By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
12 June 2014
Two activists have defended women’s groups, amid accusations that they are not doing enough to protest the sexual abuse of girls and women in the country.
The criticisms, expressed in the local media and discussion forums, relate to the recent case where members of the Masowe yeChishanu Apostolic sect have been accused of marrying off little girls.
Male members of the sect are also accused of conducting virginity tests on their daughters, denying children access to health and education, beating up women and denying them the right to identity documents.
“One would have expected civic society groups to issue strong statements berating the alleged perpetrators. But alas, there was deafening silence from the concerned groups.
“Even the watchful Human Rights Watch was noticeable by its deafening silence. It is now over a week since the shameful attack on the police and the unearthing of human rights abuses yet there are no statements from the usually vocal groups,” one critic said in an opinion piece published in the Herald newspaper.
Speaking to SW Radio Africa on Thursday Edinah Masanga, director at Women Empowerment Scribes Africa, said such criticisms were unfair considering the amount of work that civil rights movements in Zimbabwe are doing.
“Most of what we do never gets captured in the media except a few high profile cases such as that of religious sect leader Martin Gumbura rape cases as well as the Vapositori case.
“Women’s groups can only do so much. We need corresponding support from government, through the justice ministry to ensure that where abuses are highlighted the d law moves swiftly and decisively to nab the perpetrators.”
Lamiel Phiri, a senior official at the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children called on the justice delivery system to quicken the pace of prosecuting cases relating to the sexual abuse of children.
Phiri said there were several cases that rights groups had helped to bring before the courts which were still to be resolved.
“We need the justice ministry to attend to these cases urgently to ensure justice and closure for the victims of these abuses,” Phiri added.
Last week a march organised by some child rights groups to highlight the abuses of children within such religious cults as the Budiriro Vapositori sect flopped, after only a few of the hundreds of human rights groups attended.
SW Radio Africa correspondent Simon Muchemwa said many of those who attended were children and a few groups who had organised the march.
But recently a well organized and well attended march delivered a petition to the Nigerian Embassy, expressing solidarity with the 279 girls who were abducted in that country by terrorists.
Responding to questions why rights groups have not similarly marched or why only a few attended last week’s protest march, both Masanga and Phiri said their groups had since written petitions and held consultative meetings to map the way forward.
“We also need the media to do its bit by not just criticizing but following up on these issues until they are resolved in the courts. It is also the media’s role to investigate and bring these cases to the attention of relevant bodies if need be,” Masanga said.