence bill, and the YWCA said an amendment to the penal code providing stiffer sentences for rapists was before parliament.
"We are supporting a minimum sentence of 35 years up to life imprisonment in the case of rape of minors [contained in the draft amendment]," said Kaumba. The NGOs are also advocating for a separate penalty for infecting the person who had been raped with HIV.
The penal code amendment is expected to be enacted during 2007.
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