The president’s decision to pardon two convicted child rapists in Tanzania sends a chilling message to survivors, in a climate of increasing violations of girls’ rights, activists said.
Tanzania’s president John Magufuli pardoned singer Nguza Viking, also known as Babu Seya, and his son Johnson Nguza, known as Papii Kocha, on Saturday for raping 10 primary schoolgirls, aged between six and eight, in 2003.
“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,” said Faiza Mohamed, Africa director of the rights group Equality Now.
Viking and Nguza served 13 years of their life sentences.
Their release sends out “a terrible message to women and girls about the lack of protection they can expect from the state”, Mohamed told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In Tanzania, it is extremely difficult for rape survivors to secure convictions and few cases ever make it to court, she said.
The pardon marks the latest setback for women and girls’ rights in the country, said Agnes Odhiambo, a senior women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Magufuli caused an outcry among campaigners in June when he voiced support for a ban on pregnant girls and teenage mothers in state schools, describing their behavior as “immoral”.
Tanzania has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world, with widespread sexual violence and many girls exchanging sex for school fees, food and shelter.
“His government went to the extent of threatening NGOs lobbying for girls to be allowed to go back to school,” Odhiambo said, citing the home affairs minister’s intention to deregister organizations challenging the ban.