BY AUBREY LUTE, WEEKEND POST, 11/06/2017
Botswana is contemplating taking the route taken by developed countries – that is naming and shaming sex offenders by listing them in a registry and publishing their names and mugshots online and other public platforms.
In some quarters some are even calling for the naming and shaming of robbers, cell phone snatchers and the rest of the pile! Like every story has sides, human rights activists are lambasting the prepositions left, right and centre. The Gender Affairs department and the Botswana Police Service and departments relevant to law drafting are at the initial stages of consultations on this muted law. Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Bogolo Kenewendo started the ball rolling on the subject and she has tabled a proposal before Parliament to have names of sex offenders registered and published.
While in some countries a national register of sex offenders exists, and is only accessible to the police for the purposes of criminal detection, activists here in Botswana want the registry to be public. They validate their calls for such a register to be made public in the interests of public safety. The whole essence of the debate stems from the increasing cases of sexual assaults on vulnerable women especially young girls, in extreme cases some are still toddlers. Those in support of the proposal want law enforcement agencies to be obliged to reveal to members of the public a list of sex offenders who live under their jurisdiction.
But those on the side of human rights point out that such a move will be controversial because mass printing of the names and addresses of sexual offenders could result in many attacks on the person and property of those listed. Activists opine that sex offenders, even more so than other forms of crime, are prone to re-offending upon release from prison. Therefore, they point out that to protect society, they should be required to register with a local police station, and their names and addresses should be made available to the public. Police would also supply this information to relevant parties, such as schools and nurseries, who will be consequently far more alert to any risk.
The pro Name and Shame campaign further advance the argument that parents would find this information invaluable in ensuring their children’s safety, and it would cut the rate of sexual crime by those freed from prison or those who may want to commit such a crime.
Cabinet Minister and gender activists, Assistant Minister Botlogile Tshireletso is in full support of the proposed law and is lobbying for the law to pass in Parliament.
“I want this law to pass and be implemented like yesterday, we need to protect our elderly and young children and even the able bodied women against psychopaths who have made it a habit these days to rape and assault women.” Tshireletso said their names should be made public and shared will all institutions in the country, “imagine if such a person commits that crime in Gaborone and relocates to a different location and applies for a license for an organisation that would put him close to children, this can’t go on,” said the Assistant Minister.
In any case, Tshireletso said the proposed law is in tangent with the Children’s Act which protects children against coming into contact with sex offenders. She said Botswana has observed an increase in the number of cases where 90 years olds, 85 years olds, 3 years olds and or 5 year olds are assaulted sexually, we must act against this barbarism by naming and shaming these people,” she said. According to Tshireletso, naming and shaming them will give the vulnerable an opportunity to make informed decisions when they see or come into contact with them.
On the other side human rights activists say this is a fundamental violation of the principles of human rights, which are based on the serving of a set punishment before being freed. They posit that the registration imposes a new punishment for an old crime, and, inevitably, will lead to sex offenders being demonised by society. Furthermore they fear that society could revert back to mob rule in place of justice.
But activists say crimes of a sexual nature are among the most abhorrent and damaging that exist; they can ruin a child’s life. “As the offenders responsible for these offences cannot be incarcerated for ever, and must be released at some point, extra precautions must be taken to ensure they pose no threat to the public,” observed Assistant Minister Tshireletso. She said a national register would allow police to track down re-offenders faster, thus increasing the success rate and the speed at which they are brought to justice. “It would also provide a strong deterrent against re-offence in its own right,” she said.