Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs Minister Edwin Batshu has sounded an alarm at the rate of defilement in Botswana.
Batshu on Friday told Goshwe residents that at least 728 births for mothers aged 16 years and below were recorded in the past 22 months in Botswana. The minister was launching 16 days of activism against violence on women and children on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, usually observed on November 25 worldwide.
“For the period from January 2016 until October 2017, a total of 728 births were recorded for mothers under the age of 16 years and below, with the youngest mother aged 10 years,” said Batshu.
According to Batshu, statistics for the period between 2011 and 2015 indicates that at least 5, 553 births for mothers aged 16 years and below were registered.
Batshu said the statistics reveal a heartbreaking situation on the extent of sexual violation suffered by young girls in Botswana.
“It is disturbing that girl children, as young as 10 years can be mothers when in actual fact they should be mothered and nurtured by mothers and fathers for them to be future responsible adults,” he said.
Botswana’s age of consent is 16 years, and the country’s defilement crisis is expected to aggravate when the country increases the age of consent from 16 to 18.
In her first motion to parliament earlier this year, Specially-elected MP, Bogolo Kenewendo, asked government “to amend the age of consent from 16 to 18 in line with the definition of a child as stated in the Children’s Act.”
Botswana laws are a mass of confusion on what a child is. The Children’s Act defines child as any person who is below the age of 18 years and in that regard, a man who has sexual relations with a 17-year old girl would have violated a child. However, that is not the case because if such case were to come before a magistrate court as a criminal offence, the charge would be drawn from the Penal Code. Section 147 of the latter says that “any person who unlawfully and carnally knows any girl under the age of 16 years is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life, with or without corporal punishment.” This means that the Penal Code essentially establishes 16 years as the age of consent while the Children’s Act considers a 16-year girl to be a child with whom men cannot have sexual relations with.
The Marriage Act complicates the situation further. While Section 14 of the Act says that no person below the 18 years may marry, Section 15 negates the latter by stating that “No minor or person below the age of 21 years not being a widower or widow may marry without the consent in writing of his or her parents or guardians.” This is where the difficulty arises: parents may give consent for a 16-year old girl to marry while the Children’s Act considers someone that young to still be a child. It is unlikely men who marry underage children wait until they reach the age of majority to consummate the marriage. Within the context of the Children’s Act, minors can’t be sexually abused by their husbands but to all intents and purposes, such abuse is sanctioned by the Marriage Act.