An international Civil Society Organisation, SRHR Africa Trust formerly known as Southern African Aids Trust (SAT) and Botswana Youth Hub has denounced the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi’s amendment to the penal code to raise sexual consent age from 16 to 18 years. The amendments were passed by parliament recently.
When tabling the Penal Code Amendment Bill, 2018, seeking to align it with the Children’s Act by raising the legal age of maturity from 16 to 18 years, Kgathi stressed that the objective of the Bill is to address incidences of defilement and abuse of children, abduction, indecent assault, and kidnapping.
SRHR Africa Trust & Botswana Youth Hub from the outset denounced the law although they acknowledged that the spirit of the amendments, in particular amendments regarding the increase of the age of sexual consent to 18 years, was done in good faith – to protect children against sexual predators, who in majority of cases are elderly men abusing young girls.
The international Civil Society this week wrote to Members of Parliament (MPs) saying the Penal Code amendments would turn children having sexual activity amongst themselves into criminals. “Whereas the proposed law seeks to protect adolescents from sexual abuse, the unintended effect of the law would be to turn children into criminals as some adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 are already engaged in consensual sexual activities, some among themselves and some with elderly partners,” SRHR Africa Trust Country Programme Director Thatayaone Gabositwe highlighted in the Bill amendments comments on the Penal Code (Botswana).
The bone of contention for SRGR Africa Trust is that the net effect is that adolescents may in the end be prosecuted and convicted for engaging in what they have previously been lawfully doing. They continue: “to nub this from happening, we strongly recommend that the law be left as it currently stands and have a provision that makes it unlawful for persons above the age of 18 years to have sex with adolescents who are below 16 years.” The NGO insists that in the alternative, the legislators may raise the age of consent to 18 years as proposed but then have a provision that makes sexual activity between children who are both under 18 years lawful.
According to the said Civil Society organizations, to ensure that there is no huge age difference, there should be a gap of a two year age difference to guard against situations where a 17 year 11 months person has sex with a 12 year old, but if a 12 year old has sex with a 14 year old, then no one should be prosecuted.
“Further to the above, it is submitted that the two years age difference be maintained even after the other partner attains the age of majority at 18 years and ceases to be a child, provided though that their sexual partner is still a minor and the said minor gives their consent,” the organizations pointed out.
The SRHR Africa Trust Country Programme Director added that, if one partner is 19 years old and the other is 17 years, (or in the event the age of consent is kept at 16, the one partner is 16 and the other one is 14 years) the older one should not be charged for defilement as the two would for all intents and purposes be peers and may have lawfully had sex before the proposed law came into being.
“In that way, we submit that the relationship cannot be classed as intergenerational and thus less risky for the child. We submit that leaving the age of consent at 16 and having provisos dealing with sexual activities between children and punishing sex between children and adults, we will be acting consistent with the Public Health Act.”
According to the organizations, they say so because the Public Health Act made it possible for adolescents aged 16 and above to access health services on their own without parental consent, and this was in realization of the fact that adolescents do engage in sex and they should therefore be free to access sexual reproductive health services without fearing either their parents or the law.
“Should the age of consent be increased to 18, this may therefore force children to go underground as they may fear the stigma arising from the law penalizing their sexual conduct. We will be inadvertently reversing the gains that we made as a nation in seeking to make universal access to reproductive health rights a reality, which has already proven to be problematic as it has been found that in reality, only 16 out of 335 public health facilities provide youth friendly services according to the United Nations Population Fund 6th Country Programme 2017-2021 Report,” the representative wrote in the MP’s note.
The NGOs state that the UNFPA found that in 2016 in Botswana, there were 6 drop outs out of 16 536 in pre-primary, 271 out of 315 261 in primary school, 1 194 out of 116 068 in junior secondary and 477 out of 57 203 in senior secondary due to teenage pregnancy. From the Bill Memorandum, Gabositwe said they acknowledge that government wishes to raise the age of sexual consent to 18 so that it is in harmony with the Children’s Act.
“But in terms of the Employment Act, section 105 (2), a 14 year old child may be employed to work under certain circumstances. 12.2. In terms of the Public Health Act, section 104 (1) (a) a 16 year old can test for HIV without parental assistance. 12.3. In terms of Police Rifle Association Act, section 7 (1), a 16 year old can join rifle associations and learn how to use firearms. 12.4. A 16 year old is eligible to obtain a license to operate as a barber, a street vendor and a hawker. 12.5. Service of court or legal documents can be made on a 16 year old. 12.6. A 16 year old can obtain a free balloon pilot license. 12.7. A 10 year old in terms of the Adoption of Children Act has the capacity to consent to his/ her adoption.”
The global trend, they posit, is to have the age of consent to sex at 16, and those Botswana children are no different from other children in various parts of the world like in the United States. “We trust that our representations will be considered and adopted for the benefit of our children for we would not like to see our children in prisons. Let the law deal with the unfit elders who sexually abuse our children using their power and purse,” they reiterated.
For more than 2 decades, SRHR Africa Trust has worked with and alongside communities, civil society organizations and networks to mobilize and strengthen their capacity to respond to the HIV epidemic and improve their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in 6 East and Southern African countries including Botswana.
SAT has a strategic programmatic focus on women, girls, youth and adolescents coded "The Girl Plan" that seeks to address issues such as Child Marriage, Teenage pregnancy, Gender Based Violence, Keeping Girls in Safe Schools, increasing youth access to SRHR services and menstrual health.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”