By MacDonald Dzirutwe
When Sarah Mandiopera said she wanted to attend a funeral — the second in three days — her husband refused. When she insisted on going, he bludgeoned her to death in front of their three young children.
e children, the eldest a 10-year-old boy, met Zimbabwe legislators and the public at a hearing on Thursday on a proposed law to curb domestic violence.
“A lot of perpetrators are getting away with murder,” Betty Makoni, director of Girl Child Network, a pressure group fighting for the rights of girls, told the public hearing.
The Domestic Violence Bill was first mooted 10 years ago but women’s groups have this year pressured President Robert Mugabe’s government to speedily enact the law, saying more than 90 percent of domestic violence targets women.
Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, which has seen inflation soar to more than 1,000 percent amid shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange, has also spurred the need for more legal protections.
Some women say the crisis has spawned anger among many people, with most men finding it easier to direct their rage at more vulnerable groups of society, such as women and children, instead of the state, which has clamped down on dissent.
The bill classifies physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse as acts of domestic violence, and criminalises those along with intimidation, harassment and stalking.
The draft law also takes aim at some cultural practices including female gender mutilation, child marriage, and “wife inheritance”, in which wives are passed along in their husband’s family if the husband dies.
There were several sad tales of domestic violence at Thursday’s meeting, including a recent “rescue” mission in eastern Zimbabwe by a local rights group and police to save four young girls given to another family as payment to appease spirits, a traditional practice in the country.
“THEY ARE MURDERERS”
Women and children spoke of physical abuse by their spouses and fathers, a domestic worker narrated a rape ordeal, while some women said they had endured days in the bush, running away from abusive men.
Traditionally domestic violence is treated as a private family matter and cases reported to the police seldom go to court. When they do, perpetrators are either fined or sentenced to community service, activists say.
A recent survey by some NGOs showed that 60 percent of the murder cases that go through Zimbabwe’s High Courts are a result of home violence mostly involving spouses and relatives. Many Zimbabwean women are encouraged by parents to endure violent and abusive relationships for the sake of the children, and often do not speak of abuse, fearing the stigma of divorce.
“My crime is that I don’t want to continue to be a slave and I am in hiding because my husband wants to kill me,” said Shorai Chitongo, a mother of three, who now lives in a safe house provided by a local rights group outside the capital.
Women say the creation of the Women’s Affairs and Gender Ministry, headed by gender activist and politician Oppah Muchinguri, has given fresh impetus for the new law.
Legislators have come out in support of the bill, which is expected to be debated and passed by Parliament before the end of this year.
Women’s groups said they wanted stiffer penalties for offenders, saying the maximum jail sentence for stealing cattle is 49 years while that for domestic violence is just 10 years.
“What is more important a cow or a woman?” asked Florence Mudzongwa, a programme officer at Girl Child Network. — Reuter