Delayed Justice For GBV Victims As Courts Lockdown

DOROTHY (not real name) is married and has a two-year-old child and lives in Epworth. Over the past few days, they have been having fights regarding her new pregnancy which her husband believes its not his and she should have it terminated.

By Michael Gwarisa

On one occasion, her husband hit her so hard with a log and threatened her with worse torture should she report the case to the police. She had to sleep in the fields just to escape from her brutal husband who has of late become a habitual abuser.

Because we are in the lockdown period, I have managed to report my case but it seems it might take some time before i get justice,” said Dorothy.

Many women and young girls can relate to Dorothy’s story as majority who fell victim to physical and  sexual gender-based violence during the lockdwon period could not get justice from the courts following a directive from the highest ofice to suspend proceedings at the administrative and civil court.

According to a practice directive on courts operations which was issued at the commencement of the national lockdown, Chief Justice Luke Malaba said all superior courts, namely Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the High Court, the Labour Court, the Administrative Court would go into recess earlier, for the first quarter break. Under the directive, all process and pleadings, were suspended for the duration of the national lockdown.

Katswe Sisterhood, an organization which advocates for the rights of girls and young women has indicated that the temporary closure of courts and suspension of civil cases which was experienced during the first three weeks of the lockdown might have delayed justice for victims of gender and sexual abuse.

Katswe Director, Talent Jumo said people had difficulties in reporting cases of rape and Gender Based Violence (GBV) to the police owing to the strict restrictions which characterized the initial lockdown stages.

“Some people who acquired orders just before the courts but were not able to go to health centers fearing COVID-19 restrictions or had no transport to access health centres. Women were likely forced to seek unsafe options

“Since courts were closed a lot of civil matters including applications under Termination of Pregnancy, protection orders and maintenance could not be processed. We only had one case where had an order but was stuck and not knowing what to do with it juts because there was a lockdown.  According to our legal department, we had two Domestic Violence cases who needed protection orders but failed to get them,” said Jumo.

According to the United Nation’s Spotlight Initiative to end violence against women and girls said, the levels of sexual and gender-based violence were likely to spike in Zimbabwe as households are placed under the increased strains that come from concerns of health, psychosocial, and income, and many women and girls are under lockdown with their abuser.

Jumo added that another case they handled was that of a Domestic Violence case of a lady who was hit by her husband and was further threatened with death should she report the case to the police.

“She sought treatment with a private doctor because she had strained her arm the doctor could not treat her without a police report. She was afraid to report the husband because if he was released he had said he would kill her if she reports. She wanted a protection order but courts were closed so she opted not to report him and did not get any medical assistance.

“She took her chances with her wounds and her sprained hand. She had an order but had no transport to go to the hospital and was not sure if she could go to the hospital for an abortion since it was not an emergency. She was also worried if she waited for the lockdown to end the hospital might refuse to terminate a late term pregnancy. She was contemplating terminating the pregnancy herself but was later assisted by the Adult Rape Clinic (ARC).”

Getting a pregnancy terminated in Zimbabwe however is not a walk in the park and according to the Zimbabwe Termination of Pregnancy Act (TOP), termination of pregnancy cannot happen anywhere else besides a designated institution in this case a public hospital and at least two medical practitioners must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the pregnancy indeed warrants an abortion.

Right Here Right Now (RHRN) Coordinator, Tendaishe Changamire said even though they do not have figures of ladies who might have illegally terminated pregnancies during the lockdown,

“In as much as we might have the statistics of women accessing illegal backward abortion during the lockdown. Because of the restricted movement we haven’t been able to access communities and gather information that we would use to present to policy makers.

“It is possible that numbers of women seeking unsafe abortion have increased because of to COVID-19 had set up and some of the restrictions that women have been facing,” said Changamire.

She however expressed concern over the suspension of services by the judiciary at the initial stages of the lockdown which she fears might have affected those who might have been seeking legal abortion services.

“The other thing we were worried about with regards to legal abortions within the confines our current law was that the judiciary was not functioning as normal and obviously they had priority cases and they were not open the normal business times.

“We were worried that if someone were to survive rape will they be able to aces justice in a timely manner and also access a termination order. Unfortunately, we do work and have had discussions with organizations that deal with Gender Based Violence (GBV) and at the time that we discussed with them they also hadn’t experienced any request to access a termination order.”

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