Thursday, July 24, 2008

'Courts fail to protect young victims'

A 15-year-old girl burst into tears at a city magistrate's court last week when she was forced to come face to face with her two alleged rapists.

Even though she was encouraged not to look at the accused, but to address an interpreter, she struggled to answer the first question before breaking down.

The case was postponed for six weeks after magistrate Robert Matshikwe found that the girl had only had three counselling sessions to prepare her for facing her alleged attackers.

The prosecuting attorney further confirmed that, even before the hearing, the girl did not seem prepared. However, Sam Waterhouse, advocacy manager at Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Rapcan), said this instance of the rights of a child not being protected was not an isolated case but was common practice in the courts.

She said: "It's very much the procedure for 15-year-old girls to appear before the accused."

Waterhouse said that despite the fact that the law allowed for all victims, and especially child victims, to give evidence outside the courtroom, officials often required "children from the age of 12 and older" to be in the same room as the accused.

"It's unacceptable," she said.

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