The presidential pardon of two high-profile child rapists in the same week that a Tanzanian official called for the arrest of pregnant schoolgirls has rankled human rights workers concerned the actions send the wrong message about sexual violence in the East African country.
While President John Magufuli “is pardoning convicted child rapists, regional commissioner John Mongella is calling on pregnant school girls to be arrested and taken to court,” Fazia Mohamed, director of the Africa office for Equality Now, an NGO that works on behalf of girls and women, told The Guardian. “Tanzania’s leaders are promoting a culture of human rights violations in which young victims of sexual violence are being punished while perpetrators are going free.”
The released rapists are Nguzu Viking, a singer known as Babu Seya, and his son, Johnson Ngazu, known as Papii Kocha, whom the president pardoned after they each served 13 years of life sentences for raping 10 children (Africa News) between the ages of 6 and 8 at Mashujaa primary school in the Kinondoni district of Dar es Salaam. The two were among thousands of other pardons he announced during an Independence Day speech on December 9.
Then on December 11, John Mongella, (The Citizen) the regional commissioner of Mwanza, called for pregnant schoolgirls to be taken into police custody, saying they could be forced in court to disclose the identities of their sexual partners. He said the detention would also discourage them from having sex.
Earlier this year, the president had called for a ban on pregnant girls attending school. Equity Now’s Mohamed also criticized this position, saying it was “unacceptable that convicted child molesters walk free by order of a president who simultaneously denies victims of assault access to education if they become pregnant.”
Kate McAlpine, the director of Community for Children’s Rights in Tanzania, told the BBC she was “horrified but unsurprised” by Magufuli’s pardon and the call to arrest pregnant schoolgirls.
“This story is indicative of a failure at the top level of political will to end violence against children,” she said. “Pregnant schoolgirls are pregnant because they are victims of violence. He has a blind spot when it comes to recognising children as victims.”
Tanzania has one of the world’s highest teen pregnancy rates and school enrolment for girls lags behind boys.