Gender Commission to engage SAPS on statutory rape challenge

As the country commemorates World Aids Day, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has expressed concern about the vulnerability of young women to the HIV epidemic in South Africa.

The country’s statistics show that HIV prevalence among young pregnant females aged 15-24, increased from 7.9% in 2012 to 20.6% in 2017 and even higher in 2020.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Commission said it will seek a meeting with the leadership of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to understand what steps are being taken to fight the escalating scourge of statutory rape across the country’s nine provinces.

“Our mandate as a Chapter 9 institution is to monitor state organs and ensure that they effectively implement all the laws meant to protect women and girls. Although we are striving to ensure that the South African society is free of gender oppression, the prevailing statistics and developments point to a worsening gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV situation in the country,” the Commission’s Chairperson Tamara Mathebula said.

In the past, the Commission met with the National Police Commissioner General Kehla Sitole and Provincial Commissioner on issues pertaining to GBV.

“The Commission has and is still concerned about the slow pace in processing DNA results by the police’s forensic unit. This has a serious impact in the prosecution of GBV cases.

“Research has shown that there is a direct link between GBV and HIV and failure to address this important aspect not only rob survivors and victims of justice in identifying their perpetrators but also subject them to secondary delays due to the unavailability of DNA results,” the Commission said.

The Commission said the country is experiencing a growing pregnancy rate among girls below the legal sex consensual age of 16.

“The CGE is of the view that the sexual abuse of young girls is playing a significant role in exposing them to HIV infections,” the Commission said.

In 2017, Statistics South Africa reported that approximately 17% of girls aged 12–19 years, who were not attending an educational institution, fell pregnant.

The Gauteng Department of Health recorded more than 23 000 teenage pregnancies between April 2020 and March 2021, with 934 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 giving birth.

The Commission said the country should be concerned by these developments, as they reveal a normalised and widespread statutory rape culture, which exposes young girls to the HIV epidemic.

“The Commission hopes that the sought meeting with the SAPS leadership will shed important light on the rate of reported statutory rape cases and any challenges that may be standing in the way of the victims getting justice.”

Source: South African Government News Agency