An isolated incident in the rural village of Sebina, north of Botswana, a single Facebook expose, and one hash tag #IShallNotForget has started a massive campaign to get the nation on its feet, to fight the scourge of girl child abuse in all forms. By Friday, over 16 000 supporters had joined the movement which started on social media, and launched peaceful protests holding up placards condemning child abuse at all traffic lights and intersections leading into Gaborone and in other busy points countrywide. The campaigners we split into groups of at least 10 women and men each.
Some of the demonstrators in Gaborone were arrested by the police but were later released without any charges after the intervention of human rights lawyer Duma Boko, who is also the president of the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). Speaking moments after several #IShallNotForget demonstrators were set free from Broadhurst Police Station on Friday, Boko said what the police had done was a clear violation of the demonstrators rights. Boko has vowed to defend the right to freedom of expression of the #IShallNotForget campaigners at any time if need be. “I was requested by some of them to come and render assistance as an attorney. When I came in I basically put it to the police that these folks were under arrest, their being here and being rounded from where they were is clear evidence that they were under arrest.
The police denied vehemently and said they were not under arrest. At this point I put it to them that then they are free to go and they said yes. I think the police shied away from insisting on what they had planned to do,” said Boko. According to Boko the refusal to grant the #IShallNotForget movement permission to hold a march was an ‘illegal act’. He thus said he had advised them to continue demonstrating if they so wish. “My position is and has always been, citizens do not need anybody’s permission to express themselves or to assemble because those are fundamental rights conferred to them by the constitution of this republic and they cannot be taken away by any act of Parliament," he said. Boko said as a leader and activist he associates himself with the movement entirely.
Denied permission to march
The #IShallNotForget campaigners had planned to conduct a protest march in Gaborone, and by Thursday their application for permission was denied by the police. The movement which seeks to create awareness, raise issues and become a voice for the voiceless were not deterred by refusal to grant them permission to hold demonstrations on Friday. “We vow to do all things within the laws lest we be labelled outlaws and all else nasty in our attempt to protect our children. In the meantime we will take it to social media, let us march online and gain those signatures, we need them,” the originator of the movement Boitumelo Mohoasa, rallied members on Thursday.
On Monday the movement spearheaded a black Monday campaign; where members of the public were encouraged to put on black clothes with a blue ribbon, signalling their stance against sexual abuse of children. On Thursday a blue angels prayer session was held in Gaborone in remembrance of all the children who have been victims of abuse. A decision was then taken to continue the peaceful campaign later on Friday evening. One of the demonstrators who was arrested at Molapo Intersection traffic lights , veteran journalist Pamela Dube- Kelepang implored everyone to continue to fight for the rights of their children as they have a right to do so.
Boko said: “These folks have the right to march with or without anybody’s permission at anytime that they choose. Secondly, even within the consideration that the police ought to issue them a permit the factors on which they denied them permission are improper and illegal. And it is something that I am willing to challenge in court". Acting on Boko’s advise, a decision was taken to continue with the march on Saturday too. The online movement can perhaps be viewed as local women’s own version of the 1960s bra burning feminism movement, only this time men have also pledged their support. The online movement which refers to itself as “Women and Men against all sexual abuse of children" have invaded various social media platforms in a bid to say enough is enough to sexual abuse of children. Their facebook page has within a week attracted over 16 000 members. Several activities have been lined up.
How it started
The movement was spurred into action by a leaked Facebook conversation between the Assistant Minister of Education and Skills Development Fidelis Molao and Sebina village councillor Kemmonye Amon in which they extensively discussed the latter’s possible escape routes from a case in which he confessed to have impregnated a school girl. The assistant Minister can be seen in the leaked screen munchies coaching the councillor and even suggesting possible ways of solving the ‘problem’ in one of the conversation even suggesting to him that he can make her disappear.
Both Amon and Molao have since denied ever engaging in such kind of conversation and allege that their Facebook accounts were hacked. Be that as it may, the Sebina saga seems to have been only a tip of the iceberg as now more cases of abuse of young girls especially by men in leadership positions are coming out. One woman who is at the fore front of the movement Tumie Mohoasa says; “We want accountability from our leaders; they should be spearheading the fight to protect our children. A situation where we now have leaders being the ones implicated calls for those leaders to step aside, or be removed from their positions if they don't, whilst investigations go on. This issue is too sensitive and calls for no less than vacation of their positions”. The #IShallNotForget movement has made an impact as several public figures have also tendered their position on sexual abuse of children in light of the Sebina incident in the form of open letters and social media posts.
Khama called to act
A group of local male lawyers constituting Tshiamo Rantao, Osego Garebamono, Mboki Chilisa ,Kgalalelo Monthe, Kgosi Ngakaagae, Diba wa Diba, Lore Morapedi, Rueben Lekorwe and Tefo Gaongalelwe have written an open letter to President Ian Khama requesting that he appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate instances of sexual abuse and exploitation of the girl child.
The group asked Khama to appoint a Commission of Inquiry, to be chaired by a sitting judge or a retired judge, to investigate violations of the rights of the girl child. “The situation has reached the levels where it cannot just be left in the hands of the police alone. The police lack the special powers given to the Commissioners under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. In any event, the report by the Commission could help the police to prosecute offenders under section 25 of the Children’s Act which criminalises sexual abuse and exploitation of children, defilement provisions in the Penal Code, and other relevant pieces of legislation,” the letter reads.
Daisy Bathusi- BCP Women’s league President
"For me this was the last straw. Things happen and there comes a point where the people have to say enough is enough. At BCP we are strongly against what happened in Sebina. Our role is to advocate for human rights and the rights of children. We believe everybody has the right to equal protection. The fact that young girls as young as 16 are being abused is really infringing on their rights and it is very wrong. We as a matter of fact believe that our laws are wrong because of the fact that at 16 year old girl can consent to sexual intercourse in other words our law says young girls can be molested. It is surprising that the same laws do not allow 16 year olds to get married without the consent of their parents, they cannot even get a driver’s licence at 16. We hence advocate for a change in our laws. In our view a 16 year old is still a minor," she wrote.