Since the country recorded its first coronavirus case in The Gambia on 17th March 2020, there’s been public concern about reports of increased Gender Based Violence (GBV) cases in the country.
Authorities in the country have stated that there has been an unprecedented rise of GBV cases ranging from exploitation, rape, defilement, children streets begging among others during the pandemic and especially during the lockdown.
Magistrate Peter Ado Che of the Brikama Magistrates’ Court this week declared rape as a pandemic now in The Gambia. He made the statement while delivering judgment in a case involving Modou Touray, who was charged with rape and subsequently sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
He further added: « Rape is now a pandemic in the Gambia. In the Judicial Year just ended, I have dealt with over 15 Rape cases as a single court. I can imagine what transpires in other courts, » he said.
He added that in the past, he used to impose 10-year mandatory jail term for rape. But now 10 years seems not to be deterring enough.
Fallu Sowe, national coordinator of Network of Gender Based Violence (NGBV), said the number of GBV cases in the country during the lockdown has drastically increased, saying the country witnessed a rapid increase of sexual violence and GBV cases in 2019 and 2020.
« With regard to sexual violence in 2019, we have 270 cases. In 2020, we have 243 cases and this could be attributed to the covid-19 pandemic and it related factors especially during the lockdown. The number of cases recorded within the Greater Banjul Area (GBA) rose to 151 cases. »
Mr. Sowe added: « Out of these cases, 83 were registered in the Kanifing Municipality and another 52 cases of sexual violence were registered in West Coast Region (WCR). Out of the 151 cases, we observed that 116 cases are against children under the age of 17 years and below which is 77% of the cases recorded in Kanifing Municipality and West Coast Region (WCR). Therefore, there has been an increase of criminal violence cases against women and girls in the country during the pandemic. »
Commenting on the impact this will have on women and children, he said, violence in general has serious effects on the victims.
« Given the fact that most of the victims are women and girls of which some of whom are victims of sexual violence, rape, defilement and sexual associated related offences, you will realise that victims of these crimes will suffer both physically and sociological trauma. »
« Some victims will even have sexual transmission diseases and other can even have sexual and reproductive health problems as a result of the rape. Some victims would equally be exposed to society given the fact that people would know their privacy and that could also have a negative impact on them which of course affect them in terms of getting married. »
« Sometimes, you are even blamed by society because they would think that you are responsible for the ordeal you find yourself into, » Sowe pointed out.
The lockdown, Sowe added, is a contributing factor to the rise of crimes against women and girls. However, he was quick to add that even without the lockdown some people rights would be violated given the environment in which we live.
According to him, during the lockdown, most of the children that were supposed to be at school were at home and some of the women and men who were the breadwinners of their home lost their jobs and were not working.
« The lockdown also increases poverty levels in poor families. Therefore, when people are poor they can go the extra mile to get something to eat and also they become vulnerable because other people could use the little resources they have to exploit them. So all this could be the reason of the rise of GBV and rape during the pandemic and lockdown in general. »
Lamin Fatty, national coordinator of Child Protection Alliance, said the covid-19 pandemic has affected everybody and every sector globally. However, the pandemic has affected children and women the most, he added.
During the course of the pandemic especially in The Gambia, Fatty said, there had been a lot of covid-19 restrictions; ranging from closure of schools, hence children were spending more time at home than in school.
« As a result of that, it has also opened up so many factors ranging from exploitations and abuses. During the course of March, when the first case was registered in the country coming to December 2020, the amount of rape cases we received is probably more than any year in the country. In fact, there was a time hardly a week passed without having a case of rape. Sadly, most of this reported rape cases involve children. »
« We also have reported cases of domestic violence where spouses will get problems and in some cases that could even lead to fight and this will also affect children. From the report we receive, domestic violence has also been on the increase and this has a direct impact on the wellbeing of the children. »
« During the lockdown, children were also not going to schools and as a result of that some children were more exploited. We have seen children begging, the number of children selling on the streets has rapidly increased. Basically, all these were happening. However, what are more alarming were rape cases. In fact, up to date, we have seen instances where a one-year-old child was raped. From March 2020 to now, the number of rape cases that we received is unprecedented. »
The number of reported rape cases during the pandemic, he went on, could be more than 20 cases. « However, due to the fact that we don’t have a comprehensive data to indicate the actually number of reported cases, hence it could be difficult to give you the authentic number of reported rape cases. But I can confirm to you that we received cases from the length and breadth of the country. »
« Some of these exploitations have great impact on the victims. Most of the victims will live with this for the rest of their lives. However, let me make it clear that this rape cases doesn’t only mean girls, we have instances where a boy was reportedly raped. »
Isatou Sima, from the Female Lawyers Association of The Gambia said: « Most of the GBV cases that they received during the lockdown were perpetrated by men. We all know that during the lockdown most people were not going to work. As such, having people stay at home seeing each other’s defects here and there to which some people do find it so difficult to condone such bad conducts (on the side of women) would actually react against their women in such circumstances. »
« Most of our women in The Gambia are unemployed. Some depend on their husbands for their survival and for most of their needs to be provided. Therefore, during the lockdown most men were not going to work, hence they fell short of their income, thus some couldn’t fulfil their obligations as husbands. This therefore, created chaos in most matrimonial houses due to the non-availability of income during the lockdown. Indeed, the financial status of some people had increased violence in most families. »
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