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When the system betrays our children

This was supposed to be a weary and fairly snide thinkpiece lamenting the ridiculousness of having a Women’s Day, a Women’s Month, that is completely associated with pink and flowers and whatever other qualities are deemed appropriately womanly. (Apparently, this includes wearing a doek.)

Instead, I was reminded once again that I live in a place where the rapist of an 11-year-old girl can have his sentence reduced because his victim was judged to have been a “willing partner”.

You can keep your flowers and your spa vouchers and your damned headgear.

“The life sentence of a man who repeatedly raped a girl (11) he regarded as ‘a daughter’ was reduced on appeal by the high court in Pretoria because she seemed to be a willing partner”, the story went.

What kind of man wants to have sex, not just with a barely pubescent child, but with a girl he regards as a daughter?

“Molefe Joseph Mphanama’s life sentence was replaced with an effective sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment for his conviction on four rape charges.”

Twenty years for four charges of rape.

“Two judges said the girl had visited Mphanama out of her own free will after the first rape and her unwillingness to have sex was only shown when she closed her thighs, according to the report.”

Her “unwillingness to have sex”? She was 11. Eleven. Eleven!

Under South African law — not to mention common sense — a child of that age cannot consent to sex. She can in no way be a “willing partner”.

More specialised training in sexual offences for every aspect of our legal system is desperately needed. A few years ago, I wrote about a cluster of cases where men had their sentences reduced because the fact that the children they raped were their own and not somebody else’s was considered a mitigating factor.

Somehow, this incredible betrayal of trust, this utter dereliction of parental duty, was deemed not as bad as a stranger grabbing a child walking home from school.

These cases were in the first place quite extraordinary. A rapist had not only been arrested, he had been brought to trial and convicted. And then the system that was supposed to protect these young victims, to take seriously the trauma of sexual violence, taught them that what had happened to them had been not that bad.

It should be clear even to an indifferent observer that as the adults of this country, we are miserably failing our children. The shame of this will never entirely leave us.

At least we’re getting tough on rhino poachers. These days, we’re putting those bastards away for 77 years.


  • Louise is a freelance journalist and writer living in Johannesburg. She is particularly interested in topics surrounding social justice and gender rights. She's on Twitter as @frrlou.


  1. Charl Alberts Charl Alberts 4 August 2014

    Well said, I can’t agree more

  2. RubinB RubinB 5 August 2014

    I am afraid we have some judges with a rather weird sense of justice. I can remember years ago a senior judge reduced a man’s sentence because he raped someone in his family. Apparently keeping it in the family was not so bad! The ladies tried to get this poor sod, but could not get their hands on him. Judges somehow are a protected species, unlike referees, who get fired for making idiotic decisions like the one this judge made.

  3. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 8 August 2014

    Our judicial system is ridiculous. I read this particular story and could feel my blood pressure rise. This predator has destroyed her childhood and it is ‘not that bad’?

    The other story, this week, which got my dander up was the one about the 27 year old getting a slap on the wrist for having a 15 year old girlfriend. Why is there a line in the sand if some fool judge makes it a ‘give way’ instead of a ‘stop’ sign?

    They take our girl children, use them, abuse them and turn them into parents before they are even ready to begin to explore who they are. They sexualise our children and then have the audacity to call them ‘loose’ or ‘sluts’ or some other nasty name. It angers me more than I can give voice to. They change the very essence of who they are and then blame the child for what she becomes.

    It sometimes feels like ‘women’s month’ is an open hunting season – something akin to the sardine run – hunt as many as you can until the month is over

  4. Anna Anna 9 August 2014

    When are we going to have little boys month? For all the little boys who get raped. And on Woman’s Day why aren’t women out in communities educating little girls about saying NO and that it’s not okay for someone to have sex with you when you are 11 even if he is your father and you need to TELL somebody.
    What’s the use of filling stadiums and dancing and singing, the problem is not in a stadium, it’s in the communities.

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